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HERImpact Helps Women Entrepreneurs Crack Glass Ceiling

DC Startup Week 2019 revealed a different side of the District. Though it could be argued that a once promising startup culture bubbled and fizzed in DC over the past ten years, it appears our capital city has not abandoned innovation after all. Last week, it was on full display. Instead of playing host to pundits and politicos, venues from across the city turned into networking hubs for up and coming idea men – and women. 

On Wednesday, September 11, 10 female finalists, selected from more than 170 applicants in the HERImpact DC Pitch Competition, took to the stage at Eaton DC to make their case for support in five minutes or less. HERImpact, a joint initiative between the Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures, focuses on a special subset of women-owned and run business ventures, driven by a mission to do social good. 

“We believe that investments in women have a multiplying effect. When you invest in a woman’s future, the benefits of that investment extend beyond her, to her children, family and community around her. Through HERImpact we are helping women social entrepreneurs use business for good so that they can change the world,” says Yisel Cabrera, Ford Motor Company Fund Community Relations Manager. 

Together with 1863 Ventures, Cabrera and the team at Ford reviewed applications for the pitch competition, narrowing the field to five “early stage” and five “growth stage” enterprises that seek to solve real community problems, have sustainable business models and focus on products or services people will pay for – all of whom were invited to make their sale during startup week.

The event space at Eaton DC was overflowing with audience members representing a range of interests  potential investors, supporters and fellow entrepreneur hopefuls taking notes and cheering on the finalists. Among the diverse set of ventures were financial education services for youth, healthy food access opportunities and a digital community organizing app. However, three winners struck the judges and the audience as above the rest. Growth-stage entrant Stephanie Cummings, founder of Please Assist Me, received the First Place award of $25,000, with her company that enables customers to achieve a work-life balance needed for a successful career. 

“The competition really validated the number of people that were overwhelmed by household management,” Cummings says. “I was overwhelmed by the number of people of all genders and ages who approached me after the competition to let me know how my story resonated with them. It further ignited my passion to continue to grow Please Assist Me to bring work-life balance to everyone.”

Dafero’s founder Lina Zdruli says that her $20,000 Second Place award is groundbreaking for her business. 

We now have the exact funds needed to buy the equipment and materials to ensure we can launch our new product before the start of the holiday season, which is when we take in about 65 percent of our yearly sales,” Zdruli says, whose company is grounded in providing no-sugar (but plenty of flavor!) dessert options.

And without a doubt, LaQuida Chancey (an early-stage participant) earned her $5,000 Audience Choice award. Her pitch for Smalltimore Homes was an energetic, inspiring appeal to help end homelessness.

“I learned the significance of and how to articulate my unique value proposition,” Chancey says. “Today in business, any entity should be able to clearly state their benefit, how they are solving needs of their target audience and what distinguishes them apart from everyone else.”

Women have been banging on the glass ceiling of business for a while now, and the cracks are starting to show. Thanks to programs like the HERImpact Pitch Competition, opportunities for female entrepreneurs are a little less out of reach and, unsurprisingly, the women seizing those opportunities are doing so while lifting others up along the way. 

To learn more about the HERImpact DC Pitch Competition and the winners from the event, click here.

202Creates Helps District Connect Arts Community

Three years ago, a month became a movement for the DC creative community.

“There were so many things coming to the forefront of the creative community,” says Angie Gates, director of the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME). “It started out with the intent to highlight our diverse and vibrant community. The original [idea] was to have the month of September be the main focus of highlighting our creatives. What we quickly realized after year one was: we can’t stop.”

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser established 202Creates in September 2016 to celebrate the city’s creative economy and culture, with input from the DC’s OCTFME, Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Office of Planning and Economic Development. What began as a designated month of events has since transformed into a relationship between the local government and its luminaries including fellowships, studio space and networking opportunities.

“To know that the mayor and the community are behind the creatives speaks to the climate of where we are and [the community’s] understanding of the arts in the District,” says local musician James Poet of indie group FutureBandDC. “There’s such a melting pot of creatives in the area. There’s so many visual artists and filmmakers and [musicians]. They’re part of the pulse of the community. It makes sense for the city to come in and make sure we have a voice and platform.”

Though the idea rapidly outgrew 30 days, September still holds significance for 202Creates. This year’s kickoff event on August 29 at Eaton DC will promote art installations, musical performances, dance activations and more. Other festivities included in the celebration are Art All Night on September 14, the DC Radio Anniversary event on September 19, and the 202Creates Month closeout event on September 28 featuring Poet and his band.

“I think 202Creates is a staple in DC,” Poet continues. “It’s the go-to for creatives in providing a platform for us to elevate our talents. They’ve created this platform to support the creativity community in all its functions, and we definitely wanted to make sure we support this initiative.”

The 202Creates community has grown because of the city’s willingness to increase support and provide a foundation for people looking to get their foot in the proverbial creative door, Gates says, mentioning the OCTFME television and radio stations.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Gates says. “I fondly refer to DC as the capital of creativity. Not only have [we] had an impact here in the District, but nationally people are [recognizing] what we’re doing here.”

And this form of support isn’t limited to people in the entertainment industry or people who deal in traditional mediums like photography or painting, as the city also considers practices like cosmetology and cooking to be artistic expressions that fall under 202Creates’ purview.

“It wasn’t so much about the government as much as this is how the government can help you find a creative pathway to the middle class,” Gates says. “What it really does is highlight the different resources and platforms that we have as a government that we can provide our creatives. It’s really about the creatives having a seat at the table and showcasing the talents of the city.”

Three years in, she says there are still people just learning about 202Creates and its programs, whether it be artists-in-residence or the coworking office on 200 I St. Through installations and social media, the movement has touched all eight wards of the District, unearthing and shepherding talent in a supportive manner.

“I think it would be a travesty if we didn’t grow each year,” she says. “When you have other artists and other things to spark your creativity around you, you start to expand and grow and develop. That’s the beauty of it all: to look at where we were in 2016 and where we are today.”

So how can locals gain access to these resources? Gates says it’s as easy as sending an email via www.202creates.com, but she’s also fielded pitches in person and over Instagram.

“We’re asking everyone to just come out and meet us,” she continues. “We have an open-door policy at our studios. The goal is to make sure our creatives can work closely with us. The main thing is to get engaged once you’re here and familiar with it.”

For a list of participating 202Creates Month events or for information on the initiative, visit the website at www.202creates.com or www.entertainment.dc.gov. Follow along with the community on Instagram @202Creates.

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

Self Portrait: Tony Powell

DC’s Renaissance Man: Photographer Tony Powell

Tony Powell is fierce with a camera. He’s prompt and demanding of himself and his subjects. He’s direct but not unkind. He’s energetic but not overwhelming. And his work is everywhere in DC, adorning program pages for Arena Stage productions and plastered on the covers of Washington Life. He’s shot for The Atlantic. He’s shot for the Pope. He’s shot most of the President’s cabinet.

“I’ve never been more present, I’ve never been more alive, I’ve never been more secure and solid in what I’m doing,” Powell tells me in Georgetown while savoring a vegan concoction from South Block. “I have friends in every quarter of power in Washington. I’m in the homes of the secretaries, our cabinet here. The photography has just taken off.”

Powell is always positive. 

Early Experience

For a long time, photography was just one of many tools on his utility belt of expression: a portrait here, a selfie there. Many years prior to his time asking people to smile in the studio, Powell was on the stage. In the late 70s, when he was a child attending elementary school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, he participated in a dance organized by a visiting troupe from Howard University’s drama department. Like the other 500 kids, Powell froclicked and moved freely and effortlessly, but unlike the other children, he was noticed.

“They called me on the loud speaker: ‘Anthony Powell, come to the office,’ and I thought I had done something wrong,” Powell says. “I really couldn’t figure out what I’d done. So I get there and they said, ‘Would you be interested in auditioning for a performance?’ They really liked the way I danced and told me I had a wonderful sense of presence. I said, ‘Sure.’” 

Powell found himself on the European leg of Raisin, replacing Ralph Carter of Good Times fame. Here, at the age of 9, he got to experience orchestral performances, professional singers, dancers and creative professionals up close. 

“I got to see how an orchestra was put together. I watched the choreographers during the musical, and I watched how the lighting came together in the costume design and set design all in one major production,” he says. “It was like a fulfillment of an artistic dream of mine, even though I hadn’t yet had the dream. I was able to subconsciously see how it all comes together.” 

This almost unreal experience served as reinforcement for Powell’s eventual career in the arts. Growing up, his family had always encouraged him to pursue creative endeavors, but upon seeing the multitude of outlets in which he could do so, he embraced them all. 

“I was shown at a very young age that the arts were a viable avenue for my life – for livelihood,” Powell says. “I think it’s so important to expose children to the arts at an early age, to really give them a chance to see it as an option. I’m just really blessed, when I look back, that my parents were not closed-minded in that regard.” 

A Juilliard Grad

Upon returning, Powell performed throughout the DC area in ballets, plays and other art forms. As a teen, he modeled in print ads, acted in television shows and movies, and was a frequent audition for plays in New York. At 17, Powell almost shifted gears completely to become an architect. 

“I was going to either be an architect or go to Juilliard,” Powell declares.

Once the famed school accepted him, it was a no-brainer which direction he’d choose, and he enrolled in 1986 to study dance. The first three years were successful, but during his senior year, he encountered his first bout with alcohol addiction. 

After an intervention with school officials and his parents, Powell agreed to get sober and finish out the year, but he ultimately failed. 

“It was a chemical dependence,” Powell says. “It’s a disease, and at first it was innocuous. I didn’t have a problem with it for a long time. I could take it or leave it. They let me come back in 1995 after two of my professors fought for me. I had gotten sober and they championed my cause.”

During this time, Powell says he lived with famed choreographer Anna Sokolow, who introduced him to other renowned artists like choreographer Jerome Robbins and actor Lauren Bacall. He also began composing music between taking classes, dipping his toe into yet another medium. 

“In my mind, it was more interesting for me to write music than it was to play someone else’s,” he says. “That period of time was just nonstop: three to five new ballets a year with my company Tony Powell/Music & Movement.” 

Return to DC

From 1995 to 2002, Powell was a fixture in the DC arts scene, performing at the Kennedy Center, composing and choreographing pieces for the Joffrey Ballet, and making films. He was featured in numerous publications ranging from The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine to Washington Flyer, where he was often referred to as a “Renaissance man,” “precocious” and  “diverse.” 

“I wanted people to have multiple levels of experience when they came to my work,” he says.

“I’m going to not only see a dance, to hear a piece or to see a film, but I wanted to challenge people on different levels. So many people around town supported my work at a high level. But by the end, the drinking destroyed all that.” 

Powell began drinking again in 2002, and like a river bursting through a dam, all hell broke loose. 

“[In] 2002, I had probably the greatest performance I’d ever had in my life at the Kennedy Center,” Powell explains. “It was like an apex of my work. It was a combination of everything that I had ever come up with: film, five or six ballets, music. The Washington Post gave me one of the best reviews of my life, and I said to myself, ‘Oh, now I can have a drink.’”

One drink ultimately turned into a divorce and his dance company failing. Seemingly moments after he had finally arrived as a mature artist with great variance and focus, he was gone.

“I felt like, here it is,” Powell says, reflecting on the moment.  “What do I do? It was a rapid decline because when I start, I can’t stop. I literally can’t function.” 

Powell didn’t finally get sober until 2009. He’s close with all four of his children, and the youngest one has never seen him inebriated. 

His most prevalent creative outlet is his photography, and he’s now more often behind the camera than in front of it. In a few hours, he’ll be photographing Ben’s Chili Bowl Founder Virginia Ali before donning a suit to cover a conference featuring top doctors from around the world. 

“In one day, I can’t believe how much fun I get to have doing what I love to do,” he says. 

The artist still composes music and choreographs movements, but on a much smaller scale. He’ll do a piece for a friend here or get commissioned by a company there, if it fits his shoot schedule. When I suggest a new apex performance in the future that once again marries all his arts mastery, he’s coy but positive. Powell is always positive.  

“I had all of that pain to know what that’s like to really know how happy I am today,” Powell says. 

For more information about Tony Powell, follow him on Instagram @tonypowell1 and on Twitter @powellarts.

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

Welcome Pavilion from South with Sedum Swoop // Photo: Richard Barnes

The Art + Architecture of The REACH

The Kennedy Center’s original building may be a box-like structure in its physical form, but it has truly grown into a space that cannot be boxed in. A monument, performing arts space, educational center and must-see stop on a list of tourist travel plans: these are all roles the space has held since opening in 1971. 

Naturally, as the Center’s roles have shifted, so have the needs of the community it serves. That’s where The REACH comes in. An expansion of the Center, its sprawling, subterranean layout and public art installations are just as integral to the vision of this new endeavor as the programming that will take place in it. 

The care and attention to detail invoked by those involved in designing the building and placing the art within provides another layer to the deep commitment of the Center – not only to the legacy of its namesake who cherished the arts so dearly, but for the community it will serve in the years to come. 

THE ARCHITECTURE

Chris McVoy, senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, says the selection of their firm to design The REACH was a once-in-a-lifetime commission – the kind of project that makes up an architect’s dream. 

With its serene, subterranean layout, exterior slopes made up of glistening white titanium concrete and lush greenery surrounding the grounds, McVoy says The REACH represents more than a stunning arts campus or extension of the institution the Center established with its original building.

“We had a chance to transform a 1970s notion of what a national performing arts center [is] into a 21st century vision,” he says. “It’s an expansion of an existing building that hasn’t really been touched since 1971.”

McVoy notes how the performing arts and the spaces that house them have changed since the Center opened, both in the District and nationally.

“This was a chance to take that 1971 model and completely transform it and open it up. In the original building, [the arts] are really now held within a box – a very large box. This was a chance to break that open, turn it inside out and open it up to the city.”

Although the building is made of the aforementioned white titanium concrete, another material is an essential part of the building: natural light. McVoy says that Holl will always say natural light is his favorite material when asked what he prefers to work with.

That affinity followed Holl, McVoy and their team to The REACH in an especially effective way. The sweeping windows, skylights and frosted glass blur the lines between the natural and the manmade. When walking through The REACH, it’s easy to forget you’re in an urban space as you’re enveloped by sunshine and greenery throughout.

“[Natural light] is essential to your psychological sense of well-being,” McVoy continues. “You feel good when you have a connection to the outdoors. You know what the weather is like outside, you know what time of day it is, you know what season it is. When you put that in a rehearsal space or performance space, it gives the artists or the audience a critical connection to the outdoors. It’s inspiring. Often when you’re rehearsing, you’re there eight hours a day. To have this feeling of relief in the light gives a whole inspiration to the process of making art.”

McVoy and senior associate Garrick Ambrose felt inspired during the process of constructing The REACH, pioneering an internal design element with their team just for the space. Called crinkle concrete, it adorns the walls of the Justice Forum and other rehearsal spaces. And although the Justice Forum is the only room in the space without windows, the fluidity created by the design also emulates the same natural serenity as the rest of the building. Its crisp acoustics are also novel, as concrete is not necessarily known for creating purity of sound.

McVoy notes that his team had the idea to imprint the concrete with a texture that does the acoustical work of diffusing the sound.

“We did many studies of what kind of texture we could put into the form work of the concrete to create this diffusion. [Ambrose] was doing experiments and found this idea of a crinkle concrete, where by taking a sheet of aluminum and bending it and banging it up and then using that as the liner that the concrete is cast against, [it] creates the ideal acoustical texture to mitigate flutter echo and diffuse the sound in the space.”

Once perfected, the team took their creation to the rest of the rehearsal spaces. While they met their goal acoustically, the accomplishment is twofold. The fluidity provided by the crinkle concrete is not only aesthetically appealing but provides a metaphorical distinction of the fluidity in the arts that The REACH itself represents.

“When you see this texture, especially in the Justice Forum, it’s immaterial,” McVoy explains. “On the one hand, it [appears] carved out of solid rock. And then on the other hand, it seems as light as folded paper. And then, especially in the Justice Forum where we’re lighting it right along the surface – we’re just raking it with light – the textures [are] particularly pronounced and immaterial. In fact, it’s a concrete structural wall but it feels like a folded texture of light.”

Though the Center’s original space will always stand as the iconic monument to its namesake’s legacy and commitment to the arts, the fluid and flexible notions brought forth in The REACH – both in structure and ideology – surely show the creative future Kennedy advocated for as the catalyst of change in our modern times. 

THE ART

Longtime DC residents will be greeted by a familiar figure when entering the grounds of The REACH: Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes, on loan from The Hirshhorn. The 1996 sculpture is just one of three outdoor sculptures that, along with many other pieces of art indoors, were selected with the help of Dr. Elizabeth Broun.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of the Kennedy Center and the role they play – not just in Washington but across the country – to encourage the performing arts,” says Broun, The REACH’s visual arts advisor. “It’s an organization with a deep sense of mission and a real commitment to the idea that the arts can really express American life.”

Broun, who served for many years as the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and retired in 2016, says her involvement in The REACH is a perfect way for her to stay engaged with the arts and work with one of the most prestigious, fabulous arts organizations in America.

She took Kennedy’s legacy as a powerful arts advocate to heart while working with artists, museums and donors to adorn the space. She notes that while a connection to the Kennedy administration was not a necessary requirement for inclusion, there are some beautiful connections to his life that make an appearance at The REACH – namely in the case of painter Sam Gilliam and sculptor Joel Shapiro.

Gilliam’s work, which Broun describes as “lyrical and musical,” drapes across the interior space. Shapiro’s sculpture almost appears to “pirouette” across the lawn, and she envisions it becoming something of an iconic symbol of The REACH due to its visibility from the river, the highway and within the landscape of the building.

“[Gilliam] is really the internationally acclaimed dean of Washington’s artists. He’s long been affiliated with Washington. He came to the city in 1962 during the Kennedy administration, so we liked that reference. We liked that Joel Shapiro was actually in the third cohort of Peace Corps volunteers in India. The Kennedy legacy really does live on and is a very active component in the arts.”

In working to bring this incredible array of American art to The REACH, Broun’s hopes lie in the idea that patrons will see the multidimensional impacts of the arts that harken back to the Kennedy legacy it so gracefully pays tribute to.

“People mostly don’t think of the Kennedy Center as being about art, except for maybe that great big bronze head of Kennedy that’s in the foyer. I hope it makes them sort of reflect a little bit that yes, this is a great center for all of the arts in America. It’s encouraging the arts of every type. It’s comprehensive in the same way that President Kennedy’s vision for the arts was to be a beacon and related to our democracy. It’s about public spaces and public art. I hope they respond to all of that.”

For more on the work of Chris McVoy and Steven Holl Architects, go to www.stevenholl.com. Visit www.reach.kennedy-center.org for continuing announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH. 

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.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph// Photo: Tony Powell)

The Vision of The REACH

“Listen man, Q-Tip is one of my heroes.”

I’m going to venture an educated guess that the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions the Kennedy Center isn’t a Haitian-American playwright and spoken-word poet choking back tears as he describes what 90s hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest means to him. And yet, here we are.

I’m sitting next to Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the Kennedy Center’s vice president and artistic director of social impact, in a state-of-the-art, subterranean studio space having a deeply personal conversation about how hip-hop shaped his formative years and how he now gets to work alongside one of his idols for one of the world’s most renowned arts organizations. It is at this exact moment that the driving force behind the Center’s highly anticipated expansion of its campus – The REACH – clicks into place for me.

The three sloping structures opening to the public this month were built upon the pillars of inclusivity, accessibility and interactivity as spaces to facilitate shared artistic experiences for the community. And while the Center’s leadership has invested years of strategic planning and creative thinking behind how to make the spaces as innovative as possible, they ultimately exist as a platform for artists and the community to connect on their own terms.

“We’re inaugurating a way of being in public space,” Joseph says. “People make place. While there’s been an incredible investment in the built capital of these three interconnected pavilions, there has to continue to be investment in the social capital and the social possibility that is made through the creative enterprise.”

Though the Center’s chairman of the board of trustees, David Rubenstein, had a vision for launching The REACH in 2017 to celebrate John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter says she believes the space is opening now because it is the right time to unveil it and share it with the world.

“It’s a time in our society where people crave authentic experiences they can share with others,” she says. “There is a thirst for a sense of community and inclusivity, and The REACH gives us a place for those kinds of experiences.”

Rutter likens The REACH to her own analog version of the Internet.

“I don’t believe that the only way to learn about art is through YouTube or a Google search – no matter how extensive – but rather by experiencing it firsthand. There is no question that the desire to have a shared performance experience is really high, and whatever we can do to promote that is really important.”

The spaces have garnered most of their buzz thus far surrounding The REACH’s opening festival from September 7-22 with nearly 500 events, but Rutter assures that the project will only gain forward momentum with nonstop programming from day one. The REACH will operate as both an education center and public incubator, while offering rehearsal and studio spaces where artists can practice, create, collaborate and perform.

Rutter notes she’s quite proud of the artistic programming behind projects like Studio K’s (the other two studios are Studio J and Studio F, a clever acronym for the space’s namesake) transformation into a cross-genre club and destination for locals to hang out and hear jazz or pop music or spoken word. She also credits the education team for planning curriculum for “maker space” Moonshot Studio (named for “Kennedy’s call for America to think big and travel to the moon”) that’s universally relevant and ties back to programming taking place in the Center’s main hall.

The artistic and education teams behind The REACH are integral to driving its mission forward through immersive programming, and Joseph in particular is invaluable to both sides of the house as he’s uniquely equipped to ride the fine line between artist and administrator.

“To have an artist on staff is so reassuring,” Rutter says. “It’s really helpful because it helps our administrators think about their work through that lens as well. Each of our administrators works with artists in a variety of different ways but to have one as a peer, [and as] somebody who is so enormously articulate to provide the connective tissue between ideas and programming, is invaluable.”

The Center’s president gives a great example in Dear Evan Hansen.While the marketing team is interested in sharing the date and time of the next performance with the public, Joseph is focusing his attention on how the Center can communicate that this work debates and explores difficult emotional ideas of what’s happening with young people today. Both are critical pieces of information, but with very different messaging.

“That piece for me is why it’s so important for the Kennedy Center to do this work around mission, which is to hold a mirror up to our society, to talk about the good, bad and ugly in our everyday lives, and to use art to have greater understanding of who we are,” Rutter continues. “And Marc is the kind of guy who has the capacity to do that on a huge range of topics. He [joins] a team who is so proud and excited to have somebody who can help them take great work to the next level.”

Joseph remains humble during our conversation, saying he doesn’t see a delineation between the two roles – they blur together in everything he does.

“I make culture,” he says. “Some of us, we make dances. Some of us, we make plays. Some of us, we make spreadsheets. But I work with others to make culture. I don’t segment or even bifurcate this notion of administrator and artist. Artists are entrepreneurs and administrators. There isn’t so much of a fixed economy for us.”

He notes that he’s a first-generation American who comes from struggle, and “that never leaves.” In many ways, it’s shaped his professional and creative ideology.

“In terms of my artistic practice and in terms of my administrative practice, there’s a commitment to a kind of equity – a kind of inspired, inclusive and expansive community – that I have to adhere to. What makes sense for me is culture: an inspired, collaborative, expansive, inclusive, loving culture. Anything I can do to make that happen, whether it’s making poems or making programs, I’m gonna do.”

Joseph speaks of a culture of invitation being born through The REACH, where he and his colleagues continue to shine light on culture makers of all stripes. He’s aiming to achieve this in the short-term through the Culture Caucus, a group of 35 artist organizations and individuals handpicked by the Center’s leadership because of their contributions to DC’s broad cultural landscape. He describes them as “community-facing artists-in-residence at work and at play” within The REACH’s walls.

Within the next six months, Joseph and his peers will initiate an impact band of programming to include discussion groups where instead of trying to get people to engage culture on the Center’s terms, they’ll be trying to resource artists whose work amplifies what’s happening in the local community.

“I think that the level of access to culture is different than the level of access to the Kennedy Center and I think that the Kennedy Center – and quite frankly, most arts institutions – have to see themselves as organic citizens within the body politic in a different kind of way,” he says. “It’s a reorientation of the institutional psychology. This is not something that’s just going to happen, but certainly something I’m committed to is recognizing the broad ecosystem of culture makers where they are, resourcing programs where they happen and thinking about the same thing on a national scale.”

He breaks it down for me in simpler terms. Joseph isn’t who you go to for discounted tickets to productions at the Kennedy Center. He’s who you tap when you want to amplify the artistic work being done around the city.

“Resource that and attach commitments of documentation or education or pedagogical support like this. We [as an organization] are a node, but we recognize that there are many, many spokes and many, many stars in this constellation.”

Thinking in broader terms across the nation, Joseph says the next iteration of engagement for arts organizations should be thinking about empowerment, the creative imagination and inspiration as a democratic ideal.

“I’ve been brought in [to The REACH] to infuse the institutional psychology and institutional DNA with a different way of thinking about what is sublime in the arts.”

The sense of openness at the Center lends itself to Joseph’s vision for the future, and Rutter has much to do with it. In the past five years, she’s placed giving DC a seat at the table among more traditional arts & culture hubs like New York and L.A. at the top of her list. Rutter has watched the city experience tangible changes on this front, and although she won’t give herself the credit she most certainly deserves, she along with the leaders of other influential arts institutions has helped break the stereotype of DC as a straight-laced government town. Together, DC’s arts leadership is offering a wave of cultural experiences that are both approachable and accessible to our city’s diverse community.

“I really believe that the DNA of the city has changed in a lot of different ways and that which was already of interest to the people of the city has now been able to be fully embraced,” she says. “If we can demonstrate that really exciting, interesting stuff is happening in Washington, DC and that we are bringing the country together through the arts, then we can change how people think about the importance of arts in our day-to-day life. That’s why it’s really important that as the national cultural center, we invite everybody to be here – from our elected officials to the people who can’t afford to buy tickets to the people who are avid arts lovers.”

While Rutter and Joseph agree that change is gradual, they’re both committed to the baby steps we as a city need to take. In the short-term, they’re both looking forward to this month’s opening festival and the reverberations of the its creative energy. Joseph says the hip-hop block party with headliners De La Soul on September 14 will be “off the chain” but he’s equally amped up about former Wailer (of Bob Marley and The Wailers) Junior Marvin’s DC Lovers Rock on September 22.

“I’m excited about that because love is a thing. Love is not a four-letter word. I want to center love in what it is that we do and how it is that we identify and so doing a reggae-driven ode to love at the close of summer on the river – the romantic in me just loves that.”

Rutter, on the other hand, chooses not to pinpoint just one or two events. Instead, she says she’s most excited about the juxtaposition of different kinds of activities happening simultaneously – a jazz opera going on at the same time as a dance program or taking in a Lichtenstein sculpture and then wandering over to the river pavilion and playing on the brand-new Sing for Hope Piano.

At the end of the day, her goal both for the festival and The REACH as a whole is to invite all of the other cultural organizations in our community and from around the world to share and experience the art being created and explored at the Center’s many spaces. She’s especially looking forward to seeing artists collaborate in-studio and appreciate each other’s work through The REACH’s open spaces.

“I really believe that art and artists hold a mirror up to who we are as a society and if we [act as a] facilitator, we can see into the process and understand why and how that story is being told. That’s the magic that we can do through places like this. We can’t force those new relationships, but we’re excited about creating a space where that can happen.”

Learn more about everything Deborah Rutter, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the rest of their creative, committed colleagues have in store at The REACH by visiting www.reach.kennedy-center.org.

The REACH at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.reach.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Trent Johnson

Andrew Trueblood Brings Energy, Earnestness and Millennial Outlook to DC Office of Planning

There is an earnestness that exudes from Andrew Trueblood. The 36-year-old director of the DC Office of Planning (OP) – the first millennial tapped for that role by Mayor Muriel Bowser last November – has already made quite an impact on the city, garnering praise from his peers committed to preserving the cultural heartbeat of the District. With 15 years of city life and six of District government experience under his belt, he brings deep understanding of and affection for the nation’s capital to the table. Though his ultimate goal is to overcome the city’s growing housing gap and produce affordable housing across all wards, Director Trueblood is also an advocate for preserving the city’s authenticity through initiatives like those born from the first-ever DC Cultural Plan, released by Mayor Bowser in April. I sat down with him to dig into how being an “elder” millennial – his words, not mine – uniquely positions him to connect with the local community, how to tackle tougher issues impacting the city like gentrification, and his love of cycling, theatre and trying Michelin star restaurants.

On Tap: How would you describe your experience running the DC Office of Planning thus far? What have been the biggest challenges? Successes?
Andrew Trueblood: I’m excited to see Planning take the role that I think it ought to take given all of the challenges that we’re facing across the city. I’m excited to work closely not only with the Mayor but also be hand-in-hand with [other agencies]. Those connections have helped elevate our work and make sure that what we’re doing is aligning across the government but also achieving results that are important. We do have to think about all of these tradeoffs between growth and equity – between what we’re asking of residents and what we need to get things done. Because we can take that broader view, we can provide other agencies the needed information for them to make long-term decisions that are moving us in the right direction.

OT: So you get to be a little higher level and think big picture.
AT: Yeah. What we’re trying to do is both [high-level] work, which is incredibly important, but then tie it to tangible deliverables that residents can feel. Some of that is by thinking about how we engage residents, but it’s also about continuously engaging, releasing intermediate results and findings. [For example], we’ve released a map, which shows where affordable housing is and is not in the city. As we find things, we want to keep sharing them and keep the conversation going. The beauty of the way that media works today is we can have that kind of ongoing dialogue with the community.

OT: How does being director-level in District government as a millennial uniquely position you to support the city through the lens of younger professionals and city dwellers?
AT: My goal is to be able to hear from, understand and articulate the needs and values of every resident. That is the mandate and it requires a degree of empathy. The other thing that is different in the workplace now than before is iterating [and] being okay with trying things and maybe failing. That idea of quicker turnarounds, iterating and building is something I’ve always found to be a valuable way of getting things done, and I’m trying to bring that to this office.


Can’t Live Without
Outdoor activities with family and friends
My bike
The District, especially its amazing arts and culture
Coffee in the morning and nachos in the evening
Podcasts and audiobooks from DC Public Library


OT: How do you connect with the local community to make sure you’re keeping a pulse on what’s happening and stay relatable?
AT: What I’ve learned – actually more since I took this role than when I was [Chief of Staff at the Deputy Mayor’s Office] – is a lot of people appreciate that I am accessible and available, and will listen and try and make the mechanics of government move. I am trained as a planner, I have a degree, I’ve been in the city for 15 years. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know all the things. I think being authentic and honest when I engage with residents or stakeholders is really at the base of how I’m trying to do this. I’ve gone out to groups that have been very critical of the Office of Planning. My goal is to be honest with them about what we want to try to do [and] try to find places of commonality that we can work together in. Sometimes, honesty means saying hard things or saying when we disagree.

OT: How important is it to you to make those connections in the community and keep them, and how do you integrate that into your role and decision-making process in local government?
AT: One thing I learned early in my public service career is often times, it’s very easy to say something that will make someone happy now but will make that official a liar in the future. [If I] say something now to take the heat off today but then in the future, people might feel like I was not honest with them. It’s more important to be honest today than to potentially lose that trust. So building that trust across the different groups I think is really important, especially in Planning where we are balancing all of these competing interests.

OT: The District has changed so much in the past decade – we’re on the foodie map nationally, plays are coming here to make their pre-Broadway debuts, venues like The Anthem are opening. From the OP perspective, do you see anything problematic about how this impacts our economic landscape or do you view it as exciting and embrace the changes?
AT: It is problematically good. The health of a city is about its ability to have amenities and grow and serve its residents. I think having good restaurants, entertainment and arts and culture is all critical. Our schools have improved over the last 15 years. Our [health care] facilities are top-notch. Our libraries are amazing. We as a city need to grow in order to utilize the infrastructure we have. We can control structures, but we cannot control souls. We can [choose] not to build things, but that doesn’t mean that people who have wealth won’t want to live in the city. If you have the same number of structures and more people with wealth coming in, that exacerbates gentrification. We need to figure out how we grow as a city. We have the chance to be very thoughtful about what growth and development look like.

OT: Do you have concerns about DC becoming gentrified and up-and-coming neighborhoods losing their heartbeat, affordability and accessibility of the locals as younger, wealthier professionals move in? How can the city combat that through OP initiatives?
AT: I am very worried about housing costs and the ability for residents – especially low- and moderate-income residents, residents of color, longtime residents – to be able to keep their homes. Gentrification is a lot more challenging to discuss because it is multifaceted. We’re trying to produce 36,000 housing units by 2025 [and] we think 12,000 of those need to be subsidized. I worry that by focusing on a few neighborhoods, we lose sight that the forces happening are often broader. The discussion about gentrification could take us away from thinking [about] the programs and policies we need across the city.

OT: What initiatives are you supporting or leading to create affordable housing options for locals?
AT: The Mayor made the funding and programs around housing the cornerstone [of her first administration]. I think for [her] second term, [we’re] taking a step back and addressing some of these more systemic, structural questions. Why haven’t we been able to produce the housing across the income spectrum? How do we make sure our programs are aligned to produce the housing we need for the residents who need it most and what are those needs? We are working on a housing framework for equity and growth. We’re looking to see how we [can] address these housing needs in different parts of the city.

OT: Walk me through your involvement with the DC Cultural Plan. Why do you view it as important to the city?
AT: I think culture is […] what makes a city what it is. It’s part of its DNA. I think recognizing culture as its own important value and concept is what this plan seeks to do and then also to build on that. I think that, as a touchstone, is really important. I think it’s also fascinating that this came out about a week before a lot of the #DontMuteDC protests started happening. There’s a two-page opening about black culture, for example, as an important piece of the city’s authenticity. I think as a broad statement, [preserving authenticity] is what the Cultural Plan is about. It’s stating why we are vibrant and a unique place and not just any other city.

OT: What value do you think the plan’s funding recommendations bring to the city’s creative community?
AT: There are some very tangible recommendations put in place around different ways to think about funding. I don’t think it was ever meant to say we shouldn’t use grants. Grants are obviously an important piece of any support for the arts. There are untapped resources that we can tap if we create these new programs, and so there were different loan funds proposed. I’m hoping that it’ll continue to be an important guiding document and help guide how we think about culture in the city and cultural investments.

OT: Are there initiatives you’d like to pursue in the coming year that may not be on the public’s radar yet, but that you feel passionately about and would like to share?
AT: The thing I spend the most mental energy on is housing. It touches everybody. I’m trying to help have a two-way conversation. Everyone has their own housing story [so we are] thinking about how we use those stories and experiences to drive our analysis and to drive our policies. It’s clear that there’s a deep housing gap. We’re not producing the housing [that we need to] as a growing city. If in the next six months, we can do things to think about how to overcome that gap and bend the curve of housing and affordable housing production, I think that’s the biggest win we could have.

OT: What do you do for fun in DC when you aren’t working?
AT: It’s amazing to see the growth of the food scene. I have my food tracker. I track how many of the Michelin star restaurants that I’ve been to, and that’s fun. The biggest thing I do outside of the office is cycling. I love long rides and seeing the world, but I also love riding around the city – whether it’s on a Capital Bikeshare or my city bike. I love the theatre scene in DC. I’m a Woolly Mammoth subscriber. I love Fringe. I love that Fringe is growing and bringing a whole other crew of people and interest to theatre.

Stay in the loop with OP initiatives at www.planning.dc.gov and follow Director Trueblood on Twitter @atrueblood.

Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis // Photo: Hayley Olivenbaum

The Tommy Show 2.0: Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis Are Back in Action

DC sweethearts Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis are in their eighth year of friendship, and their infectious morning banter is bringing vibrance and fun to the city in a new way. When The Tommy Show abruptly ended last fall after seven years on air at 94.7 Fresh FM, the tech-savvy Collis and McFly created an app for hosting the show to continue spreading real fun in the District. Since late February, they’ve been broadcasting live every weekday morning at 7 a.m. from Collis’ home studio in Cathedral Heights. McFly, also a contributor at NBC4, has hosted some of DC’s most fun-filled events like DC Field Day and the White House Easter Egg Roll, where Michelle Obama asked him to be the first person in U.S. history to emcee the event. Collis has also been active around the city at buzzworthy events like Cosmo Couture at the National Cathedral. We talked with McFly and Collis about their comeback in broadcast, their individual passions, and how they’ve positively impacted the city in major ways – both on and off the mic. 

On Tap: How would you describe The Tommy Show’s brand to folks who might not know about it?
Tommy McFly: We like to think of ourselves as real fun DC. We like to be all things Washington. We broadcast around the Beltway and beyond. DC’s our home base and it will always be that way. We really like to think of ourselves as the true and authentic local voice in a city that doesn’t have a lot of fun all the time, and also has media content – especially on the audio side – that’s piped in from other cities who don’t necessarily understand our city and our region.
Kelly Collis: We also like to be part of the community – not just using the microphone, but literally [to] be part [of what’s happening]. Whether it’s [hosting] 5Ks [for charity] or working with Arlington National Cemetery during Wreaths Across America, we really like to get involved and not sit behind the microphone. 

OT: How did you cope with having your show taken off the air?
TM: Not a week goes by that we don’t see somebody in the wild who listened to us on the radio and they’re like, “Whatever happened to you?” Every day, we have this adventure of getting to tell people where we are now, where we’ve been and how they can reconnect with us. I’ve taken so many phones [and downloaded the app for people]. 


Tommy McFly

Work Must-Haves
Portable recorder
Bose headphones
Google Docs
Spotify
Advil

Can’t Live Without
Cold brew
Extra battery charger
Burt’s Bees
Chevy Chase Acura RDX
Barry’s Bootcamp


OT: How did you keep momentum going and recover with this amazing new opportunity?
TM: We really actually give a shit, to be honest. I got my start on radio in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is a small town. You meet the people that listen, and they know you, and we did the same thing in DC. I think that’s why we were successful because in a town like Washington, people know when you’re BSing, and I hope people understood that we were not. We’re here and we take being a productive member of the community seriously.
KC: When we went off the air, we did a bunch of gatherings of gratitude all around Maryland and Virginia to reunite with our Tommy Show fam we’ve built over the years. We believed when we were on the radio that [by] being part of the community, you actually had to be active. I’m a native Washingtonian and it’s an honor to be on the radio in my hometown and reconnect with the community that I grew up in, and I really take that seriously. It’s an incredible opportunity.

OT: What are some unexpected benefits of this new format?
TM: We love just diving in when we hear a certain need. That’s what’s so great about what we now do digitally: we can activate [when] things pop up. We have our things we do year-round and every year, but when we hear about things like families in need or a cool initiative, we can jump on it and help, which is our favorite thing to do. 

OT: Are there any recurring events near and dear to The Tommy Show that you’re looking forward to continuing with?
KC: For eight years now – and we will continue it – we visit teachers all around the DC area. We partner with Georgetown Cupcake. We like to surprise the teachers and show them appreciation. We call it our Teacher Tour. Throughout the year, we’ll find teachers who tell us an awesome story or [about] something going on in their community, and it’s just an easy way to show them that we appreciate them.
TC: Best Buddies is a huge one, too. I love serving as chairman of Virginia and DC. We’ve tripled the programs in DC, and we’ve started welcoming elementary school chapters into the fold of inclusion. The Friendship Walk is coming up in October. That’s always huge. We just won an award for Best Buddies in the Beltway region for being the biggest walk [out of] all the Best Buddies around the country. We have over 3,000 people on the Mall for a day of friendship and fun. 


Kelly Collis

Work Must-Haves
QuickBooks
Coffee
iPhone
Portable microphone
Moleskine notebook filled with big ideas, random thoughts + to-do lists

Can’t Live Without
Alchimie Forever face cream
iPhone
Red wine
Netflix // Hulu // Apple TV
La Croix


OT: Tommy, tell us about your work with NBC4 and how you balance that with the show. Is there any overlap?
TM: It’s been awesome, and it’ll be three years in October. They’ve accepted me, Kelly and the show. NBC4 is our weather partner on the app, so Storm Team4 powers our weather. We have a new franchise called “The Scene” that focuses on the uplifting, fun events – in-the-know sort of stuff around the region. I get to be the lead correspondent on that. What we do with “The Scene” and The Tommy Show, it all overlaps. We try to be that bright, fun spot in the media.

OT: For being as busy as you both are, what else have you been spending time on this summer outside of work?
KC: I love going to paddleboard. I’ve been finding different places around DC, and I love to do that with my husband for exercise over the summer. And of course, Nats [games are] a big theme in our summertime routine.
TM:  I have a new puppy [and] his name is Cotoc. We lost Chip McFly in June and I think this puppy found my husband on the Internet. We adopted him in late June and he’s just a big, floppy ragdoll of love, so that’s been a lot of time spent on puppy raising.

Catch McFly and Collis broadcasting live on weekdays at 7 a.m. or listen to the show any time of day while it’s on repeat via the app. The Tommy Show app is available for download on Google Play and iTunes. Learn more at www.TommyShow.com