DC’s Next Temporium: DeanwoodxDesign Launches Saturday, July 14th
There is a buzzword circulating in the DC arts scene that I had not heard about until I returned to the city two months ago. While the concept of using the arts to spur economic and community development is not new, DC is getting attention for the success of its “Arts and Culture Temporiums” since the first one launched along the H Street NE corridor in 2010. Temporiums fall under the larger category of the Temporary Urbanism Initiative, a project undertaken by the DC Office of Planning. The goal behind the initiative, and more specifically, temporiums, is to activate vacant or underutilized spaces by using them to showcase the talent of local artists and other creative entrepreneurs, along with the retail potential that lies within emerging neighborhoods. Think of them as “Pop Ups” that stay around a little longer and have greater potential benefits for the communities where they take place. Jessica Scheuerman, of Partners for Livable Communities, explains that temporiums allow people to “take risks, explore partnerships, and to commit to something” without the burden of a long-term commitment. Temporiums connect creative people seeking affordable space in their neighborhoods with landlords who have the available space that they haven’t been able to lease. It is a smart and increasingly popular concept that lays the groundwork for longer-term collaboration between property owners and neighborhood entrepreneurs.
Building on the success of earlier temporiums, the Office of Planning is targeting four emerging creative neighborhoods to benefit from a $250,000 grant to the city from ArtPlace, an unprecedented new private-public organization. ArtPlace is part of a national “creative place-making” movement that aims to drive revitalization across the country with arts at the center of economic development. The launch of DeanwoodxDesign marks the next step in the OP/ArtPlace grant initiative. Deanwood, one Washington’s oldest black neighborhoods, will host a four-month long project that highlights the deep-rooted cultural, historic, artistic and green space assets of the neighborhood and Ward 7. Free events will take place on weekends through the end of October and include concerts, a music series, break dancing, films, gallery exhibitions, interactive workshops, discussions, and guided and self-guided tours of the neighborhood. DeanwoodxDesign is an extensive, community-wide collaboration that allows local artists to showcase their interpretation of neighborhood history and DC culture. The project aims to inspire Deanwood and Ward 7 residents as well as visitors to the historic neighborhood, with the ultimate goal of empowering the community, building the skills of emerging cultural activists, and connecting them to a network of existing institutions.
DeanwoodxDesign’s focus on neighborhood history and culture inspired me to read up on a part of D.C that I knew little about. In the 1880s, the area that is now Deanwood began a gradual transformation from a rural to suburban community. Two white families, the Sheriffs and the Deans, subdivided the lands they owned, yet development remained sluggish, and land sales suffered. Interestingly, it was these poor land sales that provided the opportunity for black home ownership. Deanwood retained a pattern of mixed residency despite strict segregation in other parts of the city until the 1920s, when it became predominately black. Lying east of the Anacostia River, Deanwood has a sense of being apart that helped make community bonds strong, and that encouraged residents to remain in the neighborhood for generations. In fact, it is not uncommon to find families today who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Deanwood is also unique for its beautiful architecture, a testament to the many black craftsmen and laborers who built the original detached houses in the neighborhood. Walking around Deanwood, you will see a variety of architectural styles, including vernacular, folk Victorian, colonial, and craftsmen.
To get an insider’s perspective on DeanwoodxDesign, I had the chance to speak to three women who know the project best. Mentioned previously, Jessica Scheuerman is Senior Project Director at Partners for Livable Communities, the organization that is managing DeanwoodxDesign and that was pivotal in securing the ArtPlace/OP grant for Deanwood. Scheuerman also directed the successful Mt. Pleasant temporium in the spring of last year. Scheuerman says that the strategy for the Deanwood Temporium is to invest in human capital and to focus on rooting people to place. “The creative decisions lie with the neighborhood,” she notes, “and should be.” Scheuerman stresses that Partners for Livable Communities play the role of technical assistant. This sentiment is echoed by Kimberly Driggins, Associate Director of Citywide Planning in the OP agency. Driggins explains that DeanwoodxDesign was contracted out to Partners for Livable Communities for their technical expertise. “No one individual felt that they could carry the weight of the project,” Driggins told me. “Partners for Livable Communities will build the capacity so [that similar projects] can be done again.” She adds that the project is about empowering artists in the local neighborhood and sowing the seeds for a creative economy. Yet Deanwood is a different kind of model because the project has more government and existing spaces than usual, such as the IDEA Public Charter School and The Center for Green Urbanism. Using these existing spaces, the focus of the project is on art and culture for and by the residents, Driggins explains. She hopes that the project will anchor the IDEA school further into the community and encourage the continued rehabilitation of Marvin Gaye Park. If buildings can be leased up, she views that as a positive outcome too. Seshat Walker, Project Director of the DeanwoodxDesign team, lives in Deanwood and has been a resident of Ward 7 for ten years. Walker believes that temporary urbanism initiatives are “just a start-- or better yet-- a spark toward renewal and rediscovery of that which already exists” and a “reclamation of the disregarded which will hopefully blossom into more permanent spaces.” She hopes that DeanwoodxDesign will spur the community to work toward a Ward 7 arts and cultural center.
With the Deanwood area attracting so much new attention from developers and residents from other parts of the city, could the neighborhood’s special character be at risk? Scheuerman believes that the risk of gentrification “piles up the further the indigenous community is from ownership and control of its resources.” With such a longstanding sense of community pride and the emergence of a group of committed neighborhood cultural activists, Deanwood seems more than ready for its “close-up.” Walker is a firm believer that Deanwood’s deep roots negate any risk to the community: “As one of DC’s oldest African-American communities, Deanwood has faced many challenges and has maintained its character and community pride since the 1940’s.”
The launch of DeanwoodxDesign will take place this Saturday from 10:30 am to 6 pm. The IDEA Public Charter School will feature performances by The East of the River Steel Pan Band, DJ Jahsonic of Main Ingredient, teen soul artist Keymace, and Grammy-nominated Kokayi. There will also be an outdoor market and interactive gallery on site. The Fishing School will host POP-OUT performances and the MyDeanwood Storytelling Project, where residents and visitors are encouraged to talk about their experiences in Deanwood. Maria Bryk’s photo essay “Chesapeake Waterman” will be held at The Center for Green Urbanism. Other events to watch out for during the project are Cultural Tourism DC’s free curated tours of Deanwood’s rich legacy, spanning from the craftsmen of the 1890s to 20th century civic rights and R&B icons who impacted the neighborhood and beyond. On July 27th, Ward 7’s only art gallery, The Tubman-Mahan Gallery at The Center for Green Urbanism will present the anticipated exhibit “My Deanwood: Honoring the Past to Create the Future.” Later that day The Fishing School will present “The MLK Streets Project,” a documentary that stems from the well-known Chris Rock joke about the violence on the streets named for the non-violent activist. It follows high school students from 5 DC schools as they travel across the country to observe first hand the condition of America’s MLK streets. For a full schedule of events, which is updated weekly, please visit DeanwoodxDesign’s event calendar at http://www.deanwoodxdesign.com/Whatsgoingon.
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