Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rock the presidents (cultural planning and the national experience in DC)

When I worked at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had an alcohol policies project, I was somewhat derisive of a "study" the organization did which concluded that elementary school children could name more alcoholic beverage products than they could of past Presidents of the United States.

I said, "well the families of people like James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore need to launch advertising campaigns."

The children's theater organization in Arizona, Childsplay, has done just that, with a production called "Rock the Presidents" that is a natural for a permanent production in DC, if the city, although this would be for the federal/national experience part of the city's cultural offer, planned for such, systematically.

See "Childsplay makes history entertaining, fun" from the Arizona Republic about the show. From the article:

The high-energy production brings to mind the popular educational series "School House Rock," with catchy lyrics, infectious melodies and entertaining visuals that appeal to children in the crowd and the adults sitting next to them.

"The appeal has been so wonderful across those ages. The response is more than we hoped for," said director Anthony Runfola after the production's debut over President's Day weekend. "I saw a grandmother making the rock-and-roll horn sign and rocking out."

The production features a cast of three Secret Service agents who serve as guides that recap the last 223 years and 44 presidents they've traveled with and protected over time. Their role is to help the audience understand who these men were and their contributions to history, said Yolanda London, who plays one of the agents.

London talked about a little girl, 6, who had seen the production and declared that her favorite president was Millard Fillmore, the 13th commander-in-chief.

"That's amazing to me," she said of the new, hip take on presidential history. "I think it resonates with people."

In the past, when the Children's Museum was on H Street, I suggested building more child-oriented attractions around the Museum, to strengthen and extend the experience. Similarly, with regard to proposals for Poplar Point, one example of a model of a cultural asset that could be created there is Charlotte, NC's ImaginOn children's theater.

A children's theater production like "Rock the Presidents" could be a great moneymaker in DC, focused on the tourist market, and the money generated could support many other programs focused on local markets.

But it isn't just about the money. It's about organizing, interpreting, and communicating the elements of the "National experience" that people are supposed to get when they come to visit DC as the nation's capital and home of the federal government, including the White House--the home of the presidents, the chiefs of the Executive Branch.

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