Credit: Elizabeth Tuten

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Althea Rao with a small version of her light sculptures. Credit: Elizabeth Tuten

Kate Goodall, CEO of Georgetown artist and entrepreneur incubator Halcyon, knew there was one non-negotiable when considering what an arts festival would look like in D.C.: “We needed to figure out a way to make this accessible. Aspen [Ideas Festival] is a good $3,000 to attend, and that’s not including travel and lodging. South By [Southwest Conference and Festivals]’s smallest ticket, unless you’ve got a hookup, is $1,600. These gatherings are largely completely out of reach for people. We wanted to bring together a high quality, international, destination festival—over time of course—that is completely free and accessible.”

Halcyon currently supports eight fellows, six national or international and two local, through their Arts Lab program. The nine-month fellowship starts in September and culminates with By the People Festival, which serves as a capstone project for the fellows. Now in its second year, By the People will host programming in conjunction with community arts centers in all eight wards and has expanded its run from four days to nine. 

Ahead of the festival, City Paper spoke with a few fellows about the art they were preparing for By the People. (We edited down their words a bit for clarity.)

Fellow: Althea RaoMedium: Light sculpturesFestival Appearance: June 15–23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Union Market

“The theme of my work is gender equity. I would like to facilitate sessions of interactive conversations about gender stereotypes, misconceptions, and toxic values acquired by individuals through socialization, their environment, how they grew up. Those things aren’t their fault. The environment I’m trying to create is a free space for these people to be able to think on their own and discover their own agency, so once they have the intention of changing their behavior, or some of their values, they can find a way to do them on their own.

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“This light sculpture uses paper as a building material. It’s 12 layers of paper laminated onto a wooden frame. When I think about paper, the first thought is it as a classic recording material for thoughts, for abstract ideas or histories, even. So I invited people to write down a commitment on paper pieces and I collected these paper pieces to build the light sculptures so the finished piece of light sculpture consists of people’s good intentions and their promises of little things they’ll do in their daily life to advance gender equality.”

Fellow: KokayiMedium: Digital multimedia, photographyFestival Appearance: June 15–23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Union Market

Credit: Elizabeth Tuten

On Dreams is a 24-minute interview series documentary that I made that basically interviews African-American men between the ages of 15 and 83 about their dreams. I asked three questions: Who told you to follow your dreams? Who supported you in following your dreams? And who tried to stop you from following them? I also asked lightly, ‘What are they?’ and then I just let the camera roll and let people talk. There’s a good through line where the very same people who encouraged you were the same people who tried to stop you. Because we tell kids in the beginning: ‘You can be anything you want to be!’ But parents, mentors, will all try to get you to look at your dream and your vision through their eyes. A lot of the impetus behind the entire project was a conversation with my dad around the same thing. I want to go do this music thing, I was signed to a record deal, I’d been on tour, I’ve got money and the whole thing, and I come back and he’s like, ‘Oh that’s great, you’ve been to all these countries, that’s nice, so when you gonna quit playing and get a real job?’

“When I read the story of Icarus and Daedalus, I saw a lot of similarities. Similarities of how this father-son relationship was going. I have a record called Hubri$, which is part of this exhibit so there are 12 songs, and I wanted to do a reimagining of telling the story of Icarus and Daedalushow did they wind up being imprisoned, how did he wind up escaping, what were their thoughts. Using those themes and interpreting the story added up to this whole piece of work.”

Fellow: Tariq O’MeallyMedium: ChoreographyFestival Appearance: June 22, 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building

Credit: Elizabeth Tuten

“I’ve been working on this piece called “Night Light” during my fellowship that I’ll be performing at the opening reception on Friday. The inception of the theme was the idea of surviving in a horror film. Mostly, it’s me working through my own things. How do you tell the deepest, darkest truths about yourself and see what that is? I think of the petals as the ideas. I realized that hope and despair have a very intimate relationship and I also realized that when we lie, it means we have a clear concept of what the truth is. So I think of these petals as pieces of veils and shadows and lies and truths that surround us. What is diving into the shadows and seeing how many layers we can pull back? How many things can I pull back and reveal about myself?”

Fellow: Kelli Rae AdamsMedium: CeramicsFestival Appearance: June 15–16, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.; June 18–21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; June 22–23, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at GW

Credit: Elizabeth Tuten

“I had this idea originally in the fall of 2012. I had started making pottery again after taking a break from pottery making, but I ended up in Southern France. A friend of mine lives there and has a studio there, and I was working with him. His studio was sort of geared toward pottery, and he has a wood-fire kiln. So while I was there I got an email from my student loan company. One day we were loading the kiln and I went up to check my email and it was like, ‘oh, right.’ Of course I never forget, but it’s always renewed, this burden is renewed every time that comes. Because I had been making vessels again, I remember thinking, ‘How many of these would I have to make to pay off this debt?’ In that moment I had this vision of this massive field of bowls and then I imagined what would happen if I actually made them and then actually filled them with all of that money. I wanted to get to 800 bowls, which I didn’t quite make, but the project is about accumulation, and about that futility. There are 50 more in the kiln as we speak. I think I’ll have about 600. It’s important to me that people understand that I’m not selling the bowls. I’ll set the bowls out in the rotunda space of the Corcoran and I’ll be collecting coins. If you bring your loose change from your house, you’ll pour it into a sample bowl sitting there, and then I’ll take it and add it to the installation and add your name to a log book.”

Fellow: Naoko WowsugiMedium: GongFestival Appearance: June 21, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.; June 22, 8:10 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. at the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building

“We have so many issues in this world, we need collective healing. We’re doing a sound bath with gongs, with a healing element through sound. These yoga mats will be everywhere so that people can lay down. We will play ‘108+1.’ That’s the project title for the sound bath for collective healing. I collaborated with an artist who advocates for gun violence in the United States. She happened to tell me that 109 American people die by gun violence every day. Then in studying this gong practice, the number 108 is a cosmic number in many cultures, especially in Zen Buddhism. They think there are 108 things in the world. So we’ll have light installations that take participants from deep night to sunlight that will take people through maximum relaxation. We’ll hit the gong 109 times to represent those deaths.”