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There’s not much breaking news in this week’s cover package (though anyone who follows the D.C. restaurant world may want to pay close attention to the end of Jessica Sidman’s interview with Rose’s Luxury owner Aaron Silverman). We aren’t publishing any government documents, making an impassioned argument, or telling a long narrative about how some problem facing the city came to be.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you won’t learn anything.
For our second annual People Issue, we once again invited a handful of the people who make life in the District interesting to tell us a little bit about what they do and why they do it. We talk to some of these folks all the time, and others are appearing in Washington City Paper for the first time ever. But all the question-and-answer sessions here tried to stray a bit from immediately topical matters and get into what people love—or don’t love—about the D.C. they know and the way they interact with it. (Interviews have been condensed for clarity.) What’s it like to be a food truck lobbyist, or the next mayor, or to try to open a bicycle factory in downtown D.C. in 2014, or to be the in-game DJ for the Nationals? Read on to find out. —Mike Madden
Shortly after buying a condo in Congress Heights in 2007, Nikki Peele grew frustrated with the lack of economic progress in Ward 8—and the lack of respect the ward was getting from the press and the government. So she did what any concerned citizen would: She started a blog. Congress Heights on the Rise and the accompanying @TheAdvoc8te Twitter account are vehicles for the fiercest defense of Ward 8, together with the fiercest attacks on proposals Peele thinks would hurt her part of town. By day, Peele works at ARCH Development Corporation, which runs two business incubators in Anacostia and aims to promote neighborhood development through the arts. —Aaron Wiener
When did you start your blog?
I remember the exact day: It was June 28, 2007. I had a nasty run-in with an ANC commissioner that day—that ANC commissioner who cannot be named, but we all know who it is, like Voldemort—and she really hurt my feelings, and that night I started the blog. And for the next 30 days, I attended every single meeting in the ward.
When I created my Twitter handle a couple of days later, @TheAdvocate was already taken, so I just threw the 8 into it. If I could ever go back in time, I would take the “t” and “e” off the end. I didn’t even know what a blog was. I think I had to Google it.
Did the ward need a defender?
I think the ward had defenders, but it was almost like that old adage, if it wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter, it didn’t happen.
You consistently attack proposals to build more affordable housing in Ward 8. Why?
I think the city for too long has tried to push off problems. The easiest place to push a problem is out of sight, and for the longest time out of sight has been east of the river. This whole idea of concentrating poverty in one location and expecting something good to come out of it is absurd to me.
With development coming to the St. Elizabeths campus and housing prices slowly rising, could we be having the opposite problem—displacement—in a few years?
I think a lot of things can happen down the road, 15, 20 years from now. I could develop wings and fly away. The perceived gentrification of Ward 8 does not scare me at this moment. It’s the chronic ghettofication that terrifies me every day.
Ward 8, and Anacostia and Congress Heights, doesn’t need to be the next U Street. It just needs to be the next revitalization of what it is now. Do I think the St. Elizabeths campus, whenever that happens, is going to activate the ward? I don’t know. But I can tell you my house, which is right around the corner from St. Elizabeths, is worth less today than it was when I bought it in 2007.
Last year you announced you’d be taking a “sabbatical” and moving out of Ward 8. Why?
I was burnt out, with a capital B. To be honest, I was getting a little discouraged. Things that were supposed to be coming down the pipeline for the ward weren’t happening. I felt like I was fighting everybody, and I was really tired.
I was hoping that the next Advoc8te would step up behind me. I’m looking for TheAdvoc8te 2015 or 2016, ’cause I wanna go against that girl. I hope that girl shows up and I hope she kicks my ass.
[loud sigh] You should insert that. Insert “audible sigh.” I honestly don’t know. I think there’s some potential out there, but I don’t know if anyone’s as crazy as I am.
A year later, you’re still living in Congress Heights. Why haven’t you left?
It’s like being in a marriage that you can’t imagine not being in. I’m here because I love the work I do. I live in a community of people I care about. I guess I’m just having a really hard time giving myself some space.
I will go months at a time and never go west of the river, and that’s a problem. So the compromise I’m talking myself into is, if I work in the ward, I may not be able to live here, and if I live in the ward, I may not be able to work here. I’m still going to keep giving everybody the business about Ward 8, but I may have to be able to walk to a burger joint every now and again.
Twelve years ago, Gina Schaefer was laid off and began rehabbing her Logan Circle home with her husband, Marc Friedman. Wishing they could shop at a local hardware store, the pair opened Logan Hardware on P Street NW in 2003. Since then, Schaefer’s opened shops in Glover Park, Tenleytown, Woodley Park, and Mount Vernon Triangle, as well as Takoma Park and three locations in Baltimore. She also sits on Ace Hardware’s national board of directors, advising the company on the needs of urban hardware buyers. —Caroline Jones
What made you want to expand the pool of hardware offerings in D.C.?
When we first opened in 2003, there were only four hardware stores in the city for over 500,000 people, so besides the fact that the neighborhood just needed one, there was an extreme lack of options. If you think about the history of retail and everybody shopping on Main Street and how they all had their favorite toy store, and pharmacy, and hardware store, and bookstore, and bicycle shop, hardware stores are kind of the last group of those businesses that haven’t been killed by a big box. I think people identify with it because they want local business. I think people identify with it because they want to know their merchants. And I think in the District, prior to the Columbia Heights project, big boxes didn’t care about D.C.
You’ve got stores all over Northwest D.C. Are there different needs at different stores?
Not really. Our two biggest departments across the board are paint and lawn and garden, and that’s the case in all of our locations, even though 5th Street is the most urban. [5th Street customers] tend to buy less lawn and garden, for example, but they still want bistro sets for their patios, they still want grills, which means they come in for charcoal or grilling tools, or potted plants. The amount of sales we have per neighborhood varies greatly, but what we sell proportionally stays the same.
Do you think D.C. is do-it-yourself focused enough, even though it seems like people work all the time?
I think there’s a lot of ambition for that stuff in D.C. We’ve been successful because so many people are still willing to take on projects in their house. It’s harder to find contractors in the District; it’s more expensive to find contractors. The average project that you and I, as women, might not have done—our mothers might not have done—it’s easy for us to do with a little Internet search and help from the hardware store.
You feature products made by local business owners as part of the Made in D.C. program. How did that come about?
The programs started with a collaboration with Think Local First D.C. We wanted to launch something in our stores that would give some people who wanted a springboard an opportunity to try and sell their stuff because there’s a lot of things that are required to sell products in a retail store. You might need a UPC or you need to ramp up your manufacturing and your building process, so we wanted to have some conversations with people who wanted to get bigger but didn’t know who to talk to. It’s not like we’ve found the next best product, but we’ve gotten people really excited about what they make.
What neighborhoods need hardware services now?
East of the [Anacostia] River definitely needs it. The problem with east of the river is that the rent’s already too expensive. We’ve been searching for space in Anacostia for probably three years, and the options that we have had have been almost as expensive as places in Northwest. We’re not ready to make that commitment because the population is just smaller.
What are some fixes renters can make with help from the hardware store and still keep their security deposit?
The two things we get asked about most are hanging pictures and fixing your toilet. If your toilet’s running and you call a plumber to fix it, it’s gonna cost about $50 an hour. You can come to the hardware store and get an $8 flapper—$8 might even be too high, a $5 flapper—and fix it yourself in about five minutes. I would never, ever, ever tell somebody to be afraid of trying to fix something going on with their toilet because it’s super easy to do. If your showerhead’s building up calcium, you can wrap a plastic bag around the showerhead with some vinegar and water and it will eat away the calcium overnight. That’s really good because you don’t have to buy a new showerhead and that can save you money.
Were you expecting this to be such a neighborhood business when you opened?
Absolutely. I never expected otherwise. [We] needed people who were walking, repeat customers, so we needed to be really nice to our immediate neighbors because if they weren’t going to come, no one was going to come.
Taylor “Woodie” McKnight was the top-ranked tennis player aged 10 and under in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2007. But when his coach and father Dr. Arnold McKnight—the first director of D.C.’s Southeast Tennis & Learning Center in Congress Heights—passed away that year, Woodie quit tennis for four years. Now, the 17-year-old is back training on his father’s courts and trying to make it as a professional player. The Southeast Tennis & Learning Center is in the midst of an $18 million renovation, and in a few years, Woodie thinks both he and the center will be internationally renowned. —Perry Stein
When did you start playing tennis?
I began playing tennis at 18 months old. I grew up at this center. My father was my coach, so he would train me, he’d take me by myself and train me in the mornings, and then I’d come back in the afternoons and hit with the rest of the kids that used to train at this center—most of them have grown up now. I was able to grow here because my father was such a great coach, through and through. He was a fantastic father and he was very smart, one of the smartest men I ever knew.
D.C. is not known for its tennis. Are there junior players your level to play with around here?
There are a lot of high-level juniors who are looking to make advances in the sport—whether they are just good juniors looking to get good at tennis to get a college scholarship, or I know a few who are looking to go pro. So there are juniors my level, definitely.
You’re in high school now. How do you stay focused on tennis?
I was homeschooled since right after kindergarten so I never had to deal with the peer pressure or any of that of regular school and I was always able to focus on tennis.
What’s been your proudest accomplishment so far?
Just being able to come back. I don’t think people understand the complexity of tennis itself. It seems so simple, but really it’s a very complex sport. I was off for four years, and they continued to play, and I came back onto the scene and, just two years into serious training, I am already caught up to those kids. So I think it’s quite impressive to be able to now hit with those kids I used to.
Why did you decide to get back into tennis?
Nothing else intrigued me.
In 2012, you won a junior hitting target competition at the U.S. Open, which came with a $14,000 donation to the Southeast Tennis & Learning Center. What did it mean to you to be able to give back to the center?
It was good to be able to give back. All the hard work the coaches here have put into me—It was good to be able to give back and get my name out there. I got a lot of recognition from that—I think it was the start of my comeback.
Why do you think this center is important for D.C.?
I think this center right now is one of the most important things in a lot of children’s lives—especially in this area. Kids come here with hope and with wanting to be more than what the world believes they can be. And a lot of them are very talented—a lot of them have God-given gifts that in actuality they wouldn’t be able to express unless they had some kind of opening. This center gives them this doorway to do great things in this world, whether it’s tennis, or through school, or through acting, or sewing, or fashion, there’s a lot of different doorways.
What’s your favorite place to go in D.C.?
Downtown. I love downtown.
By the monuments?
Yeah, by the monuments.
Have you met Marion Barry? [Barry’s former wife, Cora Masters Barry, founded the center and is its current chairwoman.]
Me and Marion Barry go way back. I’ve known him ever since I was 6—before that, even. He was good friends with my dad, so that’s how I knew him. We used to hit sometimes. My dad would give us lessons on the same court, and he used to hit with me.
Not many people can say that. Do you remember anything about his game?
His forehand was pretty good. He had a nice grunt. [Woodie’s mom, Jeanine McKnight, interjects: “That’s true, we used to laugh about it. He used to come home as a little boy and make the Marion Barry grunt.”]
Do you think the grunt was just for dramatic effect?
I think he was trying, I think he was really putting some effort into it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
A top pro player. I know I have high ambitions, but I put the work into it—it levels out with my ambitions. I’m one of the hardest working people I know, so when I say I want to be something great, it’s not just, “I want to be something great,” and I’m sitting here. It’s, “I want to be something great,” and I’m in the gym, I’m on the court, I’m watching videos, and I’m studying, and I’m training.
Where do you see this tennis center in five years?
Oh, man. This is going to be one of the top tennis facilities, not only in the nation, but I believe in the world. Once they bring in the coaches, and once they build the other courts, this is going to be a beautiful facility. And D.C. itself is changing—and a lot of money is coming back into the city, a lot of coaches are going to come here looking for opportunities and a lot of kids are going to come here.
Camille Giraud Akeju first came to D.C. to attend Howard University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1974 and a master’s degree in 1981. She spent the next two decades working in arts advocacy in New York at venues including the New York Transit Museum and the Harlem School of the Arts before returning to D.C. in 2005 to lead the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. Over the past nine years, the Bowie resident has redefined the museum’s mission and brought a new focus to the nation’s first neighborhood museum. —Caroline Jones
You’ve been leading the museum for the past nine years. How has the museum changed in that time?
Dramatically. When I got here, the mission was to collect, preserve, and present African-American history and culture from a community perspective—that was the mission and had been for nearly 40 years. I spent the first year assessing the environment: what we could do within the Smithsonian framework to create our own niche, our own identity, and stay relevant to the community. What I noticed was that all of the themes, all of the research topics, were centered around issues that impacted urban communities. It didn’t matter what the demographic was. When I went back and I saw all these things, the tendency was for the museum to add “African-American” as a prefix to every title. And I said, “If you were to cross that out and just look at the issues you’re dealing with, we’re relevant. Even as the demographics of wards 7 and 8 change, we’ll still be relevant as long as these issues keep recurring and as long as we continue to research the issue itself and the impact on the community, we’re gonna stay relevant.” Now we focus on issues that impact urban communities, and it brings in new audiences. It broadens our research collaboration pool—we’ve collaborated with entities this museum never worked with in the past, colleagues in other fields, and it has taken us global.
What made you decide to return to D.C. after spending the majority of your career in New York?
When the headhunter called me and told me that my name had been recommended for this position, I said “I’m really flattered, but I’ve got a really good job.” And my mother, who was 81 at the time, said, “You know, this is the Smithsonian. You ought to consider it.” I was really concerned about leaving my parents, and I let them talk me into it. I came down and when I saw the challenges I was facing, I thought “Oh my god, what did I do?” [But] I’ve taken away valuable lessons from every job I’ve ever had. I’ve learned volumes here and I think I’ve contributed a lot. The new mission is going to take us to a whole other level and I’m very excited.
You received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1974 and 1981 from Howard University. What changes have you noticed in the city’s art scene?
It’s incredible! I don’t even recognize places that used to be my stomping grounds. I think they’ve done a fairly good job of mapping the changes in some instances, but there are other instances where I think they should hold back just a little bit. Southeast is a great example: Before the economy crashed, the city had already approved plans to rebuild [Poplar Point, in] Ward 8. The plans looked like Shirlington. They were about to lose everything, and then the stock market crashed, and the company that had been awarded the redevelopment grant pulled out and everything came to a screeching halt, which was a good thing. Our 40th anniversary exhibit was called “East of the River: Continuity and Change,” and we talked about the changing environment. When the plans fell through in 2008, it gave this community the chance to regroup and galvanize and sort of have a say in their destiny and now they’ve come together. I think we’ve played a major part in that too because we did a research project on how creativity manifested itself in Ward 8 and from that, we pulled together, we called it “Citified.” We participated in the [Smithsonian] Folklife Festival, and all the artists that were pulled into that were from Wards 7 and 8. Now there’s the beginnings of the creation of an arts district. From Martin Luther King all the way down to Good Hope Road, they’re trying to create an arts corridor and it’s well underway with Honfleur Gallery and Anacostia Arts Center. The potential there is extraordinary.
Are there any favorite parts of D.C. you keep going back to?
It would be easier for me to say the parts I don’t like than it would for me to say the parts I do like. I love what’s happening in Brookland; I like what’s beginning to happen here in Ward 8. And I’m still discovering parts of D.C. that I haven’t seen before. But I love downtown. I think D.C.’s one of the most beautiful cities there is, especially at night.
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The only full-service supermarket, the only hotel, and the biggest new housing development in Shaw all came from Roadside Development, the D.C.-based firm that hugely expanded its once-modest District footprint with the million-square-foot City Market at O project that contains all three on the site once occupied by the O Street Market. In September, Roadside also won the right to develop a city-owned parcel across the street at 8th and O streets NW, giving the company and founding partner Richard Lake almost unilateral power to shape the growth of the fast-changing neighborhood. —Aaron Wiener
You have a family history in Shaw, right?
When my grandparents moved down from Brooklyn to D.C., they opened up little grocery stores in Shaw, and they used to use the O Street Market to buy their goods. And my uncle used to work at one of the stalls in the market, in the late ’40s and early ’50s.
You obtained control of O Street Market in 2001, just seven years after an infamous shooting spree there killed a 15-year-old boy and wounded eight others. The neighborhood was in shambles. What did you see there?
I think our vision evolved. To be honest, I don’t think we sat there in 2001 and said Shaw’s going to be what it is today. But what we saw was a very large site in the shadow of the convention center with a grocery store that was doing pretty good volumes at the time. And we saw the bones of the existing neighborhood. We thought, “One day, this makes sense.”
You control enough property in Shaw to determine the neighborhood’s direction. What’s needed?
There’s so much food coming into Shaw that we want more mercantile. Retail’s under a lot of pressure right now, so if retail doesn’t have some kind of urban experience or social expression, it’s at risk. We’re adding food to the neighborhood. I think you can get to a place where you add too much food, too many restaurants. You don’t want the restaurateurs to have pressure. You want enough of a collection of restaurants that this becomes a place for dining. But if it gets to the point where it’s too much, all we’re doing is cannibalizing against other restaurateurs.
Your website states, “City Market at O serves as the catalyst for the revitalization of the Shaw community.” Do you see it as the driver of development there?
Not really. I think the idea of it was a catalyst. It got people talking about the neighborhood. I’ve heard from many retailers in the neighborhood, “The fact that you guys were planning it and talking about it and the city was supporting it was huge.” It showed the city was paying attention to Shaw. The true on-the-ground catalysts are the hundred retailers that opened up in Shaw in the last five years, the pioneers that went out and did the alley dwellings, the guys who bought rowhouses and renovated, Shaw Main Streets. I think what we did was give some legitimacy and validation.
Are you concerned that you’ll be too successful in transforming the neighborhood and displace longtime residents?
Absolutely. We’re fortunate we had no one living on site, so in our situation we’ll ultimately bring 1,200 new people to Shaw. We didn’t displace one person. We created homes for these people. Socioeconomically, on the market-rate side, there’s no question that we’re inviting people who are wealthy—two wage-earners in a lot of cases, young, college educated, walk to work—and I think they elevate the businesses in the neighborhood. But I don’t think they’re displacing anyone.
What’s the next Shaw for you?
We’re looking. I don’t know if it’s going to be the next Shaw because I think each of these neighborhoods carry their own personality, but if you look at what our thoughts are for Capitol Hill, there are areas of Capitol Hill that are evolving. And [the fire-damaged Frager’s Hardware building that Roadside is redeveloping] is at the edge of that piece. We like to do mixed-use projects. The retailers need to radiate into the neighborhood and create more of an impact than just building a building. There are some great neighborhoods we’re looking at that we think could benefit from that.
Rose’s Luxury is D.C.’s hottest restaurant of 2014, period: Lines stretch down the block on a daily basis. Not bad for a first-time restaurateur like Aaron Silverman, who grew up in Rockville and has worked for New York’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. The chef’s Barracks Row restaurant, though, is just the beginning. —Jessica Sidman
Rose’s Luxury was named best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit this year. Do you have any groupies yet?
I don’t know. We have a lot of regulars, that’s for sure.
Do you at least get recognized at the grocery store?
I got recognized at Benihana. We had an eight top. It was six of us and two ladies. And at the end, the two ladies, they were like, “Are you guys all from Rose’s?”
What are the perks of all of these recognitions and accolades?
It makes us really busy, and because we’re really busy, we make good money. And because we make good money, we can do a lot of the things that most restaurants can’t do. This morning I had a kitchen designer come out. He’s building shelving hanging from the ceiling because we’re out of space. He’s building additional tables. $5,000 worth of work. Next month, we’re going to get a new fridge. I’d like to make a cook’s kitchen and a server’s dining room.
Some people grumble that you don’t take reservations, except for the roof garden. Have you ever considered changing that?
Yeah, we’ve considered it a lot, but it never seems to make sense because in the end, we’d actually serve less people. It would suck to serve less people everyday.
What do you think it is about Rose’s Luxury that’s stuck such a chord with people?
I know our food’s pretty good. I know our service is probably better than our food. I know it’s a relaxing, comfortable space. I also know it’s also popular at the moment, which also adds to that. I know we won’t have these lines forever. Eventually, we’ll be 10 years old, and how do you sustain that? Every decision we make starts with the question: How do we sustain it for 20 years? We can’t claim that we’re successful until our 20-year lease is over and we’ve done it.
You’ve talked about opening up your own home to do dinners there [next year]. That almost seems the opposite trajectory. Why would you want to do that?
Because Rose’s is too big, it’s too loud, it’s too hectic. I have very bad anxiety, and I just want calm and organized. And the house is so personal. Rose’s is too impersonal for me. I wanted half the amount of tables, and I wanted much more attentive service. Less servers running around all over the place.
You’ve also talked about opening up another place. What would you want to do?
It all depends on what becomes available, because we have a lot of ideas. I’d like to do a cafe, a coffee shop, sandwich shop. I’d like to do a super, super fine-dining place with super high-end, white-glove, old-school, traditional, really elegant service. I always thought it’d be really cool to buy an old izakaya or sushi kind of place that was out of business and just use their equipment and just cook our kind of food but a little faster pace, a little lower price, a little more lively vibe. I’d also like to do the 30-seat restaurant that everybody wants to do. We’ve talked about a book store and/or a garden store. Also, I think it would be really cool to do a farm and have a dinner there nightly or once a week.
I’m sure whatever it is, it will have a line down the block.
Unless we take reservations.
The view from Anya Schoolman’s solar-paneled Mount Pleasant rooftop reveals another dozen solar-paneled houses nearby. That’s thanks largely to Schoolman’s efforts, as are other solar clusters that have sprouted up around the city and the region. After founding the Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop in 2006, she launched coops in neighborhoods throughout D.C. and spread into Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Households that join typically pay off their installation costs within five years and cut their electricity bills by up to two-thirds. Schoolman was recently honored at the White House for her work on her brainchildren, DC SUN and the nonprofit Community Power Network. Her team of five employees operates out of her home, the epicenter of D.C. solar efforts. —Aaron Wiener
How did the solar coops come about?
My son Walter was 12, and he and his best friend Diego had gone to see An Inconvenient Truth, and they came back and they were like, “We should go solar.” We tried. We looked into it, we called installers, and it was just overwhelming and confusing. And so I said to the kids, “Look, if we’re going to go to all the trouble to figure this out, we should get the whole neighborhood.” So they really started the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. They created these flyers and went door to door saying, “Would you go solar if you could save money?” We had 50 houses sign up in two weeks. So we were like, “Now what are we going to do?”
That was 2007. In 2008, we got involved in legislation in D.C. to make it easier to go solar. And in 2009, we got 45 houses in Mount Pleasant to go solar at the same time.
You’ve had disagreements with Pepco over the years. How would you characterize your relationship?
Our relationship with Pepco has been [long pause] OK. Sometimes we’re in conflict with them—for example, we organized a shareholder resolution and had protests outside their headquarters. Other times we’re working really collaboratively with them.
Pepco is being taken over by the Chicago-based Exelon Corporation. For all your issues with Pepco, you’ve said Exelon would be much worse for D.C. solar. Why?
We forced Pepco to sell all of their generation capacity years ago. They have to buy energy anyway—they buy it from wholesale energy producers, you know, coal-fired power plants and stuff around here—so if we’re making it so they have less energy to buy, it’s not that big a deal.
With Exelon it’s a big step backwards, because their main business is owning generation. Most of the generation they own is nuclear, and nuclear is the least flexible kind of generation. It’s the kind of generation that can least be mixed with renewables which are variable.
They are a very large company with a history of opposing renewables actively. And they’re an out-of-state company, and we don’t think they have our interests as their mission.
Are you hoping to stop the merger?
We are interveners in the case, and we’re trying to stop the merger. We think it’s not in the public interest to support this merger.
Exelon, if this merger’s approved, will have so much market share in the grid that they’ll have the ability to demand higher prices for the energy they produce, and therefore it’s likely to result in higher rates for ratepayers. It’s not just about my narrow issues. It’s about, are we a captive audience for them to dump their expensive nuclear power?
What’s your goal for D.C. solar?
We want to be producing 30 percent of D.C.’s energy in D.C., on our rooftops, with local jobs. If the technology gets more efficient, it could be even more.
Where are we now?
Oh, like .000-something-1 percent.
That’s a pretty ambitious goal, then. Is it realistic?
It’s super ambitious. I think it’s realistic, but it won’t happen by magic. You’ve got to create the market, and you’ve got to have the institutional things in place.
The day after the Washington Nationals lost the National League Division Series to the San Francisco Giants, Zechariah Wise was still possibly the happiest Nats fan anywhere. Despite the devastating end to the playoff run, it was an exciting year for him—it was his first season as the team’s in-game DJ. The well-respected musician/producer (with his crew Team Demolition), sound engineer, and head of Alexandria’s Depth Charge Studios has been making music for himself and others (50 Cent, Wale, Sean Price) for more than 20 years, but he’d long wanted a part-time gig related to his second love: baseball. And in March, he got a call from Stylus Chris, former owner of D.C.’s beloved DJ Hut record store and a DJ for the Nats, about an opening with the team. “It’s funny, because back when both of us were single and making records back in the day, we both loved baseball—even before we had a team in Washington,” Wise says. “He’d get done DJing at 3 a.m., and we’d…play MLB on Xbox, then go to the Diner and get breakfast and talk until 7 in the morning about how cool it would be if we could both get jobs doing music for a baseball team.” —Sarah Godfrey
What are some highlights from your first season?
I brought a few things to the table that caught on. Denard Span, he was my favorite player on the team, so I told [my boss], once a game, when he makes a catch, I want to play “Smooth Operator” by Sade because he’s so smooth when he plays. So I started doing it, and it caught on: The TV guys start talking about it, the radio guys are saying it’s the perfect song for him, it was such a wild ride.
I got to see Albert Pujols’ 500th home run. I got to work that no-hitter the last game of the season. It was an amazing year. There were a couple of times after the no-hitter was over, where I had to go in the bathroom and splash water on my face, like, “When am I gonna wake up? I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.”
So how do you decide what to play?
There are times where, when it’s regular season, we’re winning, you’ll hear happier stuff; if the game gets more intense—we’re tied up, we’ve got runners on—I may start hitting more heavy, rock stuff. They’re called prompts for a reason—you’re trying to prompt the fans, the team, and sometimes even get in the head of the other team, you know?
There was one time this season, we were playing the Cubs, and a batter check-swinged with two strikes, and the ump appealed down to the first-base umpire if he swung or not, if he fully swung, and the ump on first base called him out. So, I hit [Incubus’] “Nice to Know You.”
So, [the lyrics are], “Nice to know you, goodbyeeeeeee…” and the guy just blew up, he starts screaming at the umpire, waving the bat at the umpire, the other umpire ejects him out of the game, and the crowd stands up, and the song’s going, and then the manager gets thrown out and the usher’s on the field, and then the song fades out and it’s like, “Now batting…”
Do you get to make suggestions to the players about at-bat music at all?
The players pick their own music, and they pretty much can do what they want, unless there’s an issue with language. If it’s just a word or two, we’ll go in and edit it.
Bryce Harper changes his music all the time, but most of the players don’t change their music at all—they have the same music all year, or maybe they change it once.
We had a player for a while, his at-bat music was the Frozen song, and the kids would go ape-shit. We’d hear people on the walkie-talkies going, “The kids are going crazy down here!”
When I first got there, I did do the batting-practice playlist, and there was this whole way they did it—first few songs are the build up, then it gets really intense for a while, and then you kind of fall back down because the visiting team is about to take the field for batting practice, and we don’t wanna hype them up. So for the first couple months of the season, I was consumed with just trying to get this nice playlist right. Then we got a call one day saying, “Hey, they just wanna hear EDM music.”
I was worried about when which song would play, mixing up genres, playing a couple Latin songs for the Latin players, a couple country songs for [Adam] LaRoche and all them, and they’re like, “Nope! EDM!”
I think people familiar with your work think of you as a hip-hop head—does that shape what you play at all?
It’s surprising how little rap I can play. It’s a family-friendly environment. Even if the lyrics are clean, meaning no cursing in it, a lot of rap songs, you just can’t play because they’re about selling drugs, or poppin’ molly.
I find myself playing a lot of old-school rap: “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest, “Passin’ Me By,” by the Pharcyde. If we’re doing some type of crowd game, of course I’ll play “The Choice is Yours” by Black Sheep. But a lot of rappers walk that edge of—it’s not technically obscene, in terms of curse words, but the subject matter isn’t family-friendly enough to put it into the show, and we can’t play it.
So, how has the Nats work affected the Depth Charge/Team Demo work?
What’s great about the gig is the way baseball is scheduled. They’ll be home for a week, and I’ll have games every night for a week, and then they’ll go out for a week. So it’s just manipulating my schedule. If someone wants me to mix something, I can do that in the time before a game, but studio sessions, I just tell people, this is when I’m available, and we just stack the sessions up while the team’s away.
I just cleared my schedule—I thought they would win and I’d have to work! Now I’m calling people who’ve been trying to get me, like, “Hey, I’ve got my Saturdays open now.”
But to be able to marry this with that has been extraordinary. It’s just been so much fun, I can’t say enough about it.
Che Ruddell-Tabisola and his husband Tadd launched BBQ Bus food truck in 2011 and recently began serving their pulled pork and ribs in Silver Spring’s Denizens Brewing Co. After a four-year battle to create new rules for mobile vendors in D.C., Ruddell-Tabisola became the DMV Food Truck Association’s first full-time executive director in April. He brings an advocacy background working for groups like Freedom to Marry and Human Rights Campaign. —Jessica Sidman
What appealed to you about opening a food truck vs. a restaurant?
At that time, I guess, it was the affordability. We could get into it. And that’s part of the reason why I’ve become such a big advocate for this industry. It’s always provided this path for social and economic upward mobility for people.
What about operating a food truck do you think the average person does not realize?
If you go to a food truck for lunch at 1 p.m., the person behind the window has already put in an eight-hour day. From the outside, you just see the couple hours the truck is there, and that’s your experience. But at least for BBQ Bus, the pork and brisket smoke overnight. We get in here at 6 in the morning.
How do you feel your advocacy background affects what you do?
It’s the essential thing that I do. I wrote my first petition when I was in the 5th grade. I thought there was too much homework. I don’t like bullies. You know what I mean? I was picked on a lot as a kid. I was a real heavy kid. And a lot of what we run into—whether it’s a regulatory framework, an established interest—it’s a lot of people trying to be bullies. And that really bothers me.
It’s been almost a year since the new food truck regulations in D.C. were implemented. How do you think it’s worked out?
It’s still a little early to tell. The regulations on paper—and I do believe this in my heart—are some of the best in the country because they preserve the central tenant of the industry which is mobility. The lottery system isn’t perfect.
What’s wrong with the lottery system?
The most simple thing is how the fee is structured. So you pay $150 whether you get five lottery spaces or two. That just doesn’t make sense. The second thing is, there’s no way to trade or reallocate spaces. BBQ Bus, we got Franklin [Park] Friday, but we were at Truckeroo a couple weeks ago. There is no real way for us to give up that Franklin Friday to a vendor who doesn’t have a spot.
Have we hit the ceiling for the food truck population in D.C.?
I don’t know. I know that the number of trucks opening per year is less. There were anywhere from 80 to 90 trucks that opened in 2011, 80 to 90 that opened in 2012, but then 50 that opened in 2013. Maybe 50 this year. I don’t know if we’ll get to 50. I don’t know why that is.
What about the relationship between food trucks and restaurants? How, if at all, has that changed?
It’s changed significantly, and one of the things that’s nice about the regulations in D.C. coming to a resolution is it’s allowed everybody to move on.
So restaurants hate you less?
I think it was always some vocal individuals in the group driving that. [Some] restaurant owners in town have been saying since 2009, “This food truck parking across the street is going to shut me down.” And it’s five years. Are we or are we not? Farragut Square is probably the best example. You’ve had four new brick-and-mortar restaurants open in the past two years.
How true to life is the movie Chef [in which Jon Favreau plays a chef who quits his restaurant job and launches a food truck]?
The biggest thing that movie was missing was that they drove all the way from Miami to Los Angeles and the truck never broke down. BBQ Bus broke down the day we brought it home from the shop. You could see the shop in the background. We took a picture. And we didn’t even get a tow truck. They brought a forklift, and they just pushed it back.
Karl Racine won the race that almost didn’t happen. After a summer court ruling kept the District’s first attorney general election in 2014, Racine—a partner at white-shoe law firm Venable and a one-time basketball star at D.C.’s St. John’s College High School and then the University of Pennsylvania—put $450,000 of his own money into the race. It paid off—on Election Day, he won by nearly 20 percent. Born in Haiti, Racine moved with his family to D.C. when he was 3. —Will Sommer
What was it that convinced you to run for office?
Well, I was surprised by the court decision. I know a lot of other folks were surprised. I had to really focus and think hard for a compressed period of time, a couple weeks.
I met with a lot of people, including Ms. [Muriel] Bowser and certainly lawyers in the community, family, and whatnot. At the end of the day, I determined that I was very prepared to handle that job, and I could have a significant impact on the city from that perch.
You put your money where your mouth was—$450,000. What’s the thought process behind staking so much of your own money on a campaign?
It was clear that the budget had to be pretty high, given name recognition of zero. While I’m fairly well-known in the legal bar, outside of that, the broader citizenry they didn’t know me at all, so I knew that would be expensive.
If you were to compare your style as incoming attorney general to that of any basketball coach, who would you choose?
I think I’d like to be like [Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski]. Because what Coach K does, he makes it clear to his entire team that each member plays a critical role in the team’s success.
During the attorney general race, they were saying, “Karl Racine has his eyes on being mayor.” In four or eight years, are we going to see “Karl Racine for Mayor” signs around town?
We’re getting them up.
You know, no… It’s going to be a four-year, massive four-year effort that may turn out to be an eight-year effort if I were to run again and people were to re-elect me. So I’m focused solely on having a significant impact on the lives of D.C. citizens from the perch of the attorney general’s office.
[D.C. Council chairman] Phil Mendelson endorsed you.
He did that Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
It was pretty late [Mendelson’s endorsement came a week before the election]. I was talking to him at the Bowser party. He said you’re going to be a “refreshing challenge.”
That was odd, wasn’t it?
Irv [soon-to-be-ex D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan] was focused on that yesterday.
“I don’t know that means, I don’t know if it was a slight to me.”
There was a lot of talk during the campaign about the attorney general candidates promising more than they could deliver within the limits of the position. You had a mailer on education; obviously you’re not running for school chancellor.
I’d say when you get out there, and you’re running for office, and you’re engaging with people, you’re meeting them at all of these forums and otherwise just meeting real people, you get a good sense of what is on their minds and what the burning issues are.
I do think though, and this is where Irv—we actually had a little sort of a joke disagreement that turned a little bit serious. But Irv is of the view that, “Hey, what are you guys talking about? You shouldn’t be talking about affordable housing.”
I respect his view, but that’s the old way, you know?
Mark Furstenberg built his reputation as D.C.’s preeminent baker by founding both Marvelous Market and BreadLine. (He no longer owns either.) In May, he opened Bread Furst in Van Ness—his answer to what he believes is a lack of decent neighborhood bakeries in the District. He’s also become one of the most outspoken skeptics about whether D.C. can truly become a great food town. —Jessica Sidman
You’ve been involved in the D.C. food scene for a long time, but you’ve also been a critic. In short, what is your beef?
Let’s take two young chefs who make a tremendous contribution, I think: [Komi and Little Serow chef] Johnny Monis and [Rose’s Luxury chef] Aaron Silverman. They have what you would agree are three of the hottest restaurants in the city. Why would they then make it hard for people to go to their restaurants? What is it about our culture in Washington that gives us the kind of arrogance that would lead a young chef to say, “I’m going to make it unpleasant for you to get into my restaurant.”
Because they don’t take reservations?
Because they don’t take reservations. I don’t really know either of them personally, but I find it unpleasant, and I think it’s kind of a Washington thing. That’s what somebody would do in Washington. That’s not really what somebody would do in San Francisco where people don’t take themselves quite so seriously.
I think they would argue that they can serve more people by not having reservations. Do you disagree?
No, I’m sure they can serve more people, but it’s also a way of saying, “I want to turn the tables as quickly as I can, get in as many people as I can, and not have a chair empty even for 10 minutes.”
So D.C. restaurants are too stuck-up?
I think restaurants are a little stuck-up, some of them. I don’t think Red Hen is. I think Red Hen is an entirely accessible and pleasant place to be. And I think there are a lot of other restaurants that are very pleasant.
Are you ultimately optimistic about the future of dining in D.C.?
I’m a lot more optimistic about restaurants than I am about [food] retail. I’m still not optimistic about retail, although I think there have been some improvements.
How does that skepticism fit into the equation of you opening Bread Furst, especially at the age of 75?
I really do think I’ve taken a big risk. I’ve risked an enormous amount of my own money in the form of borrowing on my apartment. It’s not a smart thing to have done at my age. I just felt unfinished, and I couldn’t get over the feeling of being unfinished. For me to stop when there was no neighborhood bakery, it just seemed so wrong to me, as though I hadn’t accomplished for myself, or for the city, what I really wanted to do.
Some of the biggest crazes of the last few years have been around baked goods: cupcakes, doughnuts, bagels. What’s next?
Cake pops…I don’t know. This is a puzzle to me. It’s a surprise to me that people build a business on a single product. I’m someone who’s too great a coward to do a single-product store. When I was fantasizing about having a neighborhood bakery, one of my fantasies was that I would get a very small store and put a wood-burning oven into it and one mixer and have one assistant. We would make bread three or four days a week—not every day—and we’d put up a flag when the bread was going to be available. And we’d bake as many loaves as we could of one kind of bread and put them on sale in the morning and close when they were all sold out.
Maybe I should have done that, but my own feelings about where I was in life and how much better that would be for my life were in conflict with what I wanted to do for the city, which was have a neighborhood bakery. That wouldn’t have been a neighborhood bakery. That would have been my own little personal bakery. And when I died, it would die.
If you spent any time in Penn Quarter earlier this fall, you couldn’t have missed the lamp-pole banners plastered with Kimberly Gilbert’s face—her head beneath a cyberpunk-beehive wig, Twizzlers dangling from her furious mouth. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s Marie Antoinette gave Gilbert her biggest role yet as the doomed French queen, one that critics and audiences ate up like, well, cake. A company member of Woolly Mammoth and Taffety Punk Theatre Company and a veteran of D.C.’s theater scene for more than a decade, Gilbert currently has a packed season: in Aaron Posner’s world-premiere Life Sucks at Theater J, in Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya at Round House Theatre, and in her first-ever play at Studio Theatre, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts. She says she knows a script will work for her when reading it feels effortless. “Macrocosm ideas aren’t as important to me as the minutiae, the sinew in between the characters that are talking on stage,” she says. “That’s what grabs me first, which is probably why I’m an actor and not a director.” —Jonathan L. Fischer
How did you become Marie Antoinette?
I auditioned and then I got the gig and I bought a biography of her written by Stefan Zweig called The Portrait of an Average Woman. It really helped me in the six months leading up to first rehearsal. What I really wanted to make sure was I didn’t want to play the idea of her, because that is kind of the point of the play—to show, in my opinion, her as a flawed human, not a monster or a pinup girl or a piece of cake or a box of chocolate. I wanted to make sure I put all those preconceived notions I had of her on the back burner, the back back back burner—a very large stovetop. At the forefront, I just read about the history of this girl’s life, and I [put aside] any Sofia Coppola images, any Kirsten Dunst performance, or Diane Kruger. And then the idea of the French Revolution, even Les Mis. I just really wanted to make sure I put all that away in the six months leading up to rehearsal so I could have her be a person who could easily be me or another girl who was born with the circumstances of her life. That really really saved me.
Also: Looking at me, you’re not going to say, “Oh yeah, she’s going to play Marie Antoinette.” I’m not blonde and I’m not incredibly fair-skinned. I think that any inhibitions of mine in terms of living up to playing this idea of her, I made sure that I was as confident going into this as possible. I think it really helps that I took all those notions of her and buried them for the moment and looked at her as if she were a new character that I had never read about and learned about. That’s what got me through. And my love of the poetry and the language of [playwright] David [Adjmi]’s script really helped me work. He has a wonderful rhetoric and poetry in his writing, and I’m kind of a rhetoric nerd. I bore down on that ferociously.
You shaved your head for the play. Did you have to clear that with the other theaters where you’re acting this season?
When Woolly asked me to shave my head, that was the first thing. I don’t care what I do to my hair, I dye it all the time, whatever. But the first thing that mattered to me was if this was going to affect the months after. Right now my hair is insane, but that’s OK, because in the next shows I have lined up, the theaters and the directors involved all agreed to work with it. Everybody was like, “Yeah, do it! That sounds awesome!”
Is there any one director in town with whom your collaborations consistently produces interesting results?
There’s one I think I’ve worked with him the most, and that is John Vreeke. I’ve been doing shows with him since 2006, and I think my growth as an artist has a lot to do with the roles he’s allowed me to play and just being in the room with him. He’s just really smart and really dedicated to the art of directing and finding something truthful and real on stage. I love all the directors that I work with, but Vreeke just because I’ve done so many dynamically different characters with him and he’s believed in me to play a bunch of different roles. He directed me in this one-woman show [The K of D] in which I played I think 15 different characters. He’s cast me as a young girl who is mentally disabled all the way to a Manhattanite mother of two teenage boys.
There’s always talk that D.C. is becoming a more difficult place if you’re a working artist. Is it getting harder, and how?
It’s only getting harder in increments; things get a little more expensive every year. That’s just how it is everywhere. I’m very lucky that I’ve had the apartment that I have for eight years now. I do wish there were more affordable housing opportunities for artists in the city proper, like those great places in Brookland.
I guess the best thing to do is not live in town and be put up by the theaters that put actors in apartments.
Right, right, yeah. Although more and more theater companies in town—I’m very happy that they’re trying to cast in-town actors, which is so lovely. I have found that the bigger that we have grown as a D.C. theater community, the more local talent that’s being utilized.
There was a complaint for many years that too many theaters were casting too many actors from New York and elsewhere.
From my narrow perspective of being a D.C. theater actor, I think there was this general standard that that’s just what you did. And it wasn’t questioned because the formula worked. I think it took a little bit of vocalization in terms of hiring the people that are kind of D.C.-proud into these D.C. theater companies, [who realized] there are great D.C. actors here, let’s use them. The more that local talent is utilized, the more that D.C. can see that we have a great talent pool. I’m not saying anyone will be wearing jerseys, like a sports team, but it’s nice just to think that there are D.C. theatergoers who love D.C. artists and go to see shows because of their local artists.
I really enjoyed your singing in Stupid Fucking Bird at Woolly Mammoth. Any plans for more of that?
Uhhh… [laughs] I’m apparently a good singer with my ukulele. For some reason any kind of instrument that’s in my way is great psychological trick, and then I’m confident enough to sing a song. Doing musicals, like straight-up musicals, that would be a huge bet for any theater company or director, to cast me in a musical. But yeah, I would love to do more singing in crossover works, like a play with music, or a dance piece with song. At Taffety Punk, we do that a lot, we like to combine as many arts as possible in one show. I’ll definitely continue to combine acting and music with Taffety Punk. Other theaters? Who’s to say.
Erik Kugler, an accountant by training, has been involved with a number of D.C. bike shops as a consultant for the past 16 years and says he’s finally starting to see a D.C. cycling culture emerge. He opened the popular BicycleSPACE shop near the convention center in 2010, which has become a critical part of the District’s growing cycling world. Now Kugler wants to start a custom-made, classic bike company of his own, Kugler Cycles, and he wants the manufacturing plant to be right here in D.C. —Perry Stein
You spent time in Europe, including Norway, before opening up BicycleSPACE. How different is cycling in D.C. than Norway?
It’s night and day. In D.C., we are just scratching the surface of the beginning of a real bike infrastructure. In Norway, where I was on the west coast, the whole climate was one of the worst for biking—cold, wet, rainy. But everyone bikes there, because there is an infrastructure where you almost never have to cross a road.
How has cycling in D.C. changed since 2010?
It is changing. I have found that drivers have become more accepting of bicyclists, like even polite. I have been at stop signs where drivers have waved me through when I’m the one who needed to stop, early in the morning when they are on their way to work or dropping their kids off at school. So I think driver behavior has become somewhat better. I see it slowly inching along. But for instance, my wife will not bike on the streets because she tells me that white line does not protect her against a bus or other aggressive drivers.
Why do you think this new cycling culture is often thought of as being for young and wealthy residents?
Geographically, there’s hills east of the [Anacostia] River, and there is no infrastructure—or there has been no infrastructure whatsoever until this past year. But this group, Black Women Bike will tell you [that the perception that people don’t bike east of the river] is not true. In its first month, they had 400 black women sign up as members, mostly locals.
Right, but these bike shops in D.C., these are expensive bikes. Is there a market for new bikes east of the river?
Our entry level bikes here are around $400. And with what the industry has to offer, that’s the minimum level we are willing to accept because we don’t want people to go out on their bike and in six months it’s worthless because the parts have worn out. We’re looking at people who may not have a car, or a couple who only has one car, and rely on it for transportation. Is there a market for cheaper bikes? Yeah, for sure, but the Craigslist market is raging with bikes for sale. And you see a lot of cheaper bikes out there. You can get great classic steel bikes on Craigslist for a decent price. So there is a big second-hand market. But as far as new bikes go, under $400, I have yet to find one that is good enough to sell and stand behind.
What’s your favorite bike lane in D.C.?
The 15th Street cycletrack, because it’s the safest. M and L [streets NW] are nice, but there are these weird merge things, and there tend to be people parked in them.
How many bikes do you own?
Well, if you consider that I own the shop, then hundreds of them. But personally, between me and my wife, more than 10.
What’s the worst kind of bike customer?
I don’t know; every customer has something good about them. If you are into bikes, you can’t be half-bad.
OK, what’s the most annoying type of cyclist?
The most annoying type of cyclist is one of these racer bikers who yells at you as they are going by telling you, “You are taking up too much space.” I mean, come on, if you want to race, you shouldn’t be on the street, you shouldn’t be on a recreational path or a transportation trail.
How did you get the idea for Kugler Cycles?
We get in the shop all these antique and vintage bikes to fix. We see these awesome bikes from the past, and I say, “How come something like this doesn’t exist anymore?” The time is right: With all these people getting into cycling, we should produce something that looks great, because all these big companies are cutting costs. You’re seeing aluminum, carbon bikes—really, those are cheaper ways to make bikes. The feeling of steel is unlike any other material you can make bikes out of.
Why is it so important to you that Kugler Cycles be in D.C.?
Back in the day, in Vienna, Austria, there were over 80 small shops making bicycles. And I think it’s going to come back to that. Because when you are making something by hand, you are doing it in a way that people doing it commercially can’t do, putting little touches on there and customizing them. When you are on a bike that is your exact dimensions, it’s an incredible feeling.
And also just the pride of being in D.C. and where D.C. is going. The city itself, the people who are coming here, the growth that is happening here. D.C. needs a bike company—a bike manufacturing company, and we’re the people to do it.
When can we expect to see Kugler bikes in D.C.?
I’m saying fall of next year.
If you’re an artist in D.C., you probably already know Eames Armstrong. The 26-year-old, a prolific organizer of performance and contemporary art, is the hard-working center of a formidable artist’s network, a bridge-builder who’s likely to pop up in the credits of any given DIY, multi-disciplinary art showcase that pushes the limits of what kinds of art you thought you could handle. As the founder and head of Aether Art Projects, Armstrong has given other young, emerging artists plenty of exhibition space. Now, she’s taking time to focus on her own practice in an MFA program at GW. —Christina Cauterucci
How’d you come to consider yourself an artist, as a vocation or career path?
I’ve always been an artist. There was never a time that I thought of myself as anything else. And in retrospect, now, I’ve always been an organizer, too. I’ve always loved connecting people with other people, like friends who don’t know each other—I just want everyone to meet and learn from one another. That kind of community-building on a one-person-at-a-time level. But it’s really been since I’ve moved here that I’ve thought of myself more significantly as an art organizer, or curator, even.
Do you think there’s something about you as a human being that’s led you to that inclination toward collaboration?
That’s a good question. [Pause.]
Maybe that’s something for your therapist’s office?
Compassion, as a theme, is really important for me. Maybe that’s the way I was brought up—thinking about other people, importantly, all the time. And critically.
When you look at the artwork that’s being done in other cities, and then you look back at D.C., what do you see?
I just participated in the 11th annual Transmodern festival in Baltimore, which is awesome. But just looking at the way that festival was organized versus [art events in D.C.] was so totally different. Transmodern is made by a whole bunch of people, and it’s really kind of community-based and still so much more underground. And maybe that reflects on the work, too, that that work can be more experimental because the stakes are different. It seems like there’s more of a push for a kind of aestheticized professionalism here, rather than just experimenting and taking risks and doing weird things.
What kinds of things are you currently working on?
In a kind of ongoing investigation, I’m really interested in the way that female gender identity is constructed in puberty, those moments and sites of learning and being passed on information, and how to critique that but also try to reclaim it at the same time. Is the language I used when I was 13 still meaningful language for talking now?
How would you describe your point of view?
It’s kind of answering the question by not answering the question, but I feel like a really significant part of my work is not having a single perspective. In my solo performance stuff, I usually have multiple narratives happening at once—complicated narratives, which, I think, is very closely related ideologically to organizing and curating and showing other artists and not just having a central me-focused practice.
It seems like performance art is becoming more integrated into other local art projects.
Yes! I think it’s so exciting what’s going on at Back Alley Theater right now, because they’re purposefully combining experimental music and performance art. I think that kind of interdisciplinarity is really important, and if you can listen to some really weird music, you’re probably also going to be into watching some weird performance art. For me, performance art is more an ideology than a genre or a historical form. I mean, it is both of those things, but having performance art at the forefront puts the individual at the forefront, and the body at the forefront, and presence, and sincere interactions. There’s a kind of openness that’s necessary encountering it. It doesn’t have to do with making something polished and professional, but it’s a live exchange.
But people are way more guarded when it comes to performance art, and more likely to dismiss it as inaccessible or frivolous. Where does that perception come from?
I think it’s really easy to dismiss things that are challenging. It’s also easy to dismiss something that’s emotional, something that’s dealing with real life and real time, that doesn’t have an ironic curtain. It’s important to recognize that talking about performance is not very different from talking about life, and because our work often deals in the same terms, it can be talked about in the same terms. You have to kind of get over that feeling that you’re shut out, because you’re really not. It’s so necessarily inclusive.
Few musicians pair reverence for history with contemporary ingenuity more naturally than 28-year-old Luke Stewart. An accomplished experimental-music impresario, the multi-instrumentalist runs Union Arts, a DIY arts space on New York Avenue NE, and is one-half of the brains behind CapitalBop, a local jazz blog and show promoter. Whether he’s producing a tribute to Bill Dixon’s 1964 October Revolution in Jazz for WPFW, playing bass in Laughing Man, or staging an improvised concert with his free-jazz group, Trio OOO, for Stewart, music isn’t just entertainment, a hobby, or even a career—it’s a political, life-affirming act. —Christina Cauterucci
Where are you from?
I’m from the coast of Mississippi. I moved to D.C. in 2005, and after Katrina, transferred from Ole Miss to American University. I was in the middle of an international studies degree, but after I went to AU, I very quickly got disenchanted with that whole scene. Once I came in contact with the nonprofit industrial complex, I was like, “Oh shit. That’s not for me at all.” So I got an audio degree, too.
Why have you stayed in D.C.?
I come from a place where a lot of the things that I’ve been active in here wouldn’t be possible—even something as simple as playing the upright bass. I never had the opportunity to even touch one when I was growing up in Mississippi. But I love the fact that I’m from there, because there wasn’t an overbearing cultural influence for me to latch onto, like if I was born in D.C. I’m not like trying to do go-go or something like that. I love go-go, but I don’t have any of that kind of baggage. In Mississippi, there’s nothing. People say the blues, but that shit wasn’t happening where I was. So me and my friends in high school, we were just listening to everything and just being influenced by everything. But in a place like that, there aren’t opportunities to develop in an active historical music scene—like here in D.C., you have this deep jazz scene that has so many possible mentors.
You’ve been involved in quite a few local DIY spaces that have since closed. Do you really miss any in particular?
There were two: Kings Court and Gold Leaf. Gold Leaf had the perfect vibe in so many ways. I remember spending many, many hours practicing both with Laughing Man and with Trio OOO and by myself, where I was just like, “Man, I feel really inspired being in this space.” Maybe that’s fucked up, because it’s a shitty old building, and you’ve got a lot of prostitution running around, people selling stuff, a homeless shelter right around the corner. So maybe I’m fucked up for having inspiration from that.
I’d say there’s a long history of people being inspired in places like that.
Yeah, so maybe that’s why. I felt like I was being tapped into this historical legacy.
Not that I would pigeonhole you into this genre, but you’ve done a lot with jazz. What drew you to jazz?
For one, it’s the hardest thing to play. But going back to when I first became deeply inspired by jazz, when I was in middle school—I immediately felt this connection, almost like an ancestral connection, to these men and women that, to use a catchphrase, paved the way for so many other things to happen. It gives me a sense of pride to investigate that music. And thank you for not pigeonholing me, because I do enjoy listening and playing all of it, you know? I do standards gigs; I’ll play the blues. I’ll do all that stuff, and I love it, and I think it’s important for improvised musicians to become familiar with all that stuff.
Why is improvisational music, and avant-garde music in general, so intimidating for some listeners, even music lovers?
Popular culture is orchestrated by tangible entities within the music industry, to the point where there’s a particular aesthetic that is promoted that subconsciously fuels people’s sentiments about different artistic movements. Once a lot of money came into the music industry, that’s when I feel like tastes were being molded specifically to serve the commercialization of arts. I feel like, to a certain extent, there’s a battle of aesthetics going on because if you talk to most avant-gardists, they’re also into the popular stuff. They’re into some form of Top 40 thing, or they have their favorite classic rock song, or something like that. So I guess the question is, I can follow you there, but why can’t you follow me here? And granted, you know, there’s ills on both sides. There are a lot of avant-gardists who are totally ridiculous, totally full of themselves, and making outlandish demands of themselves and their audiences, to a certain extent.
What does improvisation bring to music and culture in general?
Improvised music provides the opportunity for the audience and the musician to experience something that the world has never heard before. And so that also suggests of the musician and of the audience that there’s something else going on in your mind to where you’re open enough to at least accept new things, revolutionary concepts of different ways of being in society. The music has always been revolutionary from that aspect, in that it’s about the upliftment of community. In the case of the ’70s and the ’60s, it was specifically the upliftment of the black community. But to me, what first attracted me to it was feeling just raw humanity, honesty onstage. And it happened for me with acoustic instruments, people using their bodies to make the sounds in conjunction with these instruments that they can’t turn up with a knob. And they’re creating beauty right there in that moment. You can leave that situation with your life changed.
Between the two of them, artists Maggie Michael and Dan Steinhilber have racked up nearly every honor the region has to offer. Steinhilber, a sculptor, has enjoyed solo shows at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Kreeger Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Michael, a painter, has shown her work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and is preparing for a survey at the Katzen Art Center. His work was included among the handful of artists to represent D.C. in “State of the Art,” a nationwide exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; her work is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and multiple U.S. embassies abroad. Both of them will show work at G Fine Art next year. Easily the most successful D.C. artists of the generation, Michael and Steinhilber, who are married, explain how D.C. has contributed to their successful careers (and happy family). —Kriston Capps
You moved here from California, but you’re originally both from Wisconsin. What brought you to D.C.?
MM: We both wanted to go to graduate school at the same time. That would ensure that we both went, rather than just one of us. I knew if he went first, I wouldn’t go. We didn’t really have a plan, necessarily. Clinton was in office when we moved here, and Bush got elected a couple months later. I always felt like the city felt like the wrong city. But people who had lived here a long time said, people like [art dealer] Annie Gawlak said, “Don’t worry, just wait ‘til a Democrat president gets elected, it’ll change again.” “Why do you live in D.C.?” A lot of people would ask us that. Here we were in the middle of the Dick Cheney years. We’re like, “I don’t know!”
Why did you stay in D.C.?
DS: We had a kid. We just thought we were going to be here two years.
MM: I got a great full-time job. We found studios. We just worked it out. We got a good nanny-share. D.C.’s really good for parents who use the D.C. Urban Moms website. [Laughing] Awesome, right? We did a live-work situation in the early years. For about three years, we lived with a family, up in Northwest, Van Ness.
DS: The oldest lady was 92. Three generations.
MM: We just did the cooking. I did the evening care for the lady.
Right after you graduated from American University in 2002, you both showed work in museums—at the Corcoran and the Hirshhorn. How much of that early success do you attribute to being here?
MM: In D.C.? I think a lot. The city’s full of museums, curators, researchers. There’s a certain kind of intellectual crowd or milieu. There are fewer artists than in Baltimore, fewer artists than in Richmond, fewer artists than in New York, of course. You have opportunities here to be in the same space as curators more often. For us, that was really great. Dan especially has had a lot of museum shows.
Where do you keep your studios?
DS: My studio is about two blocks from Union Market. It used to be right behind Union Market. Hers is in Capitol Hill, about a block from the Supreme Court.
MM: From the Hart Senate Office Building.
DS: Every three years or so, we seem to have to move our studios.
MM: I counted. We’ve had 10 studios between the two of us since we lived here.
Do you find that’s normal?
MM: No! If we want to talk about the worst thing about D.C. for artists, it’s exactly that. It’s the space. Talk to any artist. We don’t have large warehouses that are affordable studio spaces anywhere in this city. That’s the main reason Baltimore is attractive, or Richmond, or Philly, or parts of Brooklyn. That’s the type of space artists want. It’s just harder to come by here.
DS: With that said, we’ve always felt like this is where we’re lucky, because we’ve always found a space.
MM: But we’re always on the edge of losing it.
DS: People are always looking to buy it, or showing it.
MM: People my age, who are young developers, and they all look super cool, but they’re also a huge threat to me. Because they could be the ones to change the ownership, change the purpose of the building, or raise the rent.
Do you ever think that this city’s getting too hard for artists?
MM: Yeah, sure. Do I really want to move? No. I like living here. Until we have to move—when we absolutely can’t afford to have a studio here—we’ll stay.
DS: We live in the Mather Studios building [at 916 G St. NW, directly above Flashpoint Gallery and the offices of the Cultural Development Corporation]. That’s been really nice, since we’ve been able to afford that, since 2003 or 2004. That really helped keep us here. If they did that for more artists, just help them get a place to own, a place they can live.
MM: When this program started, the CuDC had the very unique and unfortunately only time where artists could join the lottery, if you qualify, which meant you were in low income for artists as individuals or artists, in our case, as a family. You had to prove that you had exhibitions or performances or publications or whatever your form was. And if you qualified and won the literal lottery that Molly Rupert pulled out of a box, you could potentially buy a condo if you could get a loan. It’s hard for artists to get loans, even in 2003. How do you prove you have a job? I have a part-time job. Dan didn’t really have a job. We always made money, but you can’t tell a bank, “You can count on us.” In a way, we kind of made up a job.
What’s her work like now?
DS: Her work’s amazing. She’s got a lot of work that’s really strong. It’s been developing over a decade. She’s being recognized for her quality and the way she’s devoted to it. I see her in there spending many, many long hours painting, sorting through all her ideas. She’s ready for three shows right now, really.
What’s his work like now?
MM: He has one of those studios that looks like a garage or basement. It’s just full of all these areas that to the outsider would be a true mess. It’s all experiments and ways of trying to figure out how sound comes out of objects. He’s working on a sound-based piece. It’s something that I find fascinating, in many ways because I would just never make anything like that. I like it when he makes things that surprise me. That’s when I find him most attractive.
Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, a fifth-generation native of the District, spent 20 months of her life and more than $3.5 million in political contributions trying to become the mayor. After a bruising Democratic primary and a rare contested general election, that’s exactly what she’ll be as of Jan. 2. Now what? —Will Sommer
How has life changed since winning the election?
Election night, I was introduced to my security detail, and they’ve been super-nice.
It’s been 12 years since we’ve had a mayor re-elected in the District. Vince Gray and Adrian Fenty were both one-term mayors. What have you learned from their mistakes?
I think you can learn something from all the mayors, the good things, and the bad things, and the things that I would do different.
What’s the good and bad to learn from Vince Gray?
We saw that hiring processes can derail an administration early on, so we have clear and open hiring policies. So that’s going to be in place.
You’ve been critical of swapping the Reeves Center for land to build the D.C. United stadium. Are you willing to just walk away from this deal entirely if Reeves Center has to be a part of it?
I don’t believe that that’s where we are, I really don’t. I think that all of the parties have an interest in building a D.C. United stadium and getting a deal cemented before the end of December. Do you really want to be the team and the property owner that says 150 million taxpayers’ dollars isn’t good enough?
When you were running there was a lot of talk about the last female mayor the District had, Sharon Pratt Kelly, who had something of an uneven tenure. People were comparing how you would do as mayor because you’re also a woman. Does that strike you as sexism?
It strikes me as odd political analysis, especially since I was in college the entire time Sharon Pratt was mayor.
During our primary, if anybody was going to be compared to Sharon Pratt, it would seem to me it would have been Vince Gray, who worked for Sharon Pratt.
[Ward 2 Councilmember] Jack Evans and [Ward 6 Councilmember] Tommy Wells had some harsh words for you in the primary. Tommy ran an ad about contributions you received from Jeff Thompson. Jack had a mailer: “Here’s Muriel’s accomplishments, it’s all blank.”
I never saw that. Maybe that’s a good thing. He didn’t send me one.
How did you get over those bad feelings from the primary, to the point where you have Jack endorsing you and Tommy is on your transition team?
Well, I think there’s something to be said for putting together a team of rivals. We know that from history.
It’s been reported that your transition started before you won the general election. Were you concerned about putting the cart before the horse?
After I won the April primary, many people wanted me to start transitioning. Many people wanted me to act like I was the mayor. I thought that that was presumptuous. I also thought that would put us in danger of not winning the race, if my attention was focused on transition instead of focused on the campaign.
So no, we didn’t start transitioning early. But I did think that was started at the appropriate time in the case that we did win. And we did win.
You weren’t having sugar while you were running.
I’m going back. I’m back to martinis and sugar.
You may have seen Megan Odett riding around on her orange Yuba Mundo longtail cargo bike, with an electric motor attached and a young child or two on the back—on the way to school, or work, or at one of the Kidical Mass D.C. rides she’s organized monthly from April to October since 2011. The rides are the local version of a kid-friendly event that began in Eugene, Ore., in 2008, which was itself an offshoot of the Critical Mass rides organized in many cities. A Baltimore native, she moved from North Carolina to the District seven years ago. She’s got two children, one 4 1/2, one 18 months. Odett’s day job is with the Alliance for Biking & Walking, so advocating for family-friendly bike infrastructure in her spare time comes naturally. —Mike Madden
When did you start bicycling with children?
I started with my older son, Alex, when he was about 7 months old. I took his car seat and put it in this bike trailer that I bought years before to bike with my dog, actually, when I first moved to D.C. I was kind of going stir-crazy having this kid and not being able to bike around and having to either drive or take public transportation everywhere, so one day I just decided, “Heck with it,” and put his car seat in the bike trailer and headed out. And it was great.
Against all the small print on both the car seat and the bike trailer, I assume.
Yes, all the small print, everywhere.
What made you want to move from biking with children to advocating for biking with children?
Even in the few years that I’d been living in D.C. at the time, I’d seen it become more bike-friendly. We had the first Tweed Ride one year, and I remember thinking, “Wow, now all D.C. needs to become more bike-friendly is to have a Kidical Mass ride.” And about five minutes later, I was pregnant. (Laughs) I guess I would advise anybody else against thinking thoughts like that. So there was an element of, this is what you do once you’ve graduated to a certain level of bike-iness in a city.
But it was also that on the neighborhood listservs and on the parenting forums, I would see people kind of asking the same questions over and over, and I saw that there was a lot of interest, but it was also kind of isolated in pockets throughout different communities in the city, different neighborhoods, different schools. So kind of my grown-up reason for creating the Kidical Mass D.C. ride was to give parents who wanted to bike with their kids a space to meet other parents who wanted to bike with their kids, and a safe structure in which to try out family biking where they’d be kind of protected in a group and just talk to other parents, and hear how it’s going, and maybe get some new ideas.
If someone comes up to you and says, gee, I have a kid and I’d really like to start riding a bike, what is the first piece of advice you give to a prospective family biker?
I would say, “Do what you’re comfortable with, and don’t push yourself past your own comfort zone.” That’s the number one piece of advice I give when I’m teaching workshops, or when people say, ‘Wow, you bike with your kids, that’s so cool, but I couldn’t, or “I could maybe bike on the trails, but not on the street.” Because I believe very strongly that it’s not my job—it’s not anybody’s job—to push even interested parents beyond what they feel is safe and comfortable. And my second piece of advice is, “Whatever equipment you’re thinking about getting, do whatever it takes to try it out before you actually buy it.”
How many misfires did it take for you to learn that lesson yourself?
I have cycled through a lot of equipment in my lifetime. When I do presentations, there’s one slide I put up that has, like, six different pictures of the various permutations of the bikes that I’ve had and outfitted. So I have biked with: a front seat on a hybrid, just a regular hybrid commuter bike; a trailer, on a hybrid commuter bike; my son in the front seat and my dog in the trailer, with the hybrid commuter bike. And then I bought the cargo bike, and I’ve had, you know, child in the front seat and a ton of milk crates in the back; child in the back seat and a ton of milk crates [in the front]; two children in the back; on the cargo bike, I tried doing one in the back and one in the front, and that did not work out at all, I think because I’m just too short to make that work.
My current configuration is: two children on the back—with room for more—and just a giant basket on the front. I call it the most easily recognized bike in D.C., and there are tons of people who say hi to me all the time, and they know who I am, and I can never, ever remember who they are, and it makes me really guilty.
I bought that bike for about $1,200 because the hybrid that I was using to bike with my son was just falling apart under the strain of everything I was trying to do with it. I think the deciding moment for both my husband and me came on the day when I put my son in the front seat and turned around to get his helmet, and while I was getting his helmet, the kickstand collapsed with my son in the front seat. To this day, that’s actually the worst injury any of us has gotten on the bike in our entire family, was the day my son fell over, in the lobby of his daycare, strapped onto my bike.
I took money that I’d gotten from selling my motor scooter—because I used to ride a motor scooter before I had kids—and my husband chipped in money from his bonus from work, and I went out and bought this cargo bike in early 2012. It’s been a great investment, I haven’t looked back. Along the way, I’ve put a lot of different accessories on it. Currently, the two accessories that are most distinctive—that I get the most questions about and that I like the best—are the electric assist system that I had a local bike shop put on in February, and the canopy and canopy frame that I put on the bike myself for about $35.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for making people feel more comfortable with biking with children in D.C.?
In D.C., in particular, I think it’s the sense of safety. Or the lack of safety and comfort that people have with biking on our streets. Particularly with parents, because they’re putting the most important thing in their lives out there on the street with themselves, and also because it is a little harder to bike with kids. There are more considerations of balance, and starting and stopping, and accelerating. And if your attitude toward biking on the streets is that it’s kind of a road rally or a free-for-all anyway—like, if that’s kind of what you feel like biking on the streets of D.C. is—you’re definitely not going to go out there with your child.
Maybe I just notice them more because I’m now riding around with my daughter, but it does seem like there are more people now riding with their children than there were five, six years ago.
Absolutely. And I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. One of the big ones is that D.C. has been building some really nation-leading infrastructure to help the cyclists in the city. I think that the protected bike lanes, more bike lanes, some of the street calming that D.C. has done has really helped people feel like this is a place where they could bike with their kids. And it’s definitely the people who were sort of on the cusp anyway—the enthused and confident, as they call them in the advocacy world. So I’d love to see that trend continue and move down into what are called the interested but concerned, the people who would do it but they’re worried. And I think that will happen. I think there’s going to be better infrastructure, and there’s also a growing culture of biking in D.C. So I think it’s happening, and I’ve been really happy to see it happening. And I think there’s one other factor: The people who were the most likely candidates to bike with their kids are now staying in the city where before they weren’t.
Do you have a car?
Sort of. We do. It’s down to starting on the third try at this point, so I think it’s very likely that we will soon not have a car.
I would love to see bikes take their place as a real safe, healthy, fun economical alternative to living your life in a car once you have a kid. That shouldn’t be a life sentence to car dependency, once you have a kid. That’s kind of, like, the big-picture reason why I do this, on top of raising two kids, and cleaning up after a dog who barfs all over the floor, and having a full-time job. I like to think I’m doing my small bit toward nudging us all to a world where just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you need to live your life in a car or a minivan.