Friday, May 27, 2011

U Street Businesses Old and New Honored

Video of the Discussion is Available on HCTV

Last week, on May 18th, the Humanities Council organized its first Washington, DC Great Streets event. The program honors historic businesses along Washington's storied commercial corridors and newcomers adding their own unique contributions. The inaugural event was called Celebrating U Street, and Nizam Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl, Richard Lee of Lee's Flower and Card Shop, and Suman Sorg of Sorg Architects comprised the panel of honorees. The group discussed the changes that have taken place along the U Street corridor in recent years, and reflected on old memories. The discussion was moderated by author Blair E. Ruble, whose recent book, Washington's U Street: a Biography, explores the impact of change and population movement with an approachable, biographical style.

Dr. Ruble confessed that his impetus for writing the book came from grating discussions with people from outside the Washington area who persistently referred to the capital as “not a real city.” Ruble's historical research and interviews with longtime residents clearly disprove this myth, and his work is replicable for most of Washington's neighborhoods, many of which rival the greater U Street area in the depth and richness of their collective memory and culture. 

Both Lee and Ali recalled a U Street that was very much a village in a small southern town. The families who owned businesses in the area were often interconnected, and they interacted with the public on a very personal level. The Industrial Bank, like Ben's and Lee's has been a fixture in the community for many years. Nizam's mother, a teller at the bank, met her husband in the area before they founded their now-iconic restaurant, and Richard Lee fondly recalled Ms. Ali allowing him to come to the front of the line as a small boy making deposits for his parents' shop. While the area has seen much change, both good and bad, Lee believes that the new residents' interest in attending community events has kept some of the close-knit character of the neighborhood intact. Sorg believes that the area would benefit from urban improvements that would encourage more foot traffic and more individual interactions between neighbors. Her firm is also responsible for many of the architectural preservation projects in the area.

The discussion and presentation of awards can be viewed on HCTV, the Humanities Council's Youtube Channel. The well-preserved culture of DC's neighborhoods, coupled with its residents long-term collective memory seem to suggest that the Humanities Council will have no trouble continuing the Washington, DC Great Streets program along other major commercial corridors across the city. Does your neighborhood have an eclectic mix of businesses, both new and old, along its great streets? Mt. Pleasant, MLK, Georgia Ave, M Street, 12th Street NE, Minnesota Ave. Let us know where we should hold the next discussion!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Post Article Examines New Stone Carving on the Mall

For Stone Carvers, Their Profession is Their Tradition

During the late 1980s, the Humanities Council funded a documentary film project on the dedicated craftsmen who carved the hundreds of gargoyles, statues, and architectural embellishments adorning the National Cathedral. The film called The Stone Carvers was produced by Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner, and is available at a number of local libraries. Because stone carving is such a high-skill profession, requiring years to master, the expertise is usually passed down from parent to child. This was certainly the case for many of the carvers featured in Hunt and Wagner's documentary, but, according to a recent Washington Post article it holds true for the craftsmen steadily chipping away at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial scheduled to open this Summer.

According to writer Brett Zonger, at least one of the carvers working on the MLK memorial is continuing in the tradition of his father and grandfather. Though Nicholas Benson and his ancestors did not work on the National Cathedral, it is fair to say that they, more than most, have literally carved Washington. Benson's grandfather carved portions of the Iwo Jima Memorial just across the Potomac in Arlington, his father worked on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Benson carved inscriptions on the World War II Memorial.

Benson relishes the opportunity to leave his mark on history, and seems to have gained a deep, personal connection with the words of Dr. King. The total number of letters comprising the inscriptions is 2,085, and each one takes Benson an hour to complete, so it stands to reason that he and his colleagues will have had plenty of time to carefully reflect on these memorable quotations by the time they complete the project.

Some of the carvers in Hunt and Wagner's documentary confessed that they viewed their profession as one on the verge of extinction. Mechanization and changing architectural styles have decreased the need for hand carved pieces. But on the Mall in Washington, as long as there are heroes to immortalize, and histories to transform into legends, it seems there will be a place for the artisan mason – master carvers.

Check out the Post article for more on Benson and his work on the MLK Memorial.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cycle I Grantee Organizations Promise a Transformative Series of Documentaries, Forums, Screenings, And After-School Activities

Twenty One New Humanities Projects and Events

The first regular grant cycle of 2011 is underway as of Wednesday, May 11, after a brief, yet informative ceremony. Twenty-one organizations were funded this cycle, and 20 were in attendance at the historic Sumner School in Northwest DC. The grantee organizations were introduced by moderator and Humanities Council board chair Marianne Scott, and a representative from each group delivered a brief summary of their project.

Leading DC Humanities Organizations
Discuss their Upcoming Projects

The diverse humanities projects supported this cycle exemplify the Humanities Council's effort to reach a broad DC audience. The Studio Theatre and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company each received grants to hold public discussions on the cultural themes explored in a collection of Irish plays, and the play, Clybourne Park respectively. Video/Action received a grant which will be used to fund filmmaker Cintia Cabib's documentary study of community gardening in Washington, and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation's major grant award will support a documentary film on the history of African American basketball titled Supreme Courts. Other organizations that received funding include: the American Islamic Congress, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC Scores, the Double Nickels Theatre Company, Facing History and Ourselves, Ford's Theatre Society, the Latin American Youth Center, the Latino Economic Development Corporation, M.O.M.I.E.' S TLC, the National Hand Dance Association, People's Production House, the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Friends of the Congo, the Military Road School Preservation Trust, Words, Beats, and Life Incorporated, and the 9/11 Unity Walk. The Textile Museum also received a grant, but was unable to attend the ceremony.

Footage from the ceremony is available on HCTV, the Humanities Council's Youtube Channel. We will be in touch with all the grantees as their projects develop. Let us know which humanities events or projects you are most looking forward to, and please post any feedback as you begin to check them off your Summer schedule.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Live to Read Selection to be Distributed Free at Local Libraries

Don't Miss the Chance to Pick Up a Copy

The first annual Live to Read is coming to a close, but don't let that stop you from picking up a copy of this year's selection, Ruined by Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize winning play about life in the war-ravaged  Democratic Republic of the Congo. The play, based on Nottage's own travels through the region, is an eye-opening and often brutal account of the atrocities that can occur when corruption and violence rule in place of law and reason. Despite the suffering of her characters and the weight of her subject, Nottage manages to weave humor and familiarity into the narrative, making for an engrossing read, and a stunning theatrical production. The memory of the story lingers long after leaving the theater or putting down the book.

Copies of the Dramatist Play Service version of the book will be available throughout the week (first come first served) at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, the Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library, the MLK Memorial Library, the Southwest Neighborhood Library, and the Tenley-Friendship Library.

Live to Read is Washington, DC's city-wide celebration of literature. This year's selected work of literature is Ruined, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Lynn Nottage. The play is currently running at Arena Stage.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Live to Read Partners Stage Poetry Workshop

Read One Participant's Powerful Work

As part of the first annual Live to Read, the Humanities Council, Split This Rock Poetry, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly held a creative writing workshop called "Breaking the Silence." The program mirrored the themes of Lynn Nottage's Ruined, this year's Live to Read literature selection. The event received great feedback from the participants including the following note from Brenda Bunting. Thank you, Brenda, for allowing us to feature your work!

"I very much enjoyed the Breaking the Silence Workshop. It was invaluable to me as a poet/writer and sexual abuse survivor. Here is the poem I wrote from the workshop. I hope you will add it to the blog."

-Brenda Bunting

My clothes are neatly folded blood spattered
soaked with semen and dried by the sun
In daylight I walk darkly stiff sore afraid
To go to the hospital fearful of the police
Officer Vicious visited my home last night
Told me to be quiet so I will be silent until
I realize it was my fault only then I get to speak
I will sleep in the same bed I was raped in
I will smile at my children and continue to care
I will excel at the college do my homework
and look forward to graduation
I will not go to the Rape Crisis Center
I will not go to any physician or doctor
I will pretend this never happened until
I believe it never happened.

Live to Read is Washington, DC's city-wide celebration of literature. This year's selected work of literature is Ruined, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Lynn Nottage. The play is currently running at Arena Stage. Next week, the Humanities Council and the DC Public Library will distribute copies of the book at selected libraries. The Humanities Council encourages all Washingtonians to read and discuss the play.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Freedom Riders On WETA and HCTV

New Documentary Airs Monday Night at 9PM

In 1961, a group of African American activists, with supporters of all races and ethnicities, boarded buses at the New York Avenue Greyhound station bound for the Deep South. The supreme court had recently declared discriminatory laws effecting interstate buses and depots unconstitutional, and this courageous group was determined to test the ruling. The Freedom Riders were taunted, beaten, and jailed; their buses disabled and set ablaze, but the determined voyagers succeeded in sending the message that the rule of law alone would not be enough to subdue an entrenched Jim Crow.

This Monday at 9pm, PBS will air an all new documentary film on the Freedom Riders. The WETA website features a history of the movement, excerpts from a Smithsonian panel discussion, updates from a group of students recreating the original bus route, and an interview with the film's creator.

PBS Freedom Rides Trailer

Local filmmaker Steven Nero has been working on a similar, but more DC-focused, documentary with funding from the Humanities Council for the last few years. The most recent edition debuted at the DC Community Heritage Project showcase last December, and has garnered significant attention on the Council's Youtube channel. Check out the film if you haven't already, and be sure to tune in on Monday for producer Stanley Nelson's take on this historic Civil Rights protest.

Nero's Greyhound Building and Freedom Riders Documentary

The DC Community Heritage Project is a partnership of the Humanities Council, the DC Office of Historic Preservation and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Ruined": A Classic Example of Why Congo Matters

Guest Post By Maurice Carney, Executive Director, Friends of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is located in the heart of Africa. The country is the size of Western Europe and is bordered by nine other countries. It is currently the third largest country on the African continent in terms of area and the fourth largest in terms of population, boasting an estimated 70 million people. The country is endowed with spectacular natural wealth. It is a part of the second largest rainforest in the world, which is vital to the fight against climate change. The lush rainforest is a true natural treasure, home to over a thousand species of plants and hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

In the midst of all its beauty and splendor, Congo is suffering through the deadliest conflict in the world since World War Two and experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. Women and children have borne the brunt of the conflict in the Congo, which began in 1996 as a result of invasions from its neighbors. Hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically raped as a weapon of war and half of the estimated 6 million dead are children under the age of five.

Congo is arguably the richest country on the planet in terms of natural resources. It is the storehouse of strategic and precious minerals that are vital to the functioning of modern society. Its minerals are key to the consumer electronics industry, the technology industry, automotive, aerospace and military industries. Its diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, timber, iron, tin, tungsten, and coltan (mineral that is central to the functioning of our cell phones, laptops and other technology and electronic devices) are coveted from China to America. In addition to the significance of Congo’s resources to the modern world, its size and location in the heart of Africa makes it critical to the future of the African continent. It is the fulcrum on which the continent swings. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki says that there is no new Africa without a new Congo. While President Obama proclaims “If Africa is to achieve its promise resolving the problem in the Congo will be critical.”

Increasing numbers People throughout the globe are becoming aware of the conflict and the mass crimes that have been committed in the Congo.  People who are concerned about issues such as the environment, children, women, human rights, consumer and corporate responsibility, and the condition of fellow members of the human family are standing up. Artists, singers, dancers, filmmakers, authors, writers, actors, playwrights, activists, politicians and many others are beginning to bring to bear their talents, skills, expertise and know-how to raise global consciousness about the dire humanitarian situation in the heart of Africa with the expectation of ending the suffering of the beleaguered Congolese people.

Lynn Nottage, the cast members, director Charles Randolph-Wright and all those involved in the production of the play are classic examples of how people throughout the globe can use their talents, skills and expertise to raise consciousness about an issue of vital concern to the people of Africa and humanity at-large. Lynn Nottage’s work is a global call to conscience that resonates with everyone who encounters the play Ruined.

Visit us at to get involved and join the global movement in support of the Congo.

Friends of the Congo is one of the Humanities Council's outstanding partners for this year's Live to Read. Washington, DC's city wide celebration of literature. HCWDC encourages all Washingtonians to read the play and participate in the remaining Live to Read events. Click here for more information.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New DCCHP Cycle Set to Begin Soon

DC Community Heritage Project Grant Proposals are Due Tomorrow

The deadline to apply for the Humanities Council's DC Community Heritage Project grant for 2011 is tomorrow at 5pm, so we will soon have an outstanding new group of grantees dedicated to preserving those aspects of DC history and culture most important to them. Last year we received some wonderful final projects about neighborhoods and landmarks across the city. A group from Congress Heights produced a historic survey of their neighborhood and published it for a popular audience, another organization produced a virtual exhibit on the historic Franklin School, and Tendani Mpulubusi expanded his outstanding documentary on Barry Farm and Hillsdale.

The 2011 awards will be decided in June, and projects will take place throughout the Summer and Fall. The Humanities Council will be in frequent contact with grantee organizations, and updates will be posted regularly here on Human Ties. The DCCHP grant cycle culminates with a grantee showcase in December where organizations have the opportunity to display their projects for the public. 

The DCCHP isn't just about grants, however; the Humanities Council and its partners offer regular symposia designed to strengthen community historians and preservationists' skills and put them in contact with scholars and other experts who can help them realize their visions and tell their stories. Last Summer, the DCCHP Symposium offered participants instruction on researching commercial and residential lots in DC, creating cell phone tours, and conducting church histories. In previous years, the DCCHP symposia have focused on topics such as fundraising and creating neighborhood walking tours. Footage from those events can be viewed below and on the Humanities Council's Youtube channel, HCTV.

The Future of Fundraising

Creating a Walking Tour

The Humanities Council is planning another symposium this Summer. Leave a comment, and give us topic suggestions. We do our best to find experts knowledgeable on the topics garnering the most interest.