Rosslyn BID hosted its first-ever Rosslyn Reads! Spring Book Festival, partnering with Carpe Librum and raising money for nonprofit Turning the Page. People enjoyed author readings and signings, live music from Two Ton Twig, food trucks and a beer garden featuring Heritage Brewing Co. all on Central Place Plaza. Photos: Devin Overbey
There’s a temple at Renwick today, but unlike the National Shrine or the National Cathedral, it sneaks up on you. You won’t see David Best’s monumental architecture coming until you’ve walked into it. Best, an American sculptor, has been making temples for Burning Man on and off since 2000, and his latest work is an installation for No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man, on view now in and around the Renwick Gallery.
He’s one of the many stalwarts represented in the exhibition at Black Rock City, the temporary city erected each year in the Nevada desert for the festival. Sculptures include Andre the Giant-sized LED-lit mushrooms and even an incarnation of the “Man” i.e., the one burned at the end of annual festival, and that makes me think of Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage.
Best’s installation is impossibly intricate. It’s installed upstairs, in the main gallery space, known as the “Grand Salon,” which recently housed the Parallax Gap installation. Parallax, I found, was somewhat underwhelming. It looked good in photos but failed to land in person. Best’s temple has the opposite effect.
Best is among what Kim Cook, a Burning Man ambassador and partner in the exhibition, refers to as one of the “greats” of the iconic festival, many of whom were actually present at the preview. Some were in full “burner” regalia and it felt like Night at the Museum.
(Side note, there’s a lot of lingo for this exhibition. Already I’ve used “burner,” Black Rock City, I’m about to use “Playa” and “Cacophony Society,” and, of course, the “Man.” For a full glossary click here. You can find the “Man” under “Man, the.”)
You can also find the “Cacophony Society” in the glossary. This is the “randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experience beyond the mainstream” from which the festival sprang. Their history and the history of the festival, from its San Francisco beach origins to the Playa, i.e. the Black Rock desert, is detailed in the adjacent gallery.
The must-see pieces include the “Shrumen Lumen” from FoldHaus collective, which is also upstairs. Another is the massive arch downstairs that recalls a Brothers Quay film and the “Gamelatron,” which is directly opposite the Grand Salon upstairs. There’s also a VR experience downstairs, a “tin pan dragon,” that the artist insisted would eat me, and several sculptures installed on the streets around the Renwick.
Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s “Gamelatron” though is the one I can’t wait to return to. The piece is a fully robotic gamelan orchestra that’s attached to the walls and so surrounds the listener standing in the middle of the room. If you’re unfamiliar with Gamelan music, imagine an orchestra of pitched percussion with a variety of gongs. It’s a piece that makes you believe, though I couldn’t say in what.
Kuffner’s piece along with some of the aforementioned brought me to believe in the exhibition, so to speak. Before seeing it myself, I was skeptical because Burning Man’s no longer cool and an art of Burning Man exhibition feels like a play for foot-traffic from people unaware that burners are the face of memes, not interest. Even Quiznos had some fun at the festival’s expense. Or check out Thump’s tremendous listicle on the types of people who will ruin Burning Man.
However, that’s all noise and not art. Even my one experience with a burner is noise. (He was a douche who talked at people about his “burn” and no one gave a fuck.) Some of the pieces are pretty damn cool, I’m looking forward to spending more time with it because fortunately the Renwick is free. No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man is on view through January 21, 2019. Check out the Renwick’s behind-the-scenes YouTube playlist as well.
Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: 1661 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-633-7970; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick
After a three-day stint at Dupont Underground, Australian-born choreographer and dancer Sarah J. Ewing’s site-specific, original dance and technology performance of TRANSIT left observers with pensive expressions. The looks were not of confusion, but rather a contemplation of the progression of life and the various elements that contribute to our individual present or future state.
The performance began with white words cast upon stonewalls spelling “TRANSIT.” Then blinding lights lit up the tunnel as dancers stepped lightly into the space. Each dancer’s gray attire matched their facial expression, as well as the intended expressionless ambiance.
As the performers stood motionless, the sounds of commuting began to echo through the seats. In coordination with the music, the lights shifted from spots to ripples to darkness, illustrating the obstacles of traveling uncontrollably through life.
The interpretive showcase told the story of three generations of women experiencing similar hardships and joy at every turn in life through different time periods. During a brief interview with Ewing, she explained her vision as a “treasure map of life showing moments intertwined with linear time.”
This movement was a display of power and grace. The dancers’ modern choreography coupled with the music, which maintained a steady beat except for the occasional syncopation, kept viewers fixated on the stage and constantly wondering what would come next.
The audience witnessed solos, duets and a small ensemble, all of whom told the narrative of the linear timeline of life. In one ensemble scene, each performer moved in their own style, sometimes in a haphazard way that might not be considered dancing at all, followed by the rest of the ensemble mimicking the leader’s motions in sync. The scene spoke to the chaos of life and how we are often solely focused on our personal forward progress while others are stuck in peril.
The performance welcomed a plethora of themes, but it would be tough to argue against the significance of time in the piece. The transformative lighting and shifting sounds in each scene highlighted the evolution of characters. Time, illustrated by score, was constant. The volume rose and fell, but it was constantly there, declaring the inevitable continuation of time, no matter our individual circumstances.
The hour-long performance sustained a solemn tone throughout, however, the final scene marked a shift in rhythmic excitement and exaggerated dance that brought a sense of joy to the dark, underground tunnel. This conveyed that through life’s journey, one will always have reasons to celebrate even when it seems impossible.
TRANSIT is a collaboration between S. J. Ewing and Dancers, CulturalDC at Dupont Underground and CityDance. To see upcoming showcases at Dupont Underground or to learn more, visit here. Ticket prices vary from exhibit to exhibit but typically range from $10-$20, with an occasional free event happening.
Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC; 202-315-1321; www.dupontunderground.org
The Wharf hosted Petalpalooza on Saturday, a National Cherry Blossom Festival official event, featuring a full day of art, music, beer gardens, a roller rink, s’mores, and family-friendly fun along the waterfront! Photos: Cristina O’Connell
“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy,” reads “Prop,” a small bronze plaque by David Robbins that replicates the language at the entrance to Disneyland, and is nearly indistinguishable from the original.
The piece now sits at the entrance to the newest exhibition at the Hirshhorn, Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s, an exhibition full of pieces that blur the lines between art and advertising, and make you think or wonder if you’re being trolled.“Prop” is small in comparison to the large-scale graphic works it neighbors, so small I actually missed it during my first visit. Luckily, curatorial assistant, Sandy Guttman, points it out the second time through.
“It really sets the tone in terms of commodity and pop culture and gears up what you’re going to look at in the show, in that this is a little bit of a Disneyland as well,” she says.
Guttman offers to lead me through the exhibition after I hopelessly try and navigate myself.
“It also literally takes an object from this thing which is very American and capitalist,” she adds.
This connection is noticable throughout, you see artworks that are seemingly mundane objects, but re-framed. In the first gallery, “Untitled (Hand with Cigarette and Watch)” by Richard Prince, is a work where he crops an existing advertisement, as he did famously with “Untitled (Cowboy),” (or more recently with his Instagram photos).
Prince’s work hangs adjacent to “Shelf with Ajax” by Haim Steinbach and “Remy/Grand Central: Trains, Boats, and Planes” by Dara Birnbaum, both pieces feature actual products, but not in the vein advertising or product placement. Steinbach’s framing of the Ajax detergent bottle recalls a hunting trophy and Birnbaum’s video is half-ad, with the sexualized shots of a woman holding the Remy Martin champagne and half anti-ad with an additional depiction of a train pulverizing the bottle.
“Pepsi Please” by Peter Halley and “Inflammatory Essays“ by Jenny Holzer are also in the first gallery. Halley’s painting displays a zombie begging for a Pepsi; it’s funny and definitely calls for a Snapchat. Holzer’s more Insta-worthy, floor-to-ceiling piece is confrontational and resonates easily with the poignant pieces toward the end of the exhibition.The galleries are ordered chronologically and these early works are not so representative of the exhibition’s objective, which is to chart the “pivotal moments in the 1980s when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand.”
Sandy Guttman tells me that curator Gianni Jetzer was growing up when much of this art was made, and though he didn’t grow up in New York, he was inspired by a show on this very specific scene which capitalized on the conflation of commodity and brand.
“A lot of times when you’re curating for a show you have to think about which pieces can make your argument the strongest,” Guttman says. “That’s where you start with your checklist and then from there you try to branch out.”
The second gallery, which features the work of artists including Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, lays out and drives home Jetzer’s thesis. The gallery gives a sense of how small this group of friends started exceptionally well. There’s artifacts from an aesthetic consultancy a few started, as well as copy from group shows they put on.
The camaraderie comes across in “Talent” by David Robbins, which features Koons, Sherman and Holzer. The picture includes the artist and his friends in Hollywood-style head shots, but observing as a whole feels like observing a class portrait or even stills from your favorite sitcom.
Charlesworth’s two works are cropped images of Madonna and David Bowie, “Virgin” and “Golden Boy” respectively. Lemieux’s “Courting Death” is a re-staged photograph in a uniquely Hollywood style, while still drawing influences from art history. The result is a cross between a silver screen secretary and a St. Jerome.
“What is she taking notes on?” Guttman asks. “Why is there a skull?”
The later galleries deal with HIV/AIDS and contain some of my personal favorites. For instance, one focuses on objects of cleanliness. There’s more from Steinbach, only this time it’s of a detergent brand he invented. There’s “Lube Landscape,” an acrylic by Walter Robinson that represents household objects like baby oil, which are multi-purpose, though not all uses are prescribed.“Biocube,” a sculpture by Tishan Hsu, also trades in the same clinical vernacular. His nonsense object at once recalls schools and doctor’s offices, but at the same time reads erotic in the weird pustules found, in addition to its coloring.
“I don’t like calling it flesh toned,” Guttman says. “There are endless tones of flesh, but it would read as somebody’s skin.”
This gallery also features “I shop therefore I Am” by Barbara Kruger. It might be the most recognizable piece in the show, if only because it ran as the lead ad for exhibition. Guttman laughs at this.
“’I shop therefore I am’ is the leading image on our catalog and all our advertisements, which is funny, considering that it’s a work making fun of buying things,” she says. “It’s almost like someone didn’t get the memo.”
“This is where the show turns to activism,” Guttman tells me. “The government wasn’t doing anything or reacting to the AIDS epidemic which was not only sweeping New York, but hit the New York art scene particularly hard. I’m sure everyone in this exhibition knew someone who died.”
Moffett’s floor to ceiling graphic work repeats the same photo of Reagan laughing while beneath each photo the text reads ‘he kills me.’” It’s one of the most confrontational works in the exhibition, you have to walk by it. At the same it’s funny even, but ultimately too real.
“Perfect Lovers” features two nondescript clocks, hanging about eight feet off the floor, they’re touching, kissing so to speak and ticking in sync. As is, it was my favorite work on my first time through the exhibition, but the story Guttman tells me the artist isn’t just being clever.
“The artist conceptualized this work when his partner Ross was incapacitated, dying from HIV/AIDS, and he responds to the moment and creates this heart-wrenching portrait from commodity materials anyone can buy.”
It’s one of the last works in the exhibition and the one I return to. It’s simple, raw and effective, far from alone in this compilation. You’ll appreciate early on that the artists are clever, but they’re not so for the sake of being clever. At least not always. The exhibition runs through May 13. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and admission is free.Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Independence Ave. SW and 7th St. SW, DC; 202-633-1000; www.hirshhorn.si.edu
These DC area locations and businesses each go above and beyond 21st-century sustainability expectations in their own unique way, but one thing is constant: their love for this earth and the people who live here.
Busboys and Poets
This quirky gathering hub – home to artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers alike – fights the good fight for Mother Earth by using 100 percent renewable wind energy at all DC locations, brewing exclusively with coffee purchased directly from growers and recycling their food waste into biofuel instead of just throwing it out. Fun fact: Busboys and Poets refers to American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s before he was discovered for his true talent. Three locations in NW, DC and one in NE, DC; www.busboysandpoets.com
This waterfront destination set its sights on a LEED Gold certificate even before laying down a single brick of the development. With its expansive walkways and short distance from public transportation, visitors and residents can cut down on their carbon dioxide emission. And with green roofs, 300 new trees and preservation of mature oaks in the area, this new DC hotspot is cleaning the air at the same time. Come enjoy some sunshine and sustainability down at The Wharf. 1100 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.wharfdc.com
The Emerald Door
This LEED-certified, green beauty spa exclusively uses non-toxic beauty products and natural ingredients during all services to give customers naturally beautiful skin, fingers and toes while simultaneously giving back to the environment. In 2016, The Emerald Door partnered with DC-based Skincando, a line of 100 percent organic skincare products, to create the first Skincando treatment and beauty boutique. Along with its product line, The Emerald Door’s spa room itself features energy efficient lighting, water-saving toilets and faucets, and tiled floor made from recycled materials. 8311 Grubb Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.emeralddoorsalon.com
Founding Farmers believes that finding a balance between making quality, accessible food while also giving back to the environment is the best way to approach sustainability as a fundamental, necessary endeavor. As part of the restaurant chain’s effort to embrace great environmental practices, Founding Farmers sources food and ingredients from local farmers, which helps support local economies and keep carbon dioxide emissions down with less shipping. They also have compostable paper straws, which totally amazed me during my first dining experience. Locations in NW, DC (a 3 Star-Certified Green Restaurant® with a LEED Gold-Certified design), Reston and Tysons, VA, and Potomac, MD; www.wearefoundingfarmers.com
MOM’s Organic Market
Prepare yourself for a long list of goodness, because MOM’s Organic Market is doing just about everything it can to help out Mother Earth. I’m just going to fire them off. In 2005, MOM’s eliminated plastic bags from all stores. Five years later, they quit selling bottled water during a campaign to eliminate all unnecessary plastic waste. To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, MOM’s has free car-charging stations at most locations. All stores are powered by solar and wind energy, and use ultra-low watt LED lights whenever possible. They even offset their customers’ gas mileage to and from their stores by collecting zip codes at checkout, calculating average round trip miles and investing the equivalent in clean air projects based on their research. There’s even more to add, but my editor says I’m pushing my word count limit. One location in Ivy City, five in Northern Virginia and a bunch more in Maryland; www.momsorganicmarket.com
National Museum of African American History and Culture
A document about the Smithsonian’s sustainable building practices quotes Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie Bunch as saying, “We have the opportunity […] to design and build a museum for the 21st century that will demonstrate our nation’s commitment to sustainable development.” With its compact design optimizing open space, 301 photovoltaic panels soaking up solar energy, an underground detention vault treating storm water before discharging it into the public drain system and more, I’d say this Smithsonian museum is the perfect role model for our nation’s progression in sustainable development. 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, DC; www.nmaahc.si.edu
Did you know that Nationals Park is the first MLB stadium to earn LEED certification? Now you finally have something interesting to share at the water cooler – you’re welcome. Because Nats Park sits on the bank of the Anacostia River, the quality of storm water runoff is a major concern. To combat water pollution, the park installed screens to capture solid material from storm water in the seating area. Then, the water passes through large, underground sand filters before it’s pumped into the public drain system. That sounds like a homerun sustainability solution to me. 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; www.mlb.com/nationals/ballpark
School of International Service at American University
As the first LEED Gold-certified building at American University (AU), the School of International Service (SIS) reinforces AU’s commitment to the environment and community by harvesting solar energy through roof panels and using 30 percent less water through low flow faucets and toilets. The building itself is gorgeous; the open university lawn almost seems to flow right into the lobby of the SIS, bringing life and energy from the outdoors in. 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC; www.american.edu/sis
Though it may not be obvious at first glance, the District is filled with green and sustainable organizations, businesses, events and initiatives. Like many cities around the country, we’re taking the lead on reducing our ecological impact, combating climate change, protecting our air, lands and water, and conserving wildlife. Residents are making a commitment to living sustainably, and city officials are taking steps to reduce waste and protect natural places in the city. From the buildings we live in to the food we eat, DC is slowly but surely becoming a more environmentally friendly place to live – one innovation at a time. Check out our roundup of the great work that people are doing to make the city a little greener – sometimes literally!
The District has long been known as the City of Trees, and our leafy green streets and parks are part of what makes the city special. The team behind Casey Trees, an organization dedicated to restoring, enhancing and protecting DC’s tree canopy, says that trees in urban spaces have many more benefits than most of us realize.
“Our trees do more than just look beautiful,” says Casey Trees Communications Specialist Jona Elwell. “Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen, [and] DC’s trees annually store 649,000 tons of carbon, which is the equivalent of removing 506,772 vehicles from the road. Green spaces in cities have been shown to help residents combat stress, anxiety [and] depression, and tree-lined streets have a traffic-calming effect, which keeps drivers and pedestrians safe.”
Casey Trees was founded in 2002, and their work has changed a lot over the past 16 years.
“When we first set out, we didn’t know what our urban forest was made of,” Elwell says. “Now, we’re working to measure and identify every tree in the city, and our volunteers and tree planting department annually plant over 3,200 trees throughout the District. Not to mention, we now have fully fledged pruning, advocacy and children’s education programs, too.”
Casey Trees’ work has expanded, but the mission of keeping DC true to its nickname hasn’t changed.
Learn more at www.caseytrees.org.
Founded in 2013, City Wildlife rescues and rehabilitates orphaned and injured wildlife in DC and the surrounding metro area. That includes everything from squirrels, raccoons and possums to birds of prey, snakes, turtles and even bald eagles.
“Life in the city is hard for all forms of wildlife,” says executive director Paula Goldberg. “Most of the problems people have with wildlife are created by people. A lot of the calls we’re getting right now are nuisance calls, because animals such as raccoons and squirrels are finding openings in peoples’ homes to nest for spring babies.”
Along with the rehabilitation center, City Wildlife has launched several important wildlife conservation programs in the city. Lights Out DC works to encourage businesses and residential buildings to reduce or turn off their lights at night to avoid attracting migratory birds, and the Duck Watch program helps keep DC’s many mallard duck moms and their babies safe during the nesting season. When it comes to wildlife conservation in the city, “many things have changed for the better,” Goldberg says.
“The DC Department of Energy and the Environment has numerous biologists on staff, and then there’s the latest decree by [DC Mayor] Muriel Bowser that made Kingman and Heritage Islands protected conservation areas. We’ve made some incredible environmental strides that make life better, not only for people but wildlife as well.”
Learn more at www.citywildlife.org.
Who runs the world? EcoWomen! With DC as host to the headquarters of hundreds of environmentally-focused organizations, it should come as no surprise that our city is home to a strong and substantial contingency of women working to make the world a greener, healthier place for all. Coming together in a community of shared goals and passions, EcoWomen was founded in 2003 in order to create a “space to build relationships among professional women in environmental fields.” This community now includes more than 40 events per year, and features a speaker and lecture series, monthly book club, skill-building workshops, “EcoHours,” a scholarship fund, joint volunteer days and an active listserv.
Today, EcoWomen is an incorporated nonprofit with local chapters throughout the nation (in Seattle, Colorado and Boston). Members work on issues ranging from wildlife conservation to energy policy to sustainable urbanization, and everything in between. DC chapter co-chair Tamara Toles O’Laughlin says she is constantly excited to find herself in the company of smart, ambitious and generous women, and looking ahead, the chapter’s focus will be on “redefining [its] relationship to power and aligning [its] programs to reflect true diversity as expressed by equity in [members’] expertise and inclusion of every voice working in the space.”
Read more about EcoWomen and how to get involved at www.dc.ecowomen.org.
Green Group Houses
Let’s face it: the cost of living in DC is pretty high, especially when it comes to paying rent. To afford housing, many of the District’s inhabitants get creative; this often involves “group houses,” aka grown-ass adults shacking up with four, five, six or eight other grown-ass adults in one house. But outside of saving dough, another draw of many of DC’s group houses is sharing a life with likeminded individuals. These spaces are often centered around themes like music, religion and acceptance. Co-opt-style green living is also popular here. Residents in green group houses commit as a household to composting, shared meals, recycling, reusing, volunteering for environmental causes and other eco-friendly practices.
For example, JoLeah Gorman chose to join a community formed in 2012 that consists of six people living in two houses in DC’s Northeast neighborhood of Deanwood because she “believe[s] strongly that the earth is precious, good food is a right for all people and being connected to nature is a key part of being human.” Members of Gorman’s community compost, garden, dumpster-dive and make a continuous effort to lower their carbon footprint. Food sustainability and security is especially important to this group. Living in a food desert in Ward 7, Gorman, her husband and four friends worked together to build a space for a year-round garden (with plans for rain barrels and solar panels), which they hope to open to neighbors in coming years.
MOM’s Organic Market
Founder and CEO Scott Nash started My Organic Market (better known as MOM’s) out of his mother’s garage in 1987 as a home delivery service for fresh groceries in the DC area. From those humble beginnings, MOM’s has grown into a local business leader that puts the environment first. Their grocery stores can be found at several locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia, and are full of fair trade, organic, sustainable (and of course, delicious) foods, as well as clothing, beauty products and other green goods. And it doesn’t stop there.
“MOM’s purpose is to protect and restore the environment,” Nash says. “We recently invested in a community solar company called Neighborhood Sun, and [we] are placing a pollinator garden and beehives at MOM’s Solar Farm in Kingsville, Maryland.”
That’s right. MOM’s runs its own solar energy farm and purchases wind energy credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The beloved local chain also frequently partners with groups that support human rights, environmental justice, clean water and other causes.
“As MOM’s grows, we’re continually seeking opportunities to further our purpose inside our stores and in the community,” Nash says.
MOM’s dedication to improving our world makes it special; its roots in the area make it ours.
Learn more at www.momsorganicmarket.com.
The Year of the Anacostia
We may all be looking forward to summer, and with it the opening of the city’s public pools, but what about the rivers in our midst? Are we getting any closer to the goal of a swimmable Anacostia? For decades, the river and its surrounding parkland have been abused – and used as literal toxic dumping ground.
“The Anacostia River holds a place at the heart of DC’s economic, cultural and ecological history,” says Krista Schlyer, DC area conservation photographer and writer (her forthcoming book, River of Redemption: Almanac of Life on the Anacostia, chronicles the life of the river in connection to our city). “[It] is also a symbol of our beleaguered urban rivers nationwide.”
But, she adds, “If you look carefully at the Anacostia story, it has the makings of one of the most hopeful stories of ecological redemption.”
And perhaps 2018 will be the year that redemption comes. In January, Mayor Muriel Bowser declared 2018 the “Year of the Anacostia,” pledging $4.7 million toward restoration efforts. According to the mayor’s office, “the Year of the Anacostia is a yearlong invitation to honor history, celebrate progress and enjoy the Anacostia River and its surroundings while envisioning an inspiring future.”
What can you do to get involved? Start by educating yourself (and having some fun) at the Anacostia River Festival on April 15. Learn about wildlife on Kingman and Heritage Islands, recreate in Anacostia Park, bike the Anacostia River and Riverwalk Trails, visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, take a free boat ride or paddle, join a cleanup effort…the list goes on.
And even if you prefer wine to water, you can help the river: $2 from every bottle of wine sold at District Winery’s Rose Release Party on Earth Day (April 22) will go to Anacostia Riverkeeper, one of the great organizations working to protect and restore the Anacostia.
Learn more about Anacostia Riverkeeper at www.anacostiariverkeeper.org.
Anacostia River Festival on April 15: Anacostia Park at Anacostia Drive & Good Hope Road in SE, DC; www.bridgepark.org/anacostia-riverfestival
District Winery’s Rose Release Party on April 22: 385 Water St. SE, DC; www.districtwinery.com
Imagine you’re a T-shirt – a comfy, cotton blend, perfect for lazing around the house or showing off your favorite sports team. One day, your owner will buy a new T-shirt to replace you, well before you are ready to say goodbye. And more often than not, you will end up rotting to death in a landfill with more than 25 billion pounds of other unwanted textiles that are tossed out in the U.S. each year, according to the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR). It’s really very sad.
Of the 82 pounds of textile waste each U.S. resident produces annually on average, CTR reports that only 15 percent find a new home through donations or recycling. The remaining 85 percent go to landfills, where textiles make up 5 percent of all municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. each year. And it’s only getting worse.
Between 1999 and 2009, the amount of post-consumer textile waste increased by 40 percent, while the amount of waste diversion only grew by 2 percent. CTR estimates that by 2019, the U.S. will generate 35.4 billion pounds of textile waste in a single year. Sometimes it’s easier to just read past these numbers without taking the time to think about how much a billion really is, so let’s see if this helps.
One billion seconds is 30 years. One billion golf balls laid side-by-side would circle the earth. One billion raindrops would fill approximately 50 bath tubs. And one billion paperclips would weigh as much as 200 elephants.
Now multiply that by 35. That’s how many pounds of textile waste the U.S. is projected to produce in 2019. And this isn’t even including the rest of the world.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report stating that if production continues at this rate, the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. Half a million tons of microfibers are released into the ocean every year, which is equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibers are nearly impossible to clean up and can enter food chains, destroying habitats and species of marine life.
After realizing all of the harm caused by textile waste, we’re left with one question: what can we do to make a difference?
The District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) is trying to find the answer. On March 14, Sustainable DC – the DOEE’s plan to become the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the nation by 2032 – launched ReThread DC, an initiative to create a culture of recovery and reuse in the nation’s capital through outreach and education. Danielle Nkojo, a sustainability analyst for waste and materials management on the DOEE’s urban sustainability team, founded ReThread because of her personal passion for thrifting and extending the life of her clothing, as well as her experience as a waste policy expert.
“I look at the fact that about 90 percent of the textiles that are out in the waste stream are usually reusable,” Nkojo says. “I thought it would be great to bring my unique interest in that to the core development of eventual policy to divert textiles from the waste stream.”
Sustainable DC has helped waste management policy before. Have you ever noticed that DC restaurants don’t hand out Styrofoam take-out boxes anymore? That’s because in 2014, the DC Council banned all food-serving businesses and organizations in DC from using containers or other food service products made from Styrofoam beginning January 1, 2016. The ban also requires these businesses and organizations to use recyclable or compostable products, which is helping Sustainable DC’s goal of diverting 80 percent of waste in the next decade.
Because they launched only a few weeks ago, ReThread is a long way from working toward major policy changes. However, Nkojo says that will come in the future. Right now, ReThread’s main focus is to answer the question, “What can I do with my unwanted clothing and textiles?” But before we answer that, we need to turn our attention to what you can do to reduce your personal textile waste output in the first place:
Now, imagine you’re a T-shirt again. Maybe you’re a different one this time. You’re about to be thrown out and cast aside, but instead, you end up in the arms of a new owner – one who treats you like a diamond in the rough or buried treasure, who discovered your worth after hours of digging through bins full of other tees that are also waiting to find their next home. Feels good, right?
When you feel like cleaning out your closet this spring, you can do your ex-favorite T-shirt one last favor by donating it to a local organization that will help find its next owner. And that next owner could really be in need of a new shirt. That’s where Clothing Recycling Company (CRCO) comes in.
Since 1999, CRCO has served the DMV with its attention to detail, local touch and family-owned approach to redistributed second-hand textiles. The organization partners with Interfaith Works in Maryland, Christ House in DC and A-SPAN in Arlington to help low-income families and the homeless gain access to nice, affordable clothing and wares.
CRCO Assistant Director Vlad Brostky says that one of the special things about the organization is its connection to the community. Because CRCO only collects and distributes in the greater DC area, the operation is small – but the impact is great.
When asked about why keeping it local is so important to the organization, Brostky says that CRCO wants donators to know exactly where their clothing and wares are going – whether it’s to homeless people through A-SPAN or families in need through Interfaith Works.
“This is why we’re staying small and local, but there are bigger companies that recycle huge amounts of clothing, and they are focusing on just getting as much as possible,” he says. “Basically, it’s just a mass market of clothing recycling.”
He’s referring to the secondhand clothing trade – a goliath operation where certain secondhand clothing collectors export their surplus donations to developing countries in Africa. Since 2016, the governments of the East African Community laid out a plan to prohibit all secondhand clothing imports by 2019 to boost domestic manufacturing.
In March, the Office of the United States Trade Representative responded with a threat to impose trade sanctions on African nations and announced an out-of-cycle review of the eligibility of Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to receive benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which enhances U.S. market access for qualifying Sub-Saharan African countries.
The reality is that although the exporters themselves benefit the most from this secondhand clothing trade, there are still many people and communities that receive help from foreign organizations dedicated to empowerment and positive change in developing nations.
One such organization is Planet Aid, a nonprofit based in DC that collects and recycles used textiles to protect the environment and support sustainable development around the world. Planet Aid uses its proceeds from selling used clothing overseas to implement programs that support teacher training, help subsistence farmers find a path out of poverty, educate people on HIV/AIDS prevention and more.
Planet Aid Communications Director John Nagiecki says that while there is little demand for secondhand clothing in the U.S., the secondhand economy in the developing world is very robust and provides a good source of employment and an affordable source of clothing. He also says that Planet Aid sells its clothing instead of giving it away because “such an attempt would undermine the secondhand economy on which so many people rely for their livelihood and countries thus refuse to accept such handouts.” Although there are conflicting opinions about the secondhand clothing trade in developing countries, both sides can agree that something greater must be done to fix our massive textile waste problem.
“The real issue that must be addressed is the rise of fast fashion in the U.S. and other developed nations,” Nagiecki says. “We simply consume too much clothing.”
“[CRCO] recycles thousands of pounds of clothing a month, which is nothing compared to what America really consumes, but we still are helpful,” he says. “People should be more educated about it.”
Ultimately, Nkojo, Brostky and Nagiecki all agree that one of the best ways to fight textile waste is to educate and inform the public so that they can make their own decisions on buying less and recycling more.
“The function of how we get people to care is just letting them know how much is being wasted, and how they could change simple habits that could really have a huge impact,” Nagiecki says. “To the extent that they can, we encourage people to adopt these practices so that their clothing consumption can go much further.”
Picture this. You’re a T-shirt on its way to the clothing recycling bin at the end of the block. You’re sad to say goodbye to your beloved owner, but there’s some reassurance in the new opportunities waiting for you on the other side. You could become a ball of yarn, then woven into a new scarf or blanket. You could become a quilt or a handbag or fancy needlework on someone’s hand-designed jeans. Your future is bright, and you’re happy knowing that you did your part in keeping the earth clean. Let’s keep it that way.
Learn more about these DC-based organizations and initiatives at their websites.
Clothing Recycling Company: www.clothingrecyclingcompany.org
Planet Aid: www.planetaid.com
Sustainable DC: www.sustainabledc.org
It all began on the Great Lakes of Ohio and Michigan. As she sailed across the open waters with her family, a pint-sized Grace Young began to develop a deep love for the water and everything in it. After she moved to DC in high school, Young took a school trip to the Chesapeake Bay that could only be described as life-changing. In this moment, she realized she couldn’t live without the calmness of the waves and the beauty of a sunrise out at sea.
So she followed her dreams. In 2017, National Geographic named Young as one of 14 Emerging Explorers, or “uniquely gifted and inspiring scientists, conservationists, storytellers and innovators” who are “already making a difference and changing the world.” As part of the program, she received a $10,000 grant to fund research for new technology to explore the ocean and save coral reefs.
On April 10, Young will host “Extreme Ocean: Exploring the Deep,” a discussion about why taking care of the ocean is so crucial to preserving life as we know it. She’ll also go into detail about her exciting 15-day adventure of living nearly 20 meters (66 feet) below sea level off the coast of the Florida Keys during Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31. We caught up with Young before her upcoming talk about the Emerging Explorers program, protecting our coral reefs and being a former ballerina, among other things.
On Tap: How did you feel when you found out you were nominated for Emerging Explorers?
Grace Young: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s made me think a lot more about how I’m sharing the work that I do. There was this quote: “If you don’t share your science, you might as well not have done it.” So now I’m trying to be conscious of that. I’ve been so fortunate to be a woman interested in technology from a young age [and] to have my degree from MIT, but many women don’t even realize that’s a career they can have, so I want to share that in order to bring the best talent into the field that we can.
OT: What will you be focusing on during the “Extreme Ocean” discussion?
GY: I’m looking forward to sharing my stories about my time on the ocean and my perspective as a technology developer, and what I think of as the biggest changes affecting our ocean. People don’t tune in unless they learn to love it and see why I’m passionate about it, and why so many people at Nat Geo and other places are too.
OT: How does the work that you’re doing to save these coral reefs affect lives in DC?
GY: Two things: one, even if you’re living far from the ocean, we’re still all connected to the ocean. The ocean covers 71 percent of our planet; it provides half of the oxygen we breathe, and it’s a protein source for at least a billion people. Two, I always think, “What kind of ocean do we want to pass on to the next generation?” I’ve seen remote beaches that are covered in trash, [with] more coming in with each wave. On the other hand, I’ve been able to jump off a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and go swimming at sunset. I would like for that to be an experience that everyone can have. But it’s not just about us. Those stories connect us to the ocean, but it’s about keeping our planet habitable for our species and all the other species.
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OT: Is developing technology to help restore these coral reefs a new movement?
GY: My work uses cutting-edge technology, but artificial reefs have been used since ancient times. People learned pretty early that if you have any artificial structure, it attracts fish, and putting any collection of rocks together worked okay. What we’re trying to do now is use advancements in technology and a lot of data to design optimal artificial reefs so that they can attract fish, keep healthy coral reefs and help protect against shoreline erosion.
OT: Does seeing all of this pollution in the ocean ever make you feel discouraged?
GY: I try not to get discouraged. There are so many people who really care, and new businesses and technologies are being developed to try and help solve this problem. We only realized it was a huge problem maybe like 50 to 60 years ago, and it’s hard to make big-scale changes, but I think the movement is there.
OT: I read that we know more about outer space than we do about our own oceans. How do you feel about that?
GY: It baffles me. I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis on this topic. I went to look at the history, and space and ocean exploration were on pretty much the same path until the 1960s when we put man on the moon and men at the deepest point of the ocean. But after that, the trajectories really diverged. Even now, NASA’s budget for just pure exploration is 150 times greater than any equivalent exploration budget for NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. But I think that’s starting to change. I think everyone’s realizing how important, how serious and how alien our ocean is.
OT: Do you think it’s about time we start looking more inward to ourselves on Earth?
GY: Yes. There’s a T.S. Elliot quote that says, “At the end of our exploring, we come back to where we came from.” From a technology standpoint, I’m thinking of the new, unexpected discoveries we’re going to make by developing technologies that help us explore the ocean. Because GPS and electromagnetic waves that we rely on for most communication don’t work underwater, we have to innovate – we have to do something different and more creative. I think that is going to have so many unintended discoveries.
OT: As a former ballerina and with your experience working on a coral reef sculpture, what do the arts mean to you?
GY: I trained at CityDance at Strathmore, and I was also at the Washington Ballet School. That really shaped who I am and my work ethic. I think it taught me discipline, and how to be inspired by my peers, but also how to focus on my own strengths and weaknesses. Although I don’t dance anymore, I watch the ballet as much as I can. I think art and science are connected. There’s creativity involved in both of them, so that certainly informs my thought process.
OT: How important is it to marry science and arts together?
GY: Arts and science are fundamentally very similar thought processes. We can learn how to become a better scientist by learning the arts, and vice versa. Art can be a great way to engage in a unique way with science. I was at the UN’s [Ocean Conference] in New York City last summer, and in front of the UN, they had a gigantic whale and fish sculpture. From afar they just looked like great sculptures, but up close, they were made of little bits of plastic that people pulled up from this one beach. It was so moving, and I feel like if you never heard of this plastic problem before, you definitely got the picture right there with that piece of work.
Don’t miss Grace Young at National Geographic on April 10 from 7:30-9 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more about the event at www.nationalgeographic.org/explorers.
The National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc/events
At the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) on F Street, you can now walk down a corridor that leads you through a New York apartment (in pink), a Berlin foyer (in green) and a hallway in Seoul (in cerulean blue). These are the former homes of artist Do Ho Suh, and set against the granite columns inside SAAM, they look like an apparition.
These are Do Ho Suh’s fabric sculptures, his Hubs, and the centerpiece of SAAM’s latest exhibition “Do Ho Suh: Almost Home,” which opened on March 16 and is on view through August 5. The exhibition is the most comprehensive Do Ho Suh exhibition on the East Coast and includes work strictly made for the exhibit, according to director Stephanie Stebich.Stebich lays emphasis on the exhibition as being part of a recent initiative at SAAM to feature artists who may not have been born in America, but who SAAM still recognizes. Other artists recently featured at SAAM include Nam June Paik, Isamu Noguchi and Rufino Tamayo (whose exhibit was covered here.)
“We are proud to highlight artists who have contributions to the story of American art,” Stebich says. “Often, they are global citizens and have spent an important amount of time during their careers in the United States, and thus we think they impact our art scene and our lives.”
Hubs has drawn the most attention at the exhibit. It’s so large that you can walk through it, and the color of the fabric is arresting. But, it’s not the only art on view. Along the walls of the gallery, there are what Suh terms “specimens,” parts of his other homes rendered in the same style, and his “thread drawings.” Distinguished curator Sarah Newman recounted her first experience with Suh’s work in her remarks.
“I can vividly remember the first time I encountered Do Ho’s fabric architecture works. It was in 2003, and it’s been lodged in my brain ever since. It’s the perfect paradox of form and idea. It was an exquisitely, almost obsessively realized version of the world. But at the same time it was ethereal, almost ghostly to be in its presence.”
Suh’s Hubs and his specimens speaks to an era of globalization, Newman says, and they speak to the experience of longing for an absent home. This is in fact what Suh also says about his work, according to Newman.“They’re suitcase homes that he can pack up and take anywhere, and they service his desire to live in the presence of places left behind.”
Suh’s “thread drawings” register more like expressionist paintings, only they are thread embedded in cotton, and, for me, the exhibition could fall flat without these. While the specimens are rendered in God-counting-the-hair-on-your-head detail, they can feel clinical (except for maybe the impeccably done toilet seat or the somewhat kinky Seoul Home 1). The thread drawings, however, exhibit Suh’s humor and personality.My Homes, for instance, features a series of homes and figures done in a cross-sectional style. Some of homes stand on the head of a figure, while others seem to come out of a figure’s behind. Hubs may be the breezy summer home of my dreams, but My Homes is the one I’d like to take home with me.
“Do Ho Suh: Almost Home” is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 5. The exhibition is open daily 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Free entry.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: F and 8th Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-1000; www.americanart.si.edu