Someone once told me, if I declare I’m bored then I must be a boring person because there’s always something to do and it’s up to me to be creative enough to find my way out of boredom; in other words be innovative. What if you have found a way to crawl out of your bored state affairs, but their are limitations? This might be the case when you speak of DC and burgeoning creative types that resident here.
I just finished reading an article on The Atlantic Wire: The Structural Barriers to D.C.’s Hipness: An Anti-Rant By Rebecca Greenfield. Greenfield calls out DC’s infrastructure systems as a hindrance for allowing the city to become “hip.” She sites the over priced cost of living in the city, its weekday early-late night shut down of the metro system, the fact that DC is a bit too small in size and does push people out thanks to gentrification, no one stays in DC, because they are mainly government workers that come and go with the election cycles and that most of the young professionals in this city are “professional squares” as factors behind the suffocation of hipness.
While it may seem that Greenfield’s article takes another hit at my fair city on the damming effects of gentrification (though it is an anti-rant), as much as I hate to admit it, Greenfield might be on to something. However, I don’t totally agree with all that she is trying to say or where she is trying to point the finger. I do believe that a city’s infrastructure has something to do with how the arts community thrives. Artists must have space and outlets to live, create and present. I don’t believe its a damn or be damned situation in terms of how or what is or is not “hip.” A large part of the hipness comes from the people; the collective of artists and spectators who are the actual soul of a creative boom.
As far as what is DC doing to attract the creative collective, I believe there are – for a lack of better terminology – “diamonds in the rough” here. The city is trying to breathe life in various creative communities here. We (or at least I) caught wind of this in 2006 when The Washington Post reported that the Cultural Development Corp., in partnership with with several developers, made plans to provide affordable housing for artists in Wards 5 and 7.
To date there are places such as the Brookland Artspace Lofts that provides affording housing for low-income artists and their families. The facility also holds a dance studio and art gallery with an outdoor reception area and performance plaza under construction. Manna, the District’s go-to mortgage brokerage for people looking for affordable housing, has its hand in the Left Bank Studio House. Left Bank is a warehouse converted into another affordable live/work space for artists in the Langdon neighborhood. As DC is going through its rebirth, they want to bring artists along with them and provide them with a place to live and create.
I don’t agree with Greenfield calling DC’s young professionals as squares.
“Like we said, the young people D.C. draws are often doing government jobs. These people care a lot about government, which as “the man” is by definition uncool. And many of them are Republicans, which, those other hip cities do not have to contend with. It also often means they can’t do scandalous (fun and hip) things, because their job drug tests, or involves an FBI background check, or one day they might run for Congress and they don’t want a scandal on their hands. ” – Rebecca Greenfield
Ok, for one is everyone living in this city in their late teens or in their twenties? The last part of her statement makes it seem like in order to be hip we have to be not only artsy fartsy but Gossip Girl-esque bad girls and boys. I’m sorry dear. I’m in my 30s and I will govern myself accordingly. In my observations, what I find to be interesting are young professionals that I run into have a creative side and are dying to express it. I’ve met a lawyer who once dabbled in fashion and wanted to get back into it, a lobbyist that designs jewelry, civil government workers (that may or may not hold art degrees) that paint (really intricate pieces), write or teach dance on the side. Some have kept their day jobs to help sustain them financially. Others have made a way to pursue their art form full time. One of the best places to see such a combination of people is during Capitol Pecha Kucha; an event in which designers/artists do a simple 20×20 presentation of 20 images and you speak on each image for 20 seconds. In going to such events, I run into fascinating creative people who are young working professionals.
I do agree with Greenfield when she states, “Though hip is often synonymous with new and cool, things that stick around also contribute to a city’s character, something D.C. lacks because of its transient population. Many D.C. employment opportunities are government-related, meaning a lot of jobs depend on the election cycle.” Again, I agree, because at least here she is referring to the people, the soul of a creative boom. However, I wonder what does she think about people like me, the creative native Washingtonians that have our feet firmly planted here and remain dedicated to our art form in the city we call home. What about those that do move from another city and decide to make DC their home? Did she consider native Washingtonians that may have move away but are coming back and setting up shop here? Did she consider all creative art forms or just one or a few and their needs?
The hindrance may come from various people (in and outside of DC) like Greenfield and their perception on what DC is, should and shouldn’t be. In other words, they set these limitations on what the city can produce based on the fact that we are a government city and try to compare it to another city. I hate it when people are always trying to compare DC in one shape or form to New York, Los Angeles or any other major city. Instead of appreciating DC for what it is, they always say “well DC doesn’t have this while New York has this…” and so forth.
I noticed this during the time I worked on and shopped around the story I did on DC’s fashion scene. What initially was meant to be a local piece, I reworked it to make it appealing for a national audience. During the process of writing and interviewing my sources I found that outsiders to DC have a high disregard in what we can do within the industry because we are a city of power and anything we do outside of politics is looked on with a suspicious eye. With each pitch I sent, I either didn’t receive a response or the issue was, no one really cared about what DC is doing in the fashion world, despite some of the national attention some of the industry’s key players in DC are slowly receiving. In the end, I took it upon myself to post it on my blog and so far I’ve received good feedback (mostly in the form of an email).
I’m the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with this city. I was born and raised here and continue to watch it change in a blink of an eye. I appreciate everything about this city from the positive to the utter disgusting negative stuff that floats around. I love it for all of its uniqueness it has a government city and its patches beautiful creative outlets for the creative writer and journalist in me. My city is tough, but she can be a whore too as she allows the rotation of people use her up.
Yet just as much as I have love for my beloved hometown, it frustrates me. My challenge as a creative writer and journalist is carving out a niche. Maybe other artists (no matter what art form) feel the same way. When trying to carve that niche’ in DC, you can be faced with competition which makes you want to push harder and then hindrance of limitations, based on people’s perception of the nation’s capital, which can challenge you to go deeper within your creative realm to break through.
What I want to know is, are residents in the District - natives and non-natives- really concerned in trying to “keep up with the Joneses” or the “cool kids?” Can we get a vote in Congress first? That would be really hip!!!
I guess what it boils down to with Greenfield’s article is; what is her definition of hip? Maybe she should read my short narrative as well to get a feel for the creative types that are here.
I can’t help but wonder how long she has lived here. Is she bored with this city? If so, maybe she is the boring one. If she still resides here, it’s obviously she’s really missing out on the “hip” art scene that already lives here.
May I suggest that Greenfield look up Sam Gilliam, a resident of DC since the 60s and one helluva an artist. If you travel through the Takoma Metro station, that’s Gilliam’s mural you are looking at. She may want to look into the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, Dupont Underground, The Ward 7 Arts Collaborative and she may want to reference a post I did in June about a call and response art show.
Art is indeed alive here. The infrastructure is in place to support it. It’s cool. It’s our brand of hip! Appreciate it or go home.