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, September 22, 2017

DC Art all Night, Saturday September 23rd

Tomorrow night, the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is sponsoring an art event called "Art All Night 2017 - Made in D.C" where between the hours of 7 PM and 3 AM, districts offer a variety of art-related events.

It will be in six neighborhood Main Street commercial district revitalization districts:
  • Congress Heights
  • Dupont Circle
  • H Street
  • North Capitol 
  • Shaw
  • Tenleytown.
Last year I wrote a piece suggesting that the program is misconceived and should focus on one district at a time.  With six choices people will go to the popular and most conveniently located places, leaving the areas that "need the event the most" like Congress Heights and North Capitol competing unsuccessfully.

I am reprinting that piece below:

Too much of a good thing: the need to focus special attention instead of spreading it out and DC's Art all Night

Art all Night/Nuit Blanche is an overnight arts event held in various cities, pioneered in Nantes, France in the mid-1980s.

Usually held in a city's central district, it melds museums, galleries, arts organizations, and events/programming, mostly with free admission.

Over the past few years, DC has adopted the event, which this year is on Saturday September 24th, from 7 pm to 3 am on Sunday September 25th.

That's 8 hours.

But it's being held in 7 different neighborhoods:
  • Congress Heights
  • Dupont Circle
  • H Street
  • North Capitol
  • Shaw
  • Tenleytown
  • Van Ness
IMO, the way DC is doing this is too diffuse and spread out, making it difficult to go to more than one district, and maybe people don't even want to go to more than one.

And all the people who won't go to a particular district because they've gone to another one.

But think of all the planning and other efforts--social, community, and organizational capital--that is required to successfully organize and present a slate of events in each of the participating districts.

Organizing is wasted if it doesn't reach an audience.

Toronto as a counter example.  Saturday October 1st is Nuit Blanche Toronto.  Most of the events are located in two concentrated sections, either within about a 3 square mile area downtown, or along Bloor Street East. The subway system will even offer all-night service on a section of their system to support the event.

-- map

Toronto Nuit Blanche events map, 2016, screen shot

It's too much of a good thing.  For example, years ago I suggested to a group that rather than have a weekly flea and arts and crafts market, do it once/month.  That way it is special and can be marketed that way, rather than it being regular and rote and easy to blow off any one week because "I can always go next week."

Similarly, Takoma Park is selective with how they schedule their Grant Street Market, which operates 3 days/year, in the Spring and Fall, rather than to offer a weekly event that becomes underpowered because of frequency and overexposure.

Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, 2013.

Alternatively, focus and concentrate.  IMO it's way better to make Art all Night a rotating event, maybe most but not every month (e.g., no to December, probably November, and January for sure) monthly, like various "First Friday", "Second Thursday," "Third Saturday," Monthly Arts Walk type activities held in various arts and entertainment districts across the globe.

This would allow each neighborhood group to organize its Nuit Blanche event over a longer period of time, but also increases the likelihood of more media attention in advance of the event, as well as getting a much greater audience than they would when competing against six other places for the same audience.

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At 10:35 AM, Blogger mattxmal said...

Thanks for writing about this. I also did not expect too much (just a neighborhood event), but the North Capitol venues were packed and there were lots of groups walking up and down the street. A silent rave filled one empty lot at North Cap and Bates. Moreover, unlike many events that cater to a particular demographic (e.g., farmers markets or beer fests), the event was truly diverse. I heard the Shaw event was similarly well-attended, so the city may have just pulled this one off!

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

That's great to hear that events you attended and in Shaw did well. Though I still wonder about the farther out locations.

Of course, I want the event to be wildly successful. Given the structural impediments, that's why I recommended a schedule over the course of a year...

And then each district could use that as an anchor event around which to build a program, e.g., how Dupont Circle already has an extensive First Fridays program, plus the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium free weekend in June, etc.


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