Friday, January 21, 2011

One Common Unity's MLK Streets Project

HCWDC Board Member Aaron Jenkins Reflects on the Film Premiere

Aaron Jenkins

The following is an excerpt of comments from Aaron Jenkins describing his experience with the piece, "MLK Streets" project:

"I wish you were all in the room when the film was screened at the Anacostia Library the day after the ice storm last week. Even with inclimate weather, it was a full house. The project provided young people with cameras and after taking workshops they traveled to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. named streets across the country gathering personal stories of what the street means in each city to residents. It was a great reminder of why we are all committed to this work of making the humanities, or human ties, available to as many people as possible. The screening was a "rough cut" version but it did everything we set out to do in our work - it brought community members together and provided a vehicle to discuss important issues. I cannot wait to see the final screening on April 4th, 2011. This is a powerful day as it's the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination." 

One Common Unity is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization striving to create and nurture sustainable communities through the arts, education, and media. The premiere of the MLK Streets Project Documentary, funded in part through a 2008 Major Grant from the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, received press attention from: CNNBBC America, and the Washington Post

Congratulations to OCU and all of the project participants!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't Let the Traffic Grind You Down

Transcend Road Rage With Classic Literature

Warning: Road Rage
Despite a highly regarded public transportation system, an impressive number of bike lanes, and popular carpooling incentives, the DC metro area is now tied with Chicago for the worst traffic congestion. As if sitting in a parking lot for hours on your way to work wasn't enough, it seems that DC drivers are also increasingly prone to road rage. If you aren't being cut off, honked at, or gestured toward during the daily commute, its likely that your built-up frustrations and added stress are causing unseen internal damage to your heart and mind. But, as they often do in times of crisis, the humanities have come through with a much needed healing salve. Improve your quality of life on the road by enjoying a free audiobook! Literature can save you from mind-numbing boredom or soul-crushing frustration in the gridlock, and it provides both an escape from reality, and a better understanding of the world. is perhaps the largest project dedicated to creating audiobooks out of public domain literature. Volunteers choose works with expired copyrights, record them, and upload them to the website. The project welcomes volunteers from around the globe, and many of the materials in their catalog are recorded in multiple languages. Because of the loose, Wikipedia-like strategy of Librivox, there are plenty of books to choose from, so you can make your escape from afternoon drive DJs and double parked cars in a variety of ways. Some examples from the catalog include: Mark Twain's “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court”, Geoffery Chaucer's “The Canterbury Tales”, or 8 different versions of Leo Tolstoy's “Anna Karenina.”

If you get a chance to try Librivox, send a comment to let us know what you are reading. If you search their catalog and can't find the public domain book you are looking for, find it here, at Project Gutenberg, and follow the instructions here to introduce it to the Librivox catalog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

DC's 2011 Most Endangered Buildings List

DC Preservation League Seeks Nominations

The 3rd Church of Christ Scientist building at
16th and Eye St, NW made the list in 2008
The DC Preservation League is accepting nominations for its 2011 most endangered list. Since 1996, the Preservation League has annually compiled a list of culturally or architecturally significant buildings that are threatened by demolition, irresponsible redevelopment, or neglect. Last year's nominees included: Metropolitan AME Church at 1518 M. Street, NW; a collection of historic homes comprising parts of Historic Anacostia; and DC's historic fire houses. The Preservation League testifies before the DC Historic Preservation Review Board to encourage protection of the structures it identifies as significant.

If you are interested in preserving a piece of the built environment, nominating a structure for inclusion on the annual Most Endangered list is a good start. For more information visit the DC Preservation League website.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mayor Gray is a Hand Dancer

Washington Post Article foresees a popularity spike for DC's Official Dance

Hand Dance holds the distinction of being Washington, DC's official dance according to a 2003 city council resolution sponsored by Phil Mendelson. A recent article in the Washington Post written by Nikita Stewart, indicated that the dance style's popularity may get another boost from the local government. It seems that recently elected mayor Vincent Gray is an avid hand dancer, and has been practicing the art form since his childhood. According to the article, Gray, who grew up in Northeast Washington, showcased his talents throughout his campaign. His dedication to hand dance could spark a revolution among DC dancers young and old. Some may hope to preserve the dance and the traditions it represents, and some may see it as an entrée to the local culture and community of which they hope to be a part.

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC awarded a 2010 DC Community Heritage Project grant to Beverly Lindsay-Johnson and the National Hand Dance Association for a documentary surveying the history of this descendant of the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. The film, entitled Hand Dance: a Capitol Swing, was the result of an August 8th  oral history interview session that featured some of the most notable names in DC Hand Dance. The entire finished product is available through the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum and Youtube channel. Lindsay-Johnson is also the producer of Dance Party: the Teenarama Story, a documentary film about Washington, DC's Teenarama dance program of the 1960s. The show was open to African-American youth unlike many of its contemporary counterparts. 

As Ms. Stewart demonstrates in her article, shared cultural traditions do not always function as bridges across generational and racial boundaries – not at first. But there also seems to be significant evidence that the world of hand dance holds a lot of potential. Like differing interpretations of a good book, the multitude of ways DC residents have adapted hand dance are likely to fuel debate and discussion among dedicated dancers and newcomers alike. Perhaps those discussions will be limited to the beat of the music, and the occasional trash talk challenge, but the longer people from differing backgrounds spend together, the more likely they are to find common ground.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ethelbert on the Power of the Humanities

The Poet Offers Advice to The Mayor in the Washington Post

Image Courtesy Howard University
The beginning of a new year is a great time to reevaluate priorities, and the Humanities Council is glad to see that that poet E. Ethelbert Miller, in a Washington Post article last Thursday (page 3), has encouraged Mayor Vincent Gray to put the arts and humanities at the top of the administration's list of remedies for a fractured city. The humanities disciplines have the power to bring people together around shared historical narratives, common appreciation for works of literature, and philosophies that encourage understanding and cooperation.

Miller's three word imperative for the incoming mayor? - “Read a book.” It's advice that all District residents should take to heart. “People can come together around song and dance and celebrate our city's diversity,” Miller says. “As mayor, you should be seen walking around not just with budget reports but with a book of poems or a novel as well.”

Tell us what you think. Can the city government do more to encourage enriching arts and humanities programming in all wards? What role to the humanities play in bringing a culturally and socioeconomically diverse city together?