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Each spring, when Capital Fringe is nigh, CEO Julianne Brienza and her team give the festival’s New York Avenue NW headquarters the gritty, performance-art-geek equivalent of an extreme home makeover. Far beyond a little sprucing up or a fresh coat of paint, Fort Fringe gets an updated new color scheme, branding concept, and even a new bartop.
“When we started doing Capital Fringe, I was very much discouraged about having a different look every year,” Brienza says. It went against everything she knew about marketing best practices, which usually dictate that a consistent brand is paramount. Then, she changed her point of reference: “It’s similar to being in a band, like we’re coming out with a new album every year.”
MP3s might have dulled the import of album art in the music industry, but Fringe takes its visual side seriously, and this year’s release boasts some particularly attractive packaging. It’s easier to open than a CD wrapper, too—just sidle up to the Baldacchino Tent Bar and take in the view.
The first mural to go up at Fort Fringe this year was on the Hodges building, a historic structure that was relocated from across the street to make room for new construction in 2012. “We don’t usually put the word ‘Fringe’ in our murals, because it’s kind of redundant,” says Brienza, but since the mural will stay when Fringe moves to a new headquarters in Trinidad next year, she made an exception.
Brienza doesn’t want to get too sentimental about the move: “This has been awesome that we’ve been here, but we can’t stay here,” she says. “We have to remember that the future is brighter than the present.” But the “
Most of the building’s enduring murals were painted by Antarah Crawley, who joined Fringe in 2008 at 14 years old. “His mom dropped him off and said ‘I really want him to help out with the festival. We didn’t have interns until 2011, so we just asked him, ‘What can you do?’” says Brienza. “It’s really important to us that everything…that we put out there has been made by a person. Normally, a person that works here or lives in the neighborhood.”
Crawley also made a wheatpaste poster on the building next to Fort Fringe that pokes fun at “gentrifiers’ guilt.” Brienza tried to keep the tone upbeat. “We’re in a hot zone here. No one’s saying [gentrification] is bad, but you have to acknowledge what it is and be knowledgeable about it,” she says.
Brienza and Fringe COO Peter Korbel each drew half of the black-and-white line illustrations that cover the bar. “We wanted [the art] to focus on moving, but how do you do that, moving trucks?” says Brienza. “It’s also a very structured time for us, a lot of strategy going on.” The motif continues on the walls inside, the floor of the tent, and audience collateral.
Photos by Darrow Montgomery