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Reflecting on our event in Adams Morgan: Connecting neighbors to their history

By Olivia Williams, PhD student at American University in the School of Communication

The second weekend of September 2018 saw a throng of people excitedly visiting the Adams Morgan Day event in that culturally diverse and artistic area of Washington D.C. Even the rain couldn’t dampen spirits as families, couples, friends and visitors to the city, wandered from stall to stall and booth to booth.

The Humanities Truck and visitors to the neighbourhood on Adams Morgan Day 2018. Credit Benjamin Stokes

Musicians, artists, poets, chefs, jewelers, dancers, creators of all varieties lined the main street, and there was a celebratory atmosphere which epitomized the well-known creative ‘AdMo’ community. Our Humanities Truck caught the attention of many passersby and the promise of a walk down AdMo memory lane inside encouraged visitors to step inside! The Humanities Truck is one node of a larger project funded by the Smithsonian: a storytelling system that brings the exhibit ‘A Right to the City’ back onto the streets, as  well as recruiting voices from within the community. (See our vision.)

Two Adams Morgan Day visitors step inside the Humanities Truck to look at Nancy Shia’s photographs. Credit Humanities Truck, Flickr

The project combines the digital and the physical to connect stories across places and people. In documenting the project and studying its impact, I began by filming voxpops and interviews with several of the project partners who have successfully brought insights, creativity, energy and knowledge to the projects surrounding the event. Dan Kerr, Director of the Public History program at American University and instigator of the Humanities Truck commented that he hoped the design of the Truck would create a place for community documentation and a community exhibition space, which it certainly did during ADMo Day!

Nancy Shia, Photographer & Activist. Image credit: Olivia Williams

On this occasion, the Truck was used in a variety of ways and visitors to AdMo Day enjoyed watching a slideshow of photographs on a flatscreen embedded into the side of the Truck, musicians performing on the adjacent people’s stage using the truck’s power sockets to electrify instruments and vocals over the speakers and to showcase the photography of Nancy Shia, a local activist and artist who has photographed the Adams Morgan Day Festival since it began in 1978. When I interviewed her she was quick to highlight what doing this kind of work has taught her ‘to be respectful of everyone, regardless of where they came from and who they are’, and she’s noticed a particular interest in her photographs of late as people become more interested in trying to understand how communities evolve and what community means to people.

Michele Casto from the D.C. Public Library. Credit Olivia Williams

Project partners were keen to talk about their motivations for getting involved and share observations from the event itself. Michele Casto from the D.C. Public Library discussed how much change there has been to Adams Morgan in recent decades and yet how, compared with other neighbourhoods, there is so much that has stayed the same and how this balance of old and new allows continuity with the past to remain.

Dr. Samir Meghelli, Chief Curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington D.C. Credit Olivia Williams

Dr. Samir Meghelli, Chief Curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., stated how excited he was to continue the work they’d done at the community museum. In tandem with the community, the museum had been able to document much of the community’s history over the past seven decades showing the energy of the activists living in the neighbourhood and how the community had changes and stayed the same.  With AdMo Day unfolding in front of him, Dr. Meghelli was very pleased to be able to play a role in bringing the stories back out into the streets, in honour of the rich and incredible history of the neighbourhood.  

Adams Morgan Outreach and History Map

We created a map for Adams Morgan history as part of outreach with our community storytelling system.

The clues at right are designed to be provocative… and can be answered by texting our hotline. The twist is that the answer comes in the form of a historic photograph, primarily from the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum’s exhibit “A Right to the City.”

Simply interested in the history?  Cycle through some historic pictures using our hotline with the keyword “PIC.”

Even though the map launched for our activities at Adams Morgan Day (40th annual!), we made it to be evergreen — so we can keep distributing it for future activities and neighborhood outreach.

Thanks to Carolyn Thaw for postcard graphic design; she is also behind the map that covers the Humanities Truck.

Join us at Adams Morgan Day on September 9, 2018 — with our new truck

We will preview our new storytelling system, including a special truck, at the 40th-annual Adams Morgan Day on September 9th. Find us in the “Know Your Neighborhood” section.

This is the first public showing of our Humanities Truck, an experimental recording and exhibition space on wheels from American University. The truck will distribute digital and interactive stories on historic Adams Morgan from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to the City” exhibition as well as photographs from the long history of the festival itself from the Nancy Shia Collection, Washingtoniana, DC Public Library.

NEW PRESS RELEASE (added Sept. 5):

“Know Your Neighborhood” History Activities at Adams Morgan Day 40th Anniversary  

WASHINGTON, September 4,2018 —To honor the 40thAnniversary of the Adams Morgan Day Festival, a series of activities to “Know Your Neighborhood” will be featured at the event. Festival visitors can learn about the neighborhood’s past by viewing photographs at the new “Humanities Truck,” listen to oral histories and watch live interviews with neighborhood activists Marie Nahikian, Topper Carew, and Ronald and Mary Pierce.

The content of these activities planned as part of the festival is drawn from several recent exhibits and projects, including the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to the City” exhibition about neighborhood organizing, and historic photos spanning 40 years of Adams Morgan Day festivals from DC Public Library’s Nancy Shia Collection. The event will also launch the Humanities Truck, an experimental recording and exhibition space on wheels from American University that can share neighborhood history in new ways.

Several local groups are coming together to highlight the history of Adams Morgan through exhibitions, activities, voices and performances. The coalition includes the DC Public Library, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and American University. “In honor of the decades of creativity, activism and diversity of Adams Morgan that continue to shape the community today, we thought it important to engage the public with historical resources and activities at the city’s longest running neighborhood festival,” said Michele Casto, special collections librarian at DC Public Library.

“This is the first public showing of our Humanities Truck, with our storytelling system to bring history into public streets,” said Dr. Benjamin Stokes, assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University. The truck combines large screens with public programming, including a playful activity for festival attendees to visit key locations and text a hotline to receive historic photographs and learn about the sites.

DC Public Library is celebrating the culture of the neighborhood and the city by sponsoring some of the performers on the festival stages and at space adjacent to the Humanities Truck. This “Know Your Neighborhood” stage will highlight the Latino heritage of the neighborhood through music, dance and storytelling, and also feature live on-stage interviews with significant Adams Morgan activists of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. “The Library has been engaged in ongoing initiatives showcasing local music and neighborhood history and we are excited to work with partners to bring music, dance and storytelling to Adams Morgan Day,” says Casto. The Columbian rhythms of La Marvela, the poetry and storytelling of Quique Aviles, and the dancers and drummers of Vava United School of Samba will perform. Hola Cultura,a D.C. Latino arts and cultural nonprofit organization,will join the Library to offer tours highlighting the Latino history of the neighborhood. The Library has also partnered with festival music organizer Songbyrd Music House, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Multiflora Productions to sponsor music that reflects Adams Morgan as a cultural crossroads, bringing global sounds to all the festival stages.

The collaborative exhibits and performance space at 18thStreet NW and Belmont Street NW will explore new ways to engage the public in local history. Visitors to the Humanities Truck can see historic photographs of the neighborhood over the years on one of the truck’s screens. Visitors can also win prizes by following the History Map Postcard developed collaboratively by American University and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. “We’re providing a fun and creative way for people to meaningfully engage with the neighborhood’s rich—but too often overlooked—history,”says Dr. Samir Meghelli, chief curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

Bringing stories of neighborhood organizing and activism from the “A Right to the City” exhibition to the festival is one way the Museum will be continuing its five decades of community-building work. The festival kicks off a larger collaboration that will bring elements of the “A Right to the City” exhibition to DCPL neighborhood libraries this fall.

FULL EVENT PRESS RELEASE (updated Aug. 28):

ADAMS MORGAN DAY FESTIVAL CELEBRATES 40TH ANNIVERSARY FEATURING DC’s BEST: TROUBLE FUNK, DUPONT BRASS, MARIACHI LOS AMIGOS, CHEIK HAMALA DIABATE, BATALA AND MORE

Street Closures on 18th Street NW Make Way for Festival Goers Enjoying Live Music and Art, Neighborhood History Exhibitions, Expansive Youth Activities, Curated Local Vendors, Restaurant Specials

Planners of the 40th Anniversary Adams Morgan Day Festival announced the music lineup, featuring famed D.C. go-go band Trouble Funk (also celebrating their 40th year), and highlights of D.C.’s longest running neighborhood festival, taking place Sunday, September 9th from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The free event is open to all ages and will highlight the vibrant energy and diverse, creative cultures that define this historic neighborhood. Street Closures on 18th Street NW between Columbia Road and Wyoming Avenue will make way for festival goers enjoying live music and art, neighborhood history exhibitions, expansive youth activities, curated local vendors, restaurant specials and more. Businesses and restaurants along Columbia Road and Florida Avenue will also participate.

The Lineup to date represents the rich variety of the local music scene that, in addition to Trouble Funk, includes Adams Morgan Day veterans Mariachi Los Amigos, innovative and soulful DuPont Brass; West African griot musician, Cheik Hamala Diabate; all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion group Batala; Afro-Soul band, Kino Musica; the feel good funk of Joe Keyes and the Late Bloomers Band; indie rock band, Lavender; electronic indie pop band, Atoms Apart; Colombian rhythms of La Marvela; a Big Ugly Truck dance party with DJs Pharoah Haqq, Crown Vic, Vico Vibez and Mezcla; and performances by the divine Ladies of Perry’s. Live entertainment for kids includes award-winning children’s performer and education act The Uncle Devin Show, youth breakdancing demonstrations by The Lab, DJs and more.

Songbyrd Music House, DC Public Library, Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage and Multiflora Productions partnered “to present and sponsor music performances at the festival that represent Adams Morgan as a cultural crossroads,” says Joe Lapan, music coordinator for the event and co-owner of Songbyrd.

Celebrating History and Culture: To celebrate the festival anniversary, DC Public Library has also collaborated with Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and American University to highlight the history of the neighborhood through exhibitions, activities and performances. “Our goal is to foster an appreciation of what makes communities like Adams Morgan unique, and to honor the decades of creativity, activism and diversity that continue to shape the community today,” said special collections librarian Michele Casto. The Humanities Truck, an experimental recording and exhibition space on wheels from American University, will exhibit Adams Morgan content from Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to the City” exhibition about neighborhood organizing, and historic photos of Adams Morgan from the Library’s Nancy Shia Collection. Some photos may be seen now on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at adamsmorganday.

“We’re thrilled to see the energy behind our 40th anniversary event this year, with triple the number of volunteers since last year and increased support from many local businesses,” said Kara Davis, chairman of the Adams Morgan Community Alliance, a non-profit formed to ensure the sustainability of the annual festival.

Activities and Family Fun: “Activities are greatly expanded for all ages this year and include a ‘Family Fun Zone’ provided by Volo City Kids Foundation,” said Alliance president A. Tianna Scozzaro. Volo City will bring certified volunteers and equipment for soccer, flag football and games for kids of all ages. Games include corn hole, connect four, kan jam, jenga and more. Families can sign up for free kids’ sports leagues occurring in Adams Morgan and around the city.

These and more family-oriented activities will be located at the newly renovated Marie H. Reed Elementary School and Community Center grounds and adjacent soccer field. The Marie Reed Elementary School PTO is organizing a student arts and crafts sale to benefit the after school program. Festival organizers are scheduling face painters, a juggler and entertainers for youth. Elsewhere at the festival will be exercise classes and demos for adults, including a chance to take a test ride on the Peloton Bike. MINT Gym and Studio will lead free Zumba and “WERQ” classes.

Art, Vending and Restaurant Specials: The festival will feature the amazing creative work of local artists, crafters and designers at booths throughout the festival. Local service organizations, local politicians preparing for the November election, and some area businesses will also connect with the community. Back by popular demand will be Artists’ Alley, an interactive space supported by Mellow Mushroom with crowd-engaging live visual arts organized by designer Josue Martinez, who is owner of Corinto Gallery and designed the t-shirt, and branding for the 40th anniversary. The alley will feature art demonstrations, live muralists, graffiti artists and performance art. More activities, and specials offered by many local businesses continue to post on the festival website.

How It Happens: Adams Morgan Day started its run as a neighborhood potluck block party, conceptualized in 1977 by five local businessmen. The event grew to attract an estimated 300,000 people some years in the 80’s and 90’s. Scozzaro, Davis, Lapan and Martinez are among a small group of volunteers made up of neighborhood residents and businesses that saved the event from collapse when it was cancelled by former organizers in 2015. In addition to Scozzaro, Davis, Lapin and Martinez, Adams Morgan Community Alliance founders include David Smith, Dave Delaplaine, Carol Miller and Robert Turner.

The event is now more representative of the neighborhood and what makes it unique and operates with accountability. Adams Morgan Day is made possible by thousands of volunteer hours, in-kind services and funds provided by committed Adams Morgan residents and businesses, individual donors, community organizations such as the Kalorama Citizens Association and Life Asset, and sponsors that serve Adams Morgan and the Washington DC area.

Sponsors this year include Peloton, DC Public Library, Adams Morgan Partnership BID, music coordinated by Songbird Music House and Record Café, sound/stage partnership by Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, graphic design by Corinto Gallery, Family Fun Zone by Volo City Kids Foundation with the Marie Reed Elementary School PTO, television sponsors NBC4 and sister station Telemundo 44, and fiscal sponsor DC Arts Center. Partners include Mellow Mushroom supporting Artists’ Alley, and a hydration station by ZICO Coconut Water and Hubert’s Lemonade. Other donors ($500 or more) include Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, AdMo Heights, BUL, the DINER, Jug & Table, Roofers Union, Sakuramen, Tryst, Meze, Maven Car Share, MINT Gym & Studio, Soussi, Bedrock Billiards, Himalayan Heritage, Piccolo Properties, epolitics.com Pitchers DC, AT&T, ACCUPERMIT, and Pepco, an Exelon Company. Donations continue to be accepted.

Follow event plans on the official Adams Morgan Day website at http://www.admoday.comFacebook.com/AdamsMorganDay/ and @AdamsMorganDay #AdMoDay18. Tax deductible individual donations are accepted at http://ioby.org/adamsmorgan.

Opening Night for A Right to the City Exhibition

A post by Samantha Dols, PhD candidate at American University

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 1200 people poured into the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum for the opening night of the new exhibit, “A Right to the City.” Buzzing with energy, the space accommodated an eclectic mix of installations and experiences, all of which helped illuminate Washington DC’s rich history of neighborhood organizing and transformation.

Our repurposed payphone helped anchor the end of the exhibit. Participants could listen to some of the oral histories gathered by Smithsonian researchers as part of the exhibit.

Having recently moved to DC from Toronto, the man at the phone is excited by the idea of hearing stories about his new city.

Curious to see how passersby would engage with the phone, I captured some photos and conducted a few brief interviews.

A few quick observations:

  • A payphone provokes surprise. As one said, “Oh, it actually works? I thought it was a prop.” Others kept their distance, seemingly perplexed at the sight of an old phone in a standalone space.
  • Preparing to call in was possible without using the phone. A handful of people didn’t touch the phone but instead took photos of the board beside it that outlined instructions on how to call-in and listen to stories. They also took the informational business cards on the side of the phone with similar instructions.
  • Intrigued yet intimidated… and wanting time to offer something valuable. When I stepped in to explain what the payphone is all about, a common response was one of intrigue and intimidation. People were interested in participating but felt they needed time to truly participate. They wanted to think about what story they could tell or consider finding a friend or family member who would be a “more appropriate” storyteller.

More pictures and quotes:

This woman has attended the 19th Street Baptist Church in DC for decades. She said a project like this will be very important, in a similar way to the oral history project at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

 

After growing up in Northwest DC, the man at right moved to Maryland to find more affordable housing. He said he “barely recognizes the city anymore” and plans share his story by calling into the payphone soon.

Overall, it was fascinating for me to witness the responses and questions posed by patrons. Although the payphone was only a small part of the evening, it prompted some important dialogue that will, hopefully, contribute to the bigger conversations the exhibition seeks to have – those about neighborhoods, community transformations, what it means to have a story, and what it means to situate your personal story in the many changing stories of your city.

Buzz

We noticed a few mentions of our system, including:

 

News release: Anacostia Community Museum Opens Signature Anniversary Exhibition “A Right to the City”

(Re-posted from the museum’s official news release.  See section on the storytelling system below.)


Exhibit Features Six Washington, D.C., Neighborhoods

April 18, 2018

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum will present its signature 50th anniversary exhibition, “A Right to the City,” Saturday, April 21, through April 20, 2020.

In a moment of rapid population growth and mounting tensions over development, “A Right to the City” explores the history of neighborhood change and civic engagement in the nation’s capital by looking at the dynamic histories of six Washington, D.C., neighborhoods: Adams Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw and Southwest. The exhibition tells the story of these communities through the eyes of the Washingtonians who have helped shape these neighborhoods in extraordinary ways. They have used their collective community power to fight for quality public education, healthy and green urban spaces, equitable development and transportation, and a truly democratic approach to city planning. In “A Right to the City,” visitors will discover how the history of organizing by Washingtonians has, more than once, transformed this one-of-a-kind global city, often in the face of tremendous odds.

“This exhibition tells the beautiful story of how Washingtonians have historically joined together as a community and brought about change for a better life,” said Museum Director Lori D. Yarrish. “We hope this exhibit will inspire present-day Washingtonians to learn about and take pride in their city’s history. As a museum of, for and by the people, we are committed to connecting the residents of the metropolitan area, celebrating our differences and building upon our commonalities. We are truly honored to share the stories of these inspirational, unsung heroes.”

The exhibition features artifacts, photographs and important oral histories to help visitors understand the historical context and transformations of the six Washington neighborhoods. Unsung local leaders like Marie Nahikian, Bishop Marie Reed, Sam Abbott, Topper Carew, Walter Pierce, Etta Horn and Garry Garber are highlighted.

A storytelling “telephone hotline,” made possible by a collaboration with Benjamin Stokes of American University, allows visitors to call in, both on and offsite, and hear excerpts from some of the nearly 200 oral-history interviews recorded as part of the research for the exhibition. The hotline will also allow callers to record and share their own neighborhood stories. It will accept calls from anywhere at anytime and will launch in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition.

“A Right to the City” is part of the Anacostia Community Museum’s 50th anniversary celebration, which has been an opportunity for the museum to renew its mission and focus and become a cultural center that convenes conversations about contemporary community life. These conversations address topics of importance to local communities in the Washington area—and the rest of the nation—broaching city politics, neighborhood change, urban ecology, religion and immigration.

The exhibition was made possible with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and from the Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. In addition, this exhibition received federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Additional support was provided by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

About the Museum

The Anacostia Community Museum was founded in 1967 as an initiative to bring national culture into a local, inner-city environment. Under John Kinard, the museum’s founding director, its mission changed, and it became a place for people in an urban neighborhood to voice their concerns about city life and examine their roles in society. The museum served as a safe space for encouraging local forms of cultural expression.

Today, the museum explores social issues affecting diverse populations of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to promote mutual understanding and strengthen community bonds. The museum’s work focuses on the arts, environment, community history and urban studies, and researching, interpreting and sharing the stories of diverse communities.

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Making the installation

We thought you might be curious about our installation.

The exhibit features a payphone (Protel/coinless), tied to a multimedia hotline (Twilio Studio/OpenVBX), with a mobile booth that features a rebuilt payphone with a hidden computer (Raspberry Pi).

Our installation builds on prior work of the Leimert Phone Company in Los Angeles (including the SKIN Show). We were also inspired by museum multimedia hotlines like that at SFMOMA, city history via payphone like “Recalling 1993” in NYC (ARS Technica), and listening booths like Listening Post NOLA.