Three things distinguish dynamic cities from dull suburbs: pushcart food vendors, newsstands, and street festivals. I’m addicted to street festivals the way others are to yard sales or auto dealerships. And over the past few weeks, my weekends have been jam-packed with them: Adams Morgan Day, Brookland’s 12th Street Festival, Cleveland Park Day, and the H Street Festival.
Different neighborhoods, different demographics, but mostly the same ol’ same ol’ for sale: imported African trinkets, barbecued chicken kabobs with sides of greasy lo mein, and card tables filled with sunglasses and shell earrings.
But the Mount Pleasant Arts Festival last Sunday afternoon bore no illegally bootlegged VHS tapes nor any Department of Recreation and Parks mobile trailer soundstage. Instead, about 30 neighborhood artisans stationed themselves around Lamont Park and the jazz-Latin-funk band, the Lamonsters, that was playing to the crowd. The afternoon festival featured additional performances from Celtic violinist David Knight, a capoeira troupe, and a swing band.
In place of the wooden statues found at any tchotchke import store, the festival offered original works for sale from artists such as Toni Davenport, who had carried her watercolor paintings from her two-bedroom apartment off 16th Street NW. “I’m just amazed that [festival coordinator] Becky Shannon and her team put this together,” said Davenport. “You can really see what the neighborhood looks like with everyone walking around.”
Indeed, most strollers came from surrounding streets, including Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who donated $500 from his constituent fund to help out the first-time event.
“I’m the odd person out. I came from 15 blocks away,” noted Andrea Seiger, who was standing behind a table filled with handsome handmade beaded jewelry. Seiger had hauled her wares across Rock Creek Park from her home off Davenport Street in Van Ness.
For the most part, however, the festival was determinedly local. With the junk hucksters well at bay, it was revealing to see how many D.C. artists are out there building their oeuvres in obscurity: Glass artist Alison Czuba works out of her Adams Morgan apartment. Says Czuba with a laugh: “There’s really no living room furniture in my living room.”—Elissa Silverman