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Keeping Austin weird is so established, it has a Wikipedia entry. Even the chamber of commerce is behind it. Hell, even keeping Erie, Pa., weird is easy. D.C., however, is inferior to those places. It is not yet weird, according to two Smithsonian employees, but it has potential. Thus they introduce the “Make D.C. Weird” campaign which consists of designing, purchasing, and wearing a T-shirt that says “Make DC Weird.” Susannah Wells, 28, (that’s her pushing the cart) tells me the campaign is inspired by Austin’s. Also, she is tired of the District’s buttoned-up rep, of the striving young professionals, of the “transient” nature of our town, where she’s lived for five years.
But, you know, people really are from here, I say. And they are plenty weird.
“Yes,” she concedes, admitting she has, in fact, encountered a few of these “natives” of which I speak.
But other cities with weird campaigns, they are more committed to their towns’ weirdness. “They have street performers,” she offers as an example.
“So what we need are mimes?,” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Mimes.”
“Yes,” she says, “or maybe pewter. Anything metallic.”
Wells and her co-worker, Effie Kapsalis (that’s her in the cart), launched the campaign on Facebook and set up their design through a do-it-yourself T-shirt site, customink.com. Shockingly, they plan to make no money from this, which is highly upsetting to Upset the Setup, who is all over this blog hawking his tees.
“We’re not experts,” says Wells of both her abilities to market T-shirts and gauge D.C. weirdness. Her ideas for what makes D.C. weird trend toward the chamber-of-commerce angle, the individually owned businesses. Sova Coffee on H Street NE makes D.C. weird. Hoopla Eco Boutique on 18th Street in Adams Morgan (where Wells worked for a short time), is another example. The D.C. Arts Center is a third. There are, apparently, others.
“We just want to plant the seeds,” she says over the phone. Later, she calls back to offer a suggestion for when she knows she’s onto something: “When I see a stranger wearing a Make D.C. Weird T-shirt,” she says. The shopping cart is, apparently, optional.