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Paintings by Christine Olmstead on display at Latela Curatorial // Photo: Sloane Dakota Tucker

Five Art Destinations Changing DC’s Creative Scene

Looking for some new or unique places to experience art in the District? Check out our picks for where to enjoy DC’s thriving arts scene, from galleries and pop-ups to programs and workshops.

Latela Curatorial Explores New Spaces

Latela Curatorial is an art consultancy with a focus on women artists and the feminine aesthetic. While they’ve held exhibitions of artists’ work at their Brookland studio and office since 2015, they’re transitioning into installing work in larger spaces and finding ways to bring local creatives and their visions to big projects.

“We’ve been refining where we want our projects to go from here on out, focusing on that feminine, delicate, vulnerable, energy-transcending type of narrative from a female artist perspective,” says founder and director Marta Staudinger.

The Brookland-based space just celebrated a successful showing at Superfine Art Fair, and Staudinger and her team are now thinking of ways to build on that energy.

“We introduced several local female artists [at Superfine],” she continues. “Where my interest for 2020 lies is in proposing that booth [at Superfine] as a teaser for a much bigger exhibition that we could do [where we] work with larger institutions.”

Check out Latela’s website to learn more about its artists, exhibitions, and procurement and installation work, and peek your head into the new Avec apartment building on H Street soon for a glimpse of Latela artists’ work.

“We’re super excited to do procurement on that scale,” Staudinger adds of the residential art project. “Nothing is mass-produced. It’s all original art.”

Latela Curatorial is providing spaces all over DC with artwork that’s more than just beautiful – it resonates.

716 Monroe St. #27, NE, DC; www.latelacuratorial.com

The Omi Collective’s Hydrated Womxn Pop-Up

The DC Arts Walk and Edgewood Arts Center is hosting “Hydrated Womxn,” an interactive media exhibition, healing arts residency and holiday bazaar curated by the Omi Collective on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays now through December 22. The central idea is to create a space at the Brookland location where people can relax and recharge while surrounded by creativity.

“We’re challenging people to think about what nourishes them,” says Omi Collective Curator and Creative Director Sanam Emami. “Someone can come in during art lounge hours and step into our joy.”

Resident artists are multidisciplinary, communicating through art, poetry, music and more. Each weekend will explore a different theme with events, performances and workshops meant to leave attendees feeling inspired, centered and creatively hydrated – alongside thoughtfully curated offerings for sale from local artists.

“It’s about the process, not the product,” Emami says.

EWBA Store, Brookland Arts Walk: 716 Monroe St. Studio 1, NE, DC; www.theomicollective.com

Hemphill Fine Arts Moves to K Street

Hemphill has been an integral part of the art community in DC since opening in 1993, and has built a reputation for working with collectors and art aficionados of all ages, incomes and backgrounds. The gallery represents a variety of contemporary artists working in sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media, with recent exhibitions from Julie Wolfe, Hedieh Javanshir, Rushern Baker IV and James Britton.

Now, the gallery is preparing for a big move in January. Director Mary Early says the move “is a dramatic change from our space of the last 15 years on 14th Street in Logan Circle, where we were located on the third floor of a historic building.”

“That location required a little extra from visitors,” she says. “The effort to seek out and find us, the desire to pursue.”

But the new space in Mount Vernon Square brings unique opportunities for visitors to become familiar with Hemphill artists.

“The move to K Street comes full circle to our beginnings in Georgetown in 1993, bringing us back to a first-floor space in a rapidly evolving neighborhood.”

The gallery’s inaugural exhibition will be Linling Lu’s third solo show with the gallery. Hemphill will soon be bringing visitors old and new to its home on K Street.

“We’re looking forward to getting to know our new downtown neighborhood,” Early adds.

434 K St. NW, DC; www.hemphillfinearts.com

Femme Fatale’s New Pop-Up

Femme Fatale is fast becoming a DC fixture as a pop-up showcasing women artists and entrepreneurs. Visitors can expect to find a trove of jewelry, art, prints, clothing and more. CEO Cee Smith says that Femme Fatale is starting to settle into its role in DC’s creative scene.

“We’re definitely still in startup mode, but we’ve had a chance to assess the value that Femme Fatale brings to different communities,” she says.

Femme Fatale has become well-known for its events – from craft workshops to networking parties – and for its bright and welcoming aesthetic.

“We’ve always been this hub for women not only to gather, but to learn from each other,” says Femme Fatale’s owner and jewelry designer Adriana Mendoza.

Now, Femme Fatale is taking on a more “structured type of template to create a real incubator space for women,” she says.

You’d never know that just a few weeks ago, the new pop-up was a gutted restaurant. Art is everywhere: murals, paintings behind the counter, and jewelry, accessories and textile designs for sale in the shop.

Artists are “the secret sauce of the experience of Femme Fatale,” Smith says. Her team prioritizes supporting a wide range of local creatives and especially “those who might just be starting out or who haven’t really had their voice heard,” Mendoza adds. In other words, Femme Fatale provides a great opportunity to find a unique local piece you might not see anywhere else.

401 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC; www.femmefataledc.com

The Torpedo Factory Celebrates 45 Years

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is an icon of Old Town Alexandria. This year, it celebrated 45 years as an art institution with studios, galleries, classes taught by the Art League School, events and more.

“One of the biggest changes since the Torpedo Factory was founded is how much Old Town and the waterfront has changed,” says director Brett Johnson. “It’s become a vibrant and exciting destination, and it’s been great that the art center was a part of that change.”

Looking ahead, the art center is finding more ways to engage with the community and bring more visitors within its walls.

“City council has tasked staff to create a vibrancy and sustainability plan for the art center,” Johnson adds. “We are seeking to create an even more interactive space than what we already provide with new, hands-on experiences.”

That means everything from well-loved programs like Art Safari to newer ones like Factory Flow morning yoga, as well as seasonal events like the Holiday Market and Olde Year’s Day. On December 13, the art center will look back on the first five years of its post-grad residency program, which supports recent art grads with studio space and presentation opportunities.

105 N Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.torpedofactory.org

L to R - Beth Hansen, Kathrine Campagna and Tiffany Evans // Photos: Trent Johnson

Pop-Up Queens: Hen House DC Bring Art To The People

“Wow, there’s definitely a need for what’s happening here. People want to support women in the arts.” I’m sitting with the three powerhouse talents behind Hen House DC amid the retro lime green-teal-pink walls of their most recent pop-up exhibit “Tiny Show 2” as they open up about the realization that they are filling a void in our city’s arts scene. Friends, collaborators and co-founders of Hen House, Kathrine Campagna, Beth Hansen and Tiffany Evans have been overwhelmed by support from the DC community since launching their all-female arts collective this summer. Not only have they created a welcoming creative outlet for local artists, they’ve also made art accessible, engaging and perhaps most importantly, fun.

Gone are the days of blank, sterile walls at exclusive galleries. We’re entering a new era for DC arts, one where event spaces like No Kings Collective’s Good Fast Cheap DC in Brentwood can be reconfigured as the colorful dream designs of three badass ladies and filled to the brim with 5-inch-by-5-inch works from 145 artists. I picked the collective brain of this triumvirate focused on creating forward momentum for female-driven, community-focused arts and creative experiences that are meant to connect and not alienate. Read on to learn more about what Hen House is up to, how you can be considered as an artist in their next show and why I now have girl crushes on all three of them.

On Tap: How did you three meet and connect?
Kathrine: Beth and I went to Corcoran College of Art and Design together, so I’ve known Beth since I was 18.
Beth: We’ve known each other for a very long time.
Kathrine: Yeah, gross [all laugh]. I met Tiffany through my friend and just working with No Kings.
Tiffany: We really bonded at [Art] Basel a couple of years ago. That’s when we really started talking and hanging out.
Kathrine: Both of our friendships have all been really art-centered, which has been pretty awesome.

OT: What was the impetus to start Hen House?
Beth: A couple years back, a couple of us that all had gone to school together basically made an agreement to start proposing shows. Kate hit upon this really cool show idea, “Responsive Light,” and there ended up being four rounds of it.
Kathrine: You could make whatever you wanted. It just had to involve light.
Tiffany: I think it was actually kismet because at the last “Responsive Light” show, I approached Kate and she was like, “Oh, Beth actually just offered the same thing. She wants to help as well.” And I’m like, “Let’s all do this together.” And then she had this idea for Hen House. She was like, “I want to do something with all women. This is perfect.”
Kathrine: I had been sitting on this idea for a while. I really wanted to do it. I wanted to pull people in from all backgrounds of art. I really wanted to make sure it stays diverse, but definitely women-focused.
Beth: We found out really quickly that we all bring our strengths to the table, but we all know enough about what the other ones do that we can come in and help. We can lean on each other’s strengths, but we can also bolster them as well. It feels like everyone is definitely collaborating equally.
Kathrine: Yeah, everyone’s being heard. Communication is definitely our biggest strength.

OT: I read that there was a big draw for local female artists through the “Responsive Light” shows. Why do you think that was?
Kathrine: A lot of women reached out to me who had a lot of talent and had never even shown before. They just didn’t know how to even go about it. They were underrepresented. They didn’t know what tools they had. That definitely put fuel to the fire to get something done.
Beth: I think it helps [that] we’re doing open calls on Instagram. “Hey, we’re looking for you. Send us your stuff. You don’t even have to consider yourself a full-time artist. But if you’re working on this, let’s see what you have.” [We] try as much as possible to fit people’s strengths into each show. We now have this huge collection of artists that have reached out to us, and it’s really incredible to get to meet all of them at these different shows and put those faces to the photographs we’ve seen of their work.
Tiffany: You’d be surprised how many of them – there’s 145 artists in the show – had never shown their work before. And they were like, “How could I? I didn’t know that was really a thing.” It’s been really, really special to see them come and bring their families and they’re like, “This is my first art show and I’ve actually sold a lot of pieces.”

OT: How do you think DC’s art and overall creative scene has changed since launching your professional careers?
Kathrine: Something that I definitely learned just from working with No Kings the last few years is you don’t need a gallery to sell your work. I think the art scene is becoming a little bit more accessible for everybody. It’s all DIY. It’s going to be hard, but that’s the direction I think people are starting to go. It’s not just for the rich anymore. Art should be for everybody. It should be accessible.

OT: How important is it to you to expand your reach beyond just artists to incorporating other women into your shows?
Beth: If we’re trying to highlight female-owned businesses, we try to bring in other women and trans and non-binary creatives in there as well. We try to include as many people as possible.

OT: Is there anyone on your wish list across local food, drink, music, etc. for future collaborations?
Kathrine: One of our good friends from Corcoran is Laura Harris. She’s the drummer for Ex Hex, and it’d be awesome if they could play one of our shows. I think that’d be super fun.

OT: Tell me about “Tiny Show.” How did you guys decide to go little and how much time and energy does it take to work with so many artists and to collect so many tiny pieces of art?
Kathrine: We went to check out the space at Brookland Exchange [where the first “Tiny Show” was hosted] and it was their artist lounge. It’s a hallway.
Beth: Like a cheese wedge.
Kathrine: It’s an odd shape – it’s a cool space – we’re just looking at it like, “I don’t know what to do with this tiny, weird space. Maybe it’s too small for a show. Maybe we should just do a workshop.” And then I was just like, “No. More artists, smaller work.” It’s “Tiny Show” because everything’s tiny because this space is so small [laughs].
Beth: We wanted to be able to get as much work in there as possible, and the only way to do it was like, “We’ve just got to scale this way, way down. No big stuff. Five inches by five inches on the outside dimensions.”
Kathrine: Beth came up with this genius gridding system, so basically no matter how small or big anything is, it will pretty much fit in its space.

OT: What’s next for Hen House?
Tiffany: We’ve definitely talked about a music element. We want to encompass all of the arts in some sort of event where we all incorporate our work on the walls, but we have different performances. I think eventually we want to do something like a Hen House summer camp or days’ long event where it’s really interactive and we can have people coming and making and buying art.

OT: What about wish list spaces?
Kathrine: We can adjust to anything. We’re very adaptable. It’s time that I think is really our main focus for a new space. Can we be there for more than a day? We don’t want to deinstall the next day. We want to give the community and anybody else interested time to see it and keep it as diverse as possible with all the things we’re doing. We always really try to shoot and have a fundraiser attached to it.

OT: Are there any local initiatives or charities you feel passionately about?
Tiffany: We love DASH [local nonprofit District Alliance for Safe Housing]. Beth volunteers for DASH.
Beth:
I do the art group with the kids who live there once a week.
Kathrine:
We’ve donated to them a couple of times.
Tiffany:
We want to work with all the charities, actually. We hope to change it up every time so we can spread the love a little bit.

OT: Do you ever want a permanent space, or do you think you want to remain ever-evolving and modular?
Kathrine: I think probably down the road it would be nice to have a place to call our own and make it what we want to.
Tiffany: Or even a monthlong space would be pretty cool, because we could also change it.
Kathrine: But even if we had a brick-and-mortar, I think we’d still be doing pop-ups. I think that’s how we got our start.
Beth: We want to bring the art to the people.

OT: I noticed high schoolers’ artwork as part of “Tiny Show 2.” How did they react to seeing their art up for sale?
Tiffany: I got to meet a few of the students, and they were literally almost moved to tears when they found out that someone had bought their artwork. Restauranteur Erik Bruner-Yang came in and bought up a bunch of artwork, including some of the students’ work, and was saying it’s going to be included in his new restaurant ABC Pony. And they were literally just over the moon. They could not contain their excitement. I think we’d definitely like to incorporate that in the future.

OT: I feel like at every show you’ve had, there have been families with kids and that’s really cool because that’s another part of the art world that’s not always accessible – not only the price point but whether or not people can bring their kids.
Kathrine: I think it’s nice that families come in because it is a little stuffy in a gallery setting because you know, I guess families aren’t posh and sexy [all laugh]. I like all those weird kids [laughs]. My best friend has two kids. They’ve all sneezed in my mouth. They’re great, man [all laugh]. If I had the opportunity as a kid to grow up in an environment like this where I was exposed to these things, how much cooler would we be?

OT: It’s also a way to include people that live in the neighborhood and surrounding community. It makes it more accessible in that way, which is important too.
Kathrine: We want to keep it as down to earth as possible.

Learn about what Hen House DC has coming up next at www.henhousedc.com or on Instagram @henhousedc.

If you’re an artistic human interested in being considered for one of their upcoming shows, send them a message on Instagram with three submissions of your work and you’ll be included in their pool of submissions for the next one.

Photos: Trent Johnson

A Day In The Life With Tenbeete Solomon AKA Trap Bob

Tenbeete Solomon looks like she’s at home. When I knock on the door, she appears through a window, emerging from the background like someone strolling through their living room. She’s covered in flecks of paint and holds a brush in her hand. However, I’m not at her house or her studio. Instead, we’re at Big Chief, the New Orleans-themed bar in Ivy City.

No, Solomon isn’t squatting. Instead, the graphic artist better known as Trap Bob is working on a mini-mural promoting her contest-winning Pabst Blue Ribbon design. If you drink the American lager, there’s a chance you’ve seen it. But if not, it’s a dark skyline complete with shining stars adorned by a flying saucer (FROM OUTER SPACE) abducting a classic can of PBR. Also, there’s a hand on there (Trap Bob loves hands). She loves them so much, I once called her the Tarantino of hands.

“They’re the perfect things,” Solomon told me next to her “Stairway to Your Dreams” structure at Refinery29’s “29 Rooms.” “They’re very relatable and something I like to do.”

Known for hands (duh), space and bold colors, Trap Bob has completed projects for national companies like Apple and Viacom; people such as Elizabeth Warren and Missy Elliot; and local entities like the DC Mayor’s Office and Washington City Paper. Her art is infectious and fun, bright and loud. It incorporates the wonders of space, but captures the absurdities of the norm. To learn more about the fast-rising artist, we caught up with her to chat about her moniker, a career epiphany and how she balances her growing body of work.

On Tap: So, Trap Bob. Is there a backstory?
Trap Bob: Yeah, there is. I used to have a Bob The Builder backpack and people used to think it was hard to say my name. I always hated the nickname thing, and then I had that backpack and a friend saw me in the hallway one day and she screamed “Bob!” And, everybody was just like, “Oh, this is okay now.” For Trap, I’m literally Gucci Mane’s No. 1 fan. He dropped Trap God when I was getting into art in 2014, and I put them together.

OT: What is the first art-related thing you remember, whether it’s something you made or something you saw where you thought, “Holy shit, that’s cool. I’m doing this?”
TB: I did a self-portrait in first grade and I painted myself as a princess, but the only princesses I had seen had been blue-eyed blondes. So I’m going into it and I was like, “You know, how am I supposed to do this?” So I ended up painting myself with blonde hair and blue eyes and a crown, and it was so crazy because I was like , “That’s me as a princess.” And then [the painting] ended up going on tour in a school art show, and I didn’t get it back until like fifth grade and I forgot about it. Now I have it in my home. I see a message behind it and where my head was then.

OT: You still have it?
TB: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s kind of similar to my style now: really big outlines and primary colors. When I look at it, I see my mind was already in that space of an artist. There was a message in the work when I wasn’t thinking about it.

OT: Did your parents ever see that?
TB: I don’t think that they thought much of it back then, because I think they just thought I was being a little girl. But, my dad is an artist and he always loved that piece because he saw the message in it. He’s the one who makes me aware of when I act like an artist, or create as an artist. He helps me see my work.

OT: What other inspiration did you have growing up? What kind of things were you doodling? Hands?
TB: Not hands, actually! I just doodled random stuff. I don’t even think I had one thing that I liked to draw. It was just a way for me to pay attention. If I was listening, I could draw and keep up that way. I really was into cartoons. I fell in love with anime. Sailor Moon is my everything.


Top five things I can’t live without
Faith
Art
Coffee
Family
My cats


OT: When did you realize you could create art professionally?
TB: I never actually thought of myself as an artist or thought about having a career until my senior year of college. I was studying marketing at the University of Maryland. I figured I’d study business because then I could make money off of whatever I wanted to do, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

OT: What was the big reveal like?
TB: I was relieved, I think. When I figured it out, it was like I solved some lifelong puzzle and everything felt right. Even though it was scary to think of how I was, I was like, “How the f–k am I going to turn this into a career when I just realized that I want to do it?” But it was comforting for me to know. At least I’m committing to something I actually care about. It got to the point where I was like, “Would I sleep in my car to be an artist?” And the answer was “Yeah, I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

OT: How did you kickstart your art career?
TB: I did a lot of personal pieces. I was doing a ton of oil paintings, which is a very deep and long process. So I spent a year just practicing. I taught myself [Adobe] Illustrator after I graduated and started getting into digital pieces, because I realized at the very least, I could do freelance work.

OT: You’ve done graphic design for cans and staircases, and you’re literally painting a door right now. How much of your time would you say is spent self-educating, trying new mediums and pushing yourself to explore different canvases?
TB: I would say out of all my time, the time I actually get to create or learn probably makes up half. [The rest is] managing and emailing, and all the behind-the-scenes stuff. I think a lot of the projects I work on end up having things that I haven’t tried before. I try to at least fit in something new with all my work. I really try to stay away from being repetitive. I think I’m always learning as I create. I don’t think I can ever be done with it.


Top five things I need at work
Coffee
A personalized workspace
Sketchbook
Oil diffuser
Comfy socks


OT: You’ve worked for Refinery29’s “29 Rooms,” Girls Who Code, PBR and Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. You’re busy as hell. How do you go about separating freelance work that people hire you to do and your own creative endeavors?
TB: That is another thing I’ve always tried working toward balancing, because I have a hard time saying no to things. I like doing different things and I do very well with direction. I think my social media illustrations are mostly for me. They’re like trending topics of things that are important to me.

OT: Your work always has a connection to social issues. How do you approach serious topics?
TB: I don’t like to go negative, really. I like to have a positive way to talk about negative things. Some of the illustrations I do have, like the different girls I make, I’ll just put an emotion behind them [that’s] more up to interpretation. But [there’s] usually a message in there somewhere.

OT: What’s next for Trap Bob?
TB: I’m doing a lemonade stand for PBR. It’s like a lemonade stand in space. I’m really excited about that. Next year, me and [local arts collective] GIRLAAA are focusing on a pop-up exhibit installation. [But I’m] not sure where, and I don’t want to be specific.

Follow Trap Bob on Twitter @trapxbob and on Instagram @TRAPBOB. To see some of her projects and learn more about the artist, visit www.trapbob.com.

Becoming Jane exhibit at the National Geographic Museum // Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

Witness a Woman’s Dedication at Nat Geo’s Becoming Jane

“Jane was always… Jane. She was born curious.”

The Executive Director of the National Geographic Museum, Kathryn Keane, described Jane Goodall in this way as I began my exploration into National Geographic’s newest exhibit, “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall.” I experienced my digital introduction to the ground-breaking primatologist only moments before. The exhibit began with three hanging panels that presented a video of Goodall as she prepared visitors for their journey through her life experiences. At the end of her welcome, a 3D chimp swung over the panels, foreshadowing the thrilling digital aspects that accompany the story of “Becoming Jane.”

A worn stuffed chimp, Jubilee, begins the history of a young girl’s interests that would eventually grow into Goodall’s exceptional passion for chimpanzees. The toy was missing hair and was terrifically weathered from years of childhood play. Another display case held copies of Tarzan of the Apes and The Story of Doctor Dolittle, children’s literature that sparked Goodall’s interest in the jungle. I experienced Goodall’s early infatuation with chimpanzees and their environment as I moved further into the exhibit that expertly fit 85 spectacular years of her life into a comparatively small space.

After graduating from secondary school and working for a few years to save money, Goodall took a boat to Kenya and embarked on a journey that would forever change her life. She met Dr. Louis Leakey along the way, a paleoanthropologist who studied human origins, and he hired Goodall as his secretary. He later enlisted her help in studying chimpanzees, humankind’s closest relative, to better understand early humans. This began their observations in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, and at this point in the exhibit, I walked beneath a replica of Goodall’s research tent in Gombe. I examined duplicates of her typewriter and the journals she used to take field notes, examples of clothing she wore and a replica of her cot.

After exiting the tent, I encountered a hologram-like representation of Goodall, but the most impressive aspect of the exhibit was around the corner. I donned a pair of 3D glasses and entered a virtual reality of Gombe National Park where Jane conducted her initial research. I stood with other visitors in the center of the room as the jungle swayed around us, and we were transported to the peak Jane sat atop to observe wildlife. Then, two chimpanzees appeared before us and studied us as they did Jane in her first close encounter with the mammals. We met David Greybeard, the chimp that Goodall sensed trusted her most from the beginning, and the jungle around us continued to move with unforeseen life. We experienced Gombe as Jane did so many years ago, and we imagined her frustrations and victories as chimpanzees ran from us, observed us and eventually approached us.

Upon returning to the real world, I heard screeching. It took me a moment to realize that visitors were attempting to mimic chimpanzee grunts and yells at play stations. There were also interactive binoculars and a virtual jungle to view chimpanzee habits. I looked through the binoculars to observe a mother and her offspring bantering. It wasn’t until I looked away from the binoculars that I realized no one else could see what I was seeing. It was a personal moment to observe social bonds as Goodall did in Gombe National Park.

The last stretch of the exhibit focused on Goodall’s activism. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute, a conservation organization, in 1977 and continues to advocate for a healthy environment for all species. Despite the current dire situation of our environment, Goodall claims there are five reasons to maintain hope: “young people, the human brain, the resilience of nature, the power of social media and the indomitable human spirit.” She is hopeful that humanity will realize they want to save the world they inhabit.

Before leaving, visitors are challenged to reduce their environmental impact by using less plastic, avoiding palm oil or taking a walk to document nature. There were stations set up to make pledges, and I chose to avoid palm oil, a common vegetable oil responsible for mass deforestation. My name appeared on a leaf, representing my pledge, and the leaf floated away to find its place on a tree projected near the exit of the exhibit. Eventually, the entire tree will be coated in leaves and promises as visitors pledge to advocate for our environment and realize that a regular person can impact the world today for a better tomorrow.

“Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall” is on display through Summer 2020 at the National Geographic Museum. The exhibit is made in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute with assistance from the Linda K. Berdine Foundation and Dov and Elma Levy. Various times. Tickets $10-$15.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; www.nationalgeographic.org

Photo: courtesy of The Arctic Refuge Experience

A Story of Beauty and Hope: The Arctic Refuge Experience Comes to DC

Adventurers, explorers and friends of the outdoors, pull out your maps and point to where the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is. If you are not sure where to find it, your GPS should steer you toward Northeastern Alaska.

However, hold off from strapping your hiking boots, because for a limited time you won’t have to leave DC for a chance to experience the refuge. From November 8-11, The Arctic Refuge Experience. Step in. Step Up. is taking over the AutoShop near Union Market to provide a 4-D sensory art installation, with a look and feel that mirrors a walk through the Alaskan wildlife safe-haven. The exhibit is presented by The Wilderness Society and the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in conjunction with the Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition. 

This opportunity is something you do not want to miss out on because the ANWR, naturally, is difficult to visit. Every year only 5,000 people manage to make the trek, making this exhibit a can’t miss opportunity for both art lovers, people invested in environmental issues and even people who work on projects directly related to the refuge. 

“It is incredibly difficult to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” says Edit Ruano, the director of regional communications strategy for The Wilderness Society. “So difficult that I, who, have worked on protecting the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, actually have never been.”

Upon entry, explorers will reach a threshold where the ground beneath you will suddenly change from the DC streets to the arctic tundra. Thanks to dozens of filmmakers and visitor testimony, you will see the region teeming with life through video and artistic recreations. Ruano and other team members wanted make the experience feel authentic, including the Gwich’in community.

“The Gwich’in are an indigenous community who rely on the Arctic Refuge for their way of life,” she says. “We had the head of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Bernadette Demientieff, in New York, [where] we got to share the video of the experience with her and the council members, and they told us that it felt like being home. We teleported them home [from] New York. For us, that was the biggest compliment we could have received.” 

This 4D experience allows you to feel the arctic wind brush against you and even provides smells of the land. One of Ruano’s favorite experiences was when the wildlife surrounded her. Its artistic qualities not withstanding, the Arctic Refuge Experience also has a deeper purpose as this exhibit demonstrates how this beautiful land is in danger because of oil and gas drilling. 

While the Arctic Refuge Experience is designed to warn and inspire everyone, Ruano and her team spent a year designing it because of the urgency regarding the situation.

“Oil and gas companies and the administration have been trying to fast-track, and expedite sales of the Arctic Refuge ever since the 2017 Tax Act, which included a hidden provision opening up the refuge to oil and gas drilling,” she says. “Since then, they have been expediting the scientific review process, and not doing the due diligence and listening to the voices of people who know about the refuge.”

The experience is a story that shows the beautiful land, the villains, but also the heroes working to save it. This is a tale full of hope and serves as evidence of people working collectively to take action. By attending, you can help take action too, as there are physical phones on location that will empower you to call key individuals and leave voicemails wherein you can express your opinions. During the exhibit’s stop in New York, they managed to get 1100 voicemails declaring that the ANWR is too precious to drill.

Visitors will also become “shareholders” in the No Waaay Corp., the first-ever collective action corporation created with the intention of stopping “ big oil” from harming public lands.

Hopefully, The Arctic Refuge Experience will bring out your inner activist. With climate change constantly in the news, this exhibit hopes to truly connect and engage. This immersive experience is on the first leg of its tour, and Ruano wants to expand and reach other areas so the young people can make their voices heard. “We’re hoping that this that activism happens across the US: In red, blue and purple states alike.”

Though you do not need to be politically active to enjoy this one of a kind experience, the exhibit serves as an opportunity to see the beauty of a difficult place to physically explore, with grander designs to inspire you to protect it. All net proceeds will go to the Gwich’in Steering Committee and Gwich’in Youth Council. 

For more information about the exhibit, visit here.

AutoShop: 416 Morse St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com/retailer/autoshop

Drew Valins on the right // Photo: Michael Yeshion Photography

Iconic Character Vaněk Unleashed In The Havel Project

When I think of underground theatre, I think of gritty, non-glamorous shows waiting to be found. However, Alliance for New Music-Theatre is set to take ‘underground’ to the next level with their upcoming performances of Václav Havel’s Protest and Susan Galbraith’s Vaněk Unleashed. Their venue of choice – Dupont Underground, an abandoned streetcar station beneath Dupont Circle.

The first play of this double bill criticizes the communist regime that blanketed Czechoslovakia in 1948. Vaněk Unleashed then further develops Vaněk, a character from Protest, by giving him a voice in this spin-off, “absurdist musical fantasy.”
Drew Valins will portray Vaněk, as he transforms from a silent presence in Protest to a fully formed being in Vaněk Unleashed.

“[He] barely speaks. He’s very shy, so he doesn’t really step on toes,” Valins says. “[Galbraith] created a way to unleash Vaněk.”

Both plays concern themselves with communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, but Valins believes these shows are relevant to American audiences.

“When we started back in 2013, we felt like we kind of had to stretch to understand what it might be like to live in a totalitarian regime because that’s what these plays deal with,” he says. Over time, though, Valins realized that Havel’s plays continue to relate to America’s political climate.

Valins thinks of America as a country of division.

“People are suspicious of one another,” he continues. “No one really knows where to go for answers and that’s exactly the kind of world that Havel was writing about.”

From talking to Valins, I imagine the DC audience might see glimpses of themselves in these performances that will resonate in unexpected ways.

These performances will stand side by side, but their cultural influences seem entirely different. Valins describes Vaněk Unleashed as an “American response” to Czech theatre. For instance, in Protest Vaněk is a more emotionally reserved character, but in the spin-off it mirrors American theatre’s ability to dig underneath the silent character’s reserved exterior.

Havel’s plays were originally performed as “apartment performances” to deflect attention from his communist-ruled country, and the Alliance for New Music-Theater will attempt to mimic those hideaway performances in the Dupont Underground.

“We love the fact that its underground because Havel’s plays had to go underground or under the radar,” Valins says.

By meshing two cultures and honoring the original stagings, the Alliance for New Music-Theater has committed to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and politically significant artists like Havel. Audiences will also witness a plethora of emotions onstage, in addition to various cultural influences, which is Valins’ favorite aspect of the production.

“I’m really excited about that fact that I get to sing. This character, Vaněk— the last thing you would expect him to do is sing. In Vaněk Unleashed, I get to go through every single human emotion. I get to go through joy, fear, anger. I break out in song. I dance. So it’s just a lot of joy. Ironically, that all happens while I’m in prison,” Valins says.

These performances deal with heavy issues, but as pieces of absurdist theatre, audience members are sure to be stunned by unexpected nuances.

If Valins could speak with Havel, he has a few things he would mention to the playwright. His message is poetic, meaningful, and quite fun, which I imagine is a precursor to his performance as Vaněk.

“Mr. Havel, you’re a terrible dancer, but thank you so much for your spirit. You’re a real inspiration in the way you hold yourself and enjoy life under pressure. And you’re just a cool person that I wish I could’ve known and rolled a cigarette with and had a smoke with. I wish you could see our stuff, and I think you would dig it.”

Valins’ passion for the upcoming performances makes me want to dive into the world of Havel that these actors will prepare for their audience – regardless of the playwright’s inability to dance.

“Havel wasn’t as concerned with artificial professionalism. He was concerned with enjoying the work, so [the cast and crew] puts in that spirit.”

New Music Theater will host performances of Protest and Vaněk Unleashed through November 17. All shows are presented by Alliance for New Music-Theatre in partnership with the Embassy of the Czech Republic. For more information on showtimes or ticket prices, visit here.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir. NW, DC; www.dupontunderground.org

Guests interact with the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival on Opening Night in Washington DC on October 18, 2019. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

29Rooms Opens Doors To New Experience in DC

“The sacrifices we make for art.” 

This is what I muttered to myself at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, October 21. I was slated to venture from my Alexandria duplex to DC’s Armory on a cultural adventure to Refinery29’s “29Rooms: Expand Your Reality” exhibit, currently enjoying its first national tour, concurrently making its DC debut. 

The women’s publication first unveiled the concept in 2015, giving attendees of New York Fashion Week an opportunity to walk through 29 distinct artistic experiences, ranging from vibrant and fuzzy to interactive and talkative. Fast forward four years, and the exhibition is on the road visiting cities like Atlanta, Dallas and DC, along with bigger U.S. cultural hubs like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. 

“When I heard we were coming to DC it was an exciting surprise,” says DC native Olivia Fagon, Refinery29’s creative director. “Most of our team is from New York, so there was a little bit of mystery as to what it would mean to bring it here. I think for me, I was super excited to tap local artists who are from DC.”

The DC Armory stop runs through October 27, giving residents of the nation’s capital a chance to walk into, and throughout, rooms created by artists such as Kali Uchis, Yvette Mayorga, Dan Lam and NNEKKAA, and others. As part of this year’s rendition, 29Rooms has added what they’re calling “The Art Park,” an initiative intended to highlight local artists from the cities on the tour, including a stairway toward your dreams created by local illustrator Trap Bob, aka Tenbeete Solomon

Artist Tenbeete Solomon poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

“I’ve always wanted to work with 29Rooms,” Solomon says. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for forever. My mind went to something expansive. I loved being able to explore with different mediums, because I don’t have the capacity to do these major rollouts, but it’s great to partner with people who have the same ideas and same values.” 

The team behind Refinery29 initially wanted a flat graphic, but she wanted something more engaging. When they suggested a staircase, Solomon approached the canvas thinking about its physicality from all sides, and though she wanted it to feel different than her illustrative works, it would still feel distinctly Trap Bob.

“It’s a weird thing to put a design on,” Solomon says. “I want to make sure each part is like its own piece, but still work together. I do hands a lot, it’s very relatable and something I love to do. They’re the perfect things. It’s my way to reach out to everybody and bringing that idea with the ‘follow your dreams’ theme, which is very, very close to me and my experience. It worked with the idea of climbing the stairs. Just the idea of elevating yourself and literally taking steps to get to where you want to get to. If I didn’t take those steps early in my career, there’s no way I’d be here talking about it.” 

For more local flair, Refinery29 tapped Howard University master of fine arts graduate Jamea Richmond-Edwards to construct a DC-centric full-scale billboard to welcome guests into the gallery. The murals are exclusive to the respective city’s art scene, to highlight the local community. 

Artist Jamea Richmond-Edwards poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

Upon walking past the “Traveling Billboard” and into the main area, you’ll notice the lighting in the Armory is dark, giving each room and piece a spotlight effect. This is apt, as all hold a unique point of view worthy of said spotlight. And no matter which you stumble into, they all are connected by the theme of a woman’s experience in several facets of society and empowerment, echoing that of the publication’s mission.

“It was amazing to bring this brand that is not only pro-female, but very intersectional,” Fagan says. “We’re looking at women from all kinds of points of view. There’s a lot of political undertones in the event as well and those aren’t necessarily supposed to resonate specifically to DC, but I think whatever city we take it to, it makes a strong statement.”

Giving a tour, Fagan identifies a few rooms as fan favorites including “Dream Doorways,” a display with several (you guessed it) doors leading to stunning visuals that could make you question whether you’re on psychedelics; “A Conversation With Your Inner Child,” an interactive room which allows you to tap into the dreams and desires of a younger you; and “29 Questions,” a collection of tables and chairs meant to evoke discussions among strangers congregating throughout the exhibit.  

The different perspectives from a diverse set of artists is meant to represent and reflect those same qualities in the audience of the attendees. For Fagan, the doors are open for everyone, and she hopes people are as excited to explore the rooms to find their own favorites. 

“We always welcome that,” Fagan says. “I think Refinery has perceptions around it: people know us as a women’s publication, people know us for having certain types of values. I think as much as we can attract people in, and then surprise them with something they may not have thought of in a certain way, it’s always a gift if we can. If we’re creating a space where our values are just resonating with that audience already, that’s great too.” 

Gallery times are 1:30-10:30 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday and 10:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. on Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $29 and guarantee access for one 2.5 hour session. For more information about 29Rooms, visit here.

DC Armory: 2001 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.29rooms.com

Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

Photo: Rich Kessler

Where Culture and Community Collide: Culture House DC

Art without restrictions. Interactive installations with immersive experiences. Structured, well-funded programming. Consistent, tangible support of the local community. These are among the priorities reinforced by the leadership at community arts organization Culture House DC in Ward 6. When three strong voices echo the same sentiment in separate conversations, the shared vision and determination of the nonprofit space’s team become palpable – and worth digging into further.

Culture House DC turns six this month, fresh off the heels of a strategic rebrand that whittled the organization down to a simple, very focused ethos: to house all ideations of culture in an encompassing environment including everything from music, multimedia art and fashion to food and fitness.

“We were inspired by the German concept of a kunsthalle: a place for art but also for creatives and community,” says co-founder Stephen Tanner. “There isn’t a word in the English language like it.”

Tanner, who oversees financial planning for the repurposed historic church, had plans to redevelop the space in 2013 but first tried his hand at a short-term art experience with co-founder and executive director Ian Callender. What started as a pop-up in the more than 15,000-square-foot art space – one of several takeovers of abandoned, dilapidated facilities throughout the city to provide community programming – organically developed into a mixed-used, art-centered, long-term development project.

Tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac on Delaware Avenue in Southwest DC, the iconic building is likely one you’ve seen populate your Instagram feed. With bold swirls of color and abstract shapes lining the exterior in its entirety, it forms one bright, cohesive mural. And chances are, you’ve attended an event there too, or at least seen one pop up on Eventbrite. From Swatchroom Co-Founder and artist Maggie O’Neill’s monthlong “Superfierce” event promoting the female art community to TBD Immersive’s In Cabaret We Trust theatre experience – complete with fire performers and burlesque – the experiences housed in the space have been versatile, to say the least.

Tanner and Callender realized from the get-go that there weren’t other spaces like it, and they capitalized on the opportunity.

“It’s rare to have an art experience with this many different components,” Callender says of the building’s sheer size and scale. “We knew that, and we wanted to enhance the art experience with food and music, but really have an environment that encompassed that – especially in this part of Southwest.”

Since then, Callender has worked tirelessly to bring in a range of events to the space – from outside-the-box art exhibits and culinary experiences to private parties and weddings. As a space that relies on funding from the local community while also acting as a space to support that very same community, he built relationships with corporate sponsors to keep the organization on an upward trajectory.

Like many labors of love that undergo creative changes, Culture House has evolved with the times. The organization started out as Blind Whino SW Arts Club but switched to just SW Arts Club in 2017 when the connotations associated with “Whino” started limiting the scope of their collaborations. And now, after six years of hosting a vast and eclectic range of events while also creating opportunities for artists to expand their reach and display their works in original ways, Callender and Tanner are ready to streamline their mission and take Culture House DC next-level.

“We’re not looking to move or shift,” Callender says of his growing staff, which now includes resident art advisor Andrew Jacobson, a marketing and PR rep, a culinary team, and more. “We’re looking to build organically from the ground up […] with a newer identity.”

Jacobson joined the team this spring and is focused on increasing funding around exhibits and planning additional events to support and promote them. He believes this can be made possible by pushing Culture House to become a more structured organization where programming is set further in advance.

“If you have solid programming, it’s an all-around win for the organization,” he says.

Jacobson, whose background includes art curation, music production and involvement in huge art fairs like Art Basel, sees a wealth of untapped potential for the space and is eager to put those plans into motion.

“Culture House wants to be the premier art and events space in Washington, DC. I think we are en route, but we need to make some tweaks to really rightfully claim that title. There’s some things we can do that will really make the venue outstanding.”

Chief among his priorities is pursuing more interactive, thematic installations that can directly serve the community, especially underserved segments, that are right around the corner from the space. And he’s off to a great start, with a two-month exhibit from DC-based conceptual artist Maps Glover opening at the beginning of September. “Save The Seed” offers an interactive experience for audiences to “share and exchange stories and evaluate the value of the soul,” and is built around the artist’s vision of a black seed as a metaphor for the black soul.

Callender views Glover’s show as an artistic vehicle for utilizing Culture House’s space in ways that people haven’t seen, and to get more immersive and integrate unique experiences into the art.

“Maps, from what I’ve seen, has an ability to really articulate that conversation,” Callender says. “That’s what excites me the most: to be able to have a space where [artists] can get creative without any restrictions. I think this particular show will achieve that.”

He’s looking five steps ahead – way past the show being mounted and opening – to artist talks, panels, receptions and other opportunities for expanding “Save The Seed” and making the exhibit as multidimensional as possible.

“[We can] make it not just singular in its approach [by] taking advantage of the space and knowing this will be [Glover’s] home for the next couple of months. If it’s your home, what would you do at home? Invite your people into your home. I’m very excited to see what he has to offer.”

Looking ahead, Callender is envisioning other exhibits that move beyond utilizing just four walls to all six, where the ceiling and the floor also become part of the composition. At the top of his wish list is commissioning an artist to paint a basketball court in Culture House’s expansive upstairs space, and then installing a basketball-centric exhibit. And because the building is the organization’s best canvas, Callender and his team are considering a new iteration of the exterior’s mural – or maybe even just painting Culture House white and inviting people to throw paint balloons at its walls.

Though the façade might change and the scope of programming might narrow, one aspect of Culture House has remained intact since day one: supporting the artists and the surrounding community.

“This is always our goal,” Tanner reiterates. “We do this by making most events free of charge, with a suggested donation. With the community’s help and generosity, and with the city realizing how we support community, we can continue providing experiences and access like we’ve been doing for six years.”

Jacoboson shares this ethos, stressing the importance of raising more funds for Culture House’s no-commission art exhibits.

“Without money, you can’t do the right type of programming. You can’t get the right type of artists. You’re throwing things together at the last minute and hoping they stick. That’s not the way that you implement strong, consistent programming and without that, we can’t serve the community. I have a social and a moral obligation to support things that are going to contribute to the betterment of the community. With more help on that front, we can do a lot more.”

Their resounding commitment to functioning as a true community arts space is only reinforced by the third and final voice of Callender.

“It’s imperative for us to support [our artist community] in nontraditional ways – not just buying art but giving them a platform so that they can do what they do best. Community can mean so many different things to a person, but at the end of the day, it’s all communal. Culture can mean so many different things to a person, but at the end of the day, it’s all a singular node. There should always be a place where culture and community collide. Culture House is where culture meets community.”

Maps Glover’s “Save the Seed” exhibit runs at Culture House through September and October. Follow Culture House on social media @culturehousedc and learn more about upcoming events, including a soon-to-be-announced sixth anniversary party, at www.culturehousedc.org.

Culture House DC: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; 202-554-0103; www.culturehousedc.org

Still from The Cowfoot Prince // Photo: courtesy of Bex Singelton

DC Shorts Returns With Impeccable Taste and International Flair

“We didn’t want to wait around for other people to let us do it.”

Actor, writer and director Mike Doyle, perhaps best known for his Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appearances, is telling me about his latest short film The Chase. Doyle is no stranger to feature films, adding that he has a romantic comedy making the rounds at festivals at this very moment. But there’s politics to producing a longform theatrical release – you need money, time and a prolonged story.

“The great thing about [short films] is that they’re distilled short stories that live in the span of six to 15 minutes,” Doyle continues. “I love that there’s a place like DC Shorts that promotes that kind of storytelling.”

The DC Shorts tagline is simply, “We champion short filmmaking.” Since 2003, the homegrown festival has proven Doyle’s sentiment correct, showcasing a variety of films in every genre from documentary to comedy to drama to action. This year’s International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is no different, offering more than 156 films from 38 countries on September 19-28 around the city.

“It’s remarkable what you can tell in a short amount of time,” says Bex Singleton, director of short documentary The Cowfoot Prince. “It’s good for people to come away with questions they can explore on their own volition. I don’t think there’s any shame in leaving an audience wanting more.”

Singleton admittedly learned most of what she knows about shorts from film school; The Cowfoot Prince was her final project in college and made its international debut at DC Shorts. The documentary follows Usifu Jalloh, a storyteller from Sierra Leone, and his journey from his adopted home of London to the village where he was born.

The first-time director, who lived in Sierra Leone as a photographer, met Jalloh at a fundraising event. After being knocked sideways by his performance, she approached him with an offer to make him the main subject of her graduation film.

“The story is about the complexity of the relationship with the place you’re from and the place you live,” she says. “Sierra Leone changed the way I saw the U.K., and if you look at the source material that’s easy to access about Sierra Leone, it’s about war or disease. You don’t often see characters. Usifu is such a strong and interesting character.”

The documentary is about 28 minutes long, pushing the boundaries of a short, but Singleton acknowledges the struggles of even getting below 40 minutes. After seven weeks of shooting, both in the U.K. and Sierra Leone, Jalloh’s energy was captivating and worthy of an even longer feature-length documentary.

“He has more energy than anyone else I had ever met,” Singleton says of her film’s subject. “Actually, trying to have an emotional journey through the film and understand what an optimistic person he is – that felt like quite a delicate balancing act. I’m not that used to documentaries where there’s a lot of flipping through happiness to sadness to seriousness to lightness.”

While The Cowfoot Prince marked the first time Singleton and Jalloh had worked together, Doyle’s The Chase marked the latest of several collaborations between the director and scriptwriter Nick Jandl, who based the story on a personal experience where someone snatched his phone off of a restaurant table.

“He was out with his wife one night in Los Angeles and the phone was stolen from the table,” Doyle says. “His wife chased, and he followed. We wanted to fuse that with bigger stakes, more drama. Nick’s character, Tim, is ineffectual. His instinct is not to run after [her]. I wanted to make a road movie on foot.”

Upon reading the synopsis for The Chase, you’ll likely have little faith they can squeeze all it promises in the limited 11-minute runtime. In that short amount of time, the film features “a complex intersection of race, justice and self-discovery.”

“We’re living in a time of division and misconception of the other – from all sides,” Doyle says. “In telling this story about a white guy, a black guy and a mixed-race wife, it speaks to ultimately the good of human nature and how we can cast away some prejudgment and learn something about ourselves in the process.”

Doyle and the rest of the crew filmed the short over two night shoots. With a script of 15 pages, he knew he had to trim about five minutes of content for a better chance on the festival circuit. Luckily, the small-scale nature of the story lent itself to a compact runtime. But editing for tone proved to be the most creatively demanding aspect.

“The film walks a fine line between drama and comedy, and I wanted to make sure the comedic moments sprung from the drama and absurd elements,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we honored those moments.”

The short debuted earlier this year to applause and laughter in Los Angeles. While a premier for a film is always a bit nerve-wracking, the positive reception allowed Doyle to focus on how to market the piece going forward.

“DC Shorts was at the top of the list because I had such a great experience there previously,” Doyle says. “I think it’s a great showcase for stories such as these.”

The festival sticks out to him as a filmmaker because of its integrity and standards, and with films like The Chase and The Cowfoot Prince, this year’s selection is positioned to captivate audiences again and again.

“They just curate really well, so you’re getting the best of the best,” Doyle says. “It’s not just someone who slaps their iPhone out. They have impeccable taste.”

For more information regarding the two films, the entire DC Shorts schedule and ticket prices, visit www.dcshorts.com.

DC Shorts International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition: Various venues in DC; www.dcshorts.com

Alysia Lee and Ty Defoe // Photo: Tony Powell

The REACH’s Opening Festival

The inside spaces of the Kennedy Center’s The REACH are spacious and cavernous, like an underground college building with rooms ripe for seminars, classes, performances, films and whatever other kind of programming the Center offers, which is to say almost anything. The outside buildings are equally stunning, standing tall not in an intimidation, but a reassurance.

The facility had yet to open when we walked through the grounds in mid-July, but it was easy to close your eyes and imagine a swath of people congregating in one of the spacious fields for a concert or a movie projected directly on the side of their sloping creations. Soon, there won’t be much left to the imagination as the Center is set to unleash every kind of installation you can think of – big name to small name, hip-hop to opera, dance to painting, sculpture to DJs.

“We’ll achieve a vision in people’s minds,” says Robert van Leer, the Kennedy Center’s senior vice president of artistic planning. “And I mean everyone: artists, staff, visitors, civic leaders. When you open a new building, there’s a process that comes up with that vision, but it’s important to start with what it can be.”

From Saturday, September 7 through Sunday, September 22, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival will feature close to 500 free events inviting people to explore the space, participate in workshops, and see headlining acts such as Robert Glasper, Bootsy Collins, The Second City, Thievery Corporation and so much more.

“It’s a great way to illustrate what The REACH can do,” van Leer continues. “It’s a combination of all of those things and a chance to learn with the artists to see what the future opportunities can be.”

Artists Ty Defoe and Alysia Lee are perfect examples of the diverse range of creative talent participating in the festivities. Both will travel from different East Coast cities – Baltimore and NYC, respectively – to support The REACH and take part in the public’s first invitation to the campus.

“I like the word festival,” Defoe says. “I like the word joy and I like the word connection. I feel like among those words, it reminds me that we’re at a time right now where the arts are a place of healing, celebration and activation. The arts not only change people’s minds, but people’s hearts. I feel like we’re in a time where that is very necessary right now.”

Defoe is an interdisciplinary artist from New York slated to participate in two events: a panel titled “The New Contemporary in Native American Art” and an interactive participatory hoop dance. The latter is only allotted 15 minutes, but despite this expedited runtime, the movement has several different layers all geared toward a unique experience.

“I’ve been working on this since I was 7 years old,” Defoe says. “It gets at a lot of intersections that I like to operate in, which is contemporary indigenous culture, community, spectacle, and utilizing spaces [both] indoors and outdoors. Also, [knowing] this festival will have all these amazing people of culture coming together in that circle, there was no other thing in my mind that came up besides this.”

The dance starts off with a story about finding a way through fighting and warring as a community, but it’s not all spoken. For some, the narrative is better understood through a series of physical steps, hence the hoop dance.

“I’ll weave myself in and out of these hoops to make different shapes – things you’d see in nature like trees, plants, flowers and animals – to pay honor to the equity of all living things,” Defoe continues. “The interactive part breaks down the multigenerational part because as adults, we are sometimes living in our heads and not able to feel. No matter who you are – shape, size, color – you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your friend or relative.”

While Defoe’s interactive performance welcomes all people in attendance to gather around and dance, Lee’s workshop about protest songs will focus on inspiring middle school children to express themselves in tune. As a Kennedy Center 2019-2020 Citizen Arts Fellow and multifaceted vocalist, Lee is an obvious choice to lead an educational workshop for the opening festival.

“I really want to have something where kids walk away with something they created,” Lee says. “I want collaboration and sharing, and something where there will be high incentive and high reward to move quickly together.”

Lee came up with the activity upon learning that a majority of 60s protest songs were parodies of oldies from the 40s and 50s. The format took form when she thought of using modern pop music to help kids write their own pieces.

“What do we care about and how can we use music as a way to voice our opinions? The accessibility of these protest songs is super cool because you can get kids to take their favorite hits and use them for social change.”

Lee feels confident that the children participating will be up for protesting, whether it be concerns about global warming or requests for more snack machines.

“Kids nowadays are so in tune because of social media,” she says. “They’re so in touch with the world in a way that I wasn’t. Kids really feel very strongly and passionately about things that are beyond them. They feel more connected to the global society.”

The REACH is also slated to feature a number of DC-based artists as part of the festival’s lineup. GIRLAAA Collective Founder Dominique Wells has coordinated a full slate of curation on opening day with a panel of female DJs – including Mane Squeeze, Ayes Cold and Niara Sterling – followed by a performance.

“We want to discuss women in the music industry and how they’re doing more than just following contemporary trends – they’re breaking barriers,” Wells says. “I feel like what they’re doing is important and monumental and necessary.”

The DC native sees The REACH as an opportunity for the Kennedy Center to better serve the underprivileged in the community by introducing them to art by way of free workshops and performances, much like the programming for the festival.

“It’s about what’s happening beyond their main space,” Wells says. “I think The REACH is going to offer a lot of people who otherwise might not come there an opportunity to experience something inclusive and diverse. They have a great team of people who are working really hard, and they’re listening to people.”

From local to national, big to small, contemporary to classical, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival is a multi-dimensional playground for patrons of the arts from any background. Van Leer says there are no plans to make this an annual tentpole event, so you will definitely want to revel in it while you can.

“You see all the cross-pollination that’s occurring,” Lee says of the festival programming. “It’s really inspiring and makes me think about the through-line of creativity and how things can speak. I love that the festival is a place for that. It’s hard to even fathom missing one day of it.”

To peruse the comprehensive list of events at The REACH’s Opening Festival, visit https://cms.kennedy-center.org/festivals/reach. For announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH, go to www.reach.kennedy-center.org.