KQED's If Cities Could Dance
Zuri Davis and Joel Savary in KQED's If Cities Could Dance; courtesy of KQED

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Let’s spring forward into the week with some arts-related headlines, news stories, and wins you may have missed in recent days. Check back weekly for future Monday Arts Roundups.

Update (March 15 at 2 p.m.): Kristi Maiselman, the executive director of CulturalDC, which owns Source Theatre, says Washington Improv Theater has mischaracterized a routine lease expiration. Telling City Paper via email, “Their lease term has always been Sept 1, 2019 – August 31, 2022. WIT had the option to renew and did not exercise the extension option per the terms of their lease, 9 months ago. We are an arts nonprofit and have long planned to convert the space for mixed use nonprofit initiatives, including art studios for our Capital Artist Resident program.” CulturalDC’s PR team has also shared several screenshots of the supposed lease with City Paper.

End of an Era: Today, March 14, Washington Improv Theater announced it is seeking a new home after learning of an unexpected lease termination this month. For the past 14 years, WIT has called Source Theatre on 14th Street NW home. It housed the nonprofit’s live performances, including its annual Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament, as well as classes. 

“When we received the lease termination, I was gobsmacked. But I know WIT’s staff, board, and community are resilient and flexible, so I’m excited to see how we turn this into a positive,” WIT’s Artistic and Executive Director Mark Chalfant said in Monday’s press release after learning that Source has terminated WIT’s lease. “I’m keen to see how we can bring improv into new communities. We’re eager to form new relationships and partnerships to advance our mission of using improv to make D.C. a more connected and joyous place.”

Since last summer, WIT has been working to rebuild its education and live performance programs following 2020’s COVID closures. The theater is currently searching for performance, classroom, and administrative space as its lease with Source Theatre comes to an end on August 31.

Hit the Ice: Joel Savary, a local ice skating coach and the founder of Diversify Ice, is the focal point of the latest episode of KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Now in its fifth season, the Webby Award­­-winning series travels across the country documenting stories of groundbreaking dancers. D.C’s episode looks at Savary’s mission to get more Black and Brown athletes on skates to diversify figure skating, which has historically been an elite, predominantly White sport.  Clocking in at just under six minutes, the episode introduces viewers to 13-year-old Zuri Davis, an up-and-coming skater, as well as the late Mabel Fairbanks, who wowed on the ice in the 1940s, was banned from competing because she was Black, and mentored skaters who became Olympic champions. Following in Fairbanks’ footsteps, Savary works with former Olympic athletes Tai Babilonia and Atoy Wilson (both of whom Fairbanks coached); he also coached his younger brother, Emmanuel Savary, who was one of two Black solo skaters to compete in the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. KQED is San Francisco’s PBS/NPR newsroom. The full episode can be streamed online at kqed.org.

Theater Leaders: Arlington’s Signature Theatre has rounded out its artistic team with two new hires. Ethan Heard departs his artistic director position at New York’s Heartbeat Opera to become Signature’s associate artistic director, and Anika Chapin leaves Goodspeed Musicals to join the team as director of artistic development. Heard and Chapin are two in a wave of new hires under Matthew Gardiner, who stepped in as Signature’s artistic director following the resignation of Eric Schaffer in June 2020. Schaffer resigned amid multiple accusations of sexual assault, at a time when numerous local artists were coming forward with stories of harassment and assault they’ve faced in regional theater. “One of the first priorities I announced when I was appointed … was to build a new artistic team for Signature, adding collaborators who will be vital parts of the Theatre’s artistic future,” Gardiner said in a press release. “I’m grateful and excited that with these final appointments I am surrounded by a strong team who will bring new ideas, introduce us to new artists, challenge assumptions and bring their unique artistry and experiences to Signature.” —Ella Feldman

Workers Unionize: Known as the “Golden Triangle,” the city’s central business district is kept clean by Block by Block employees/ambassadors. These are the same folks who help with directions and set up special events in the neighborhood. On Friday, March 11, it was announced that these Golden Triangle Ambassadors have ratified their first contract with 32BJ SEIU, the nation’s largest property services union. The new contract promises immediate wage increases from minimum wage, with the goal of reaching $18 per hour in 2024, a signing bonus of $100, as well as guaranteeing nine holidays and PTO increases.

Flower Thrower: Calling all Banksy fans, the largest touring exhibit of the iconic (and some might say, overrated) street artist is coming to D.C. on June 23. The Art of Banksy is not in collaboration with the artist. Instead the collection, which features more than 100 works, is sourced by private collectors. Where the exhibit will take place has not yet been disclosed, but tickets are on sale now. 

D.C.’s first Short Édition Story Dispenser. Located in Planet Word’s entryway, it provides free access to hundreds of short stories or poems printed on eco-friendly paper so visitors can take their new reading material home as a keepsake. The Short Story Edition Dispenser is a gift of Joshua and Lisa Bernstein. Credit: Les Talusan

Poetry To-Go: Planet Word has added the city’s first ever Short Édition Story Dispenser, which allows museum-goers to print out a story or poem—ranging from a one to five minute read—that they can take with them. The goal of these eco-friendly scrolls is to invigorate reading as a pastime. Opened in 2020, Plant Word is a free museum that’s dedicated to renewing and inspiring a love of words and language.

Breathe In, Breathe Out: The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room is back. The room, located in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, reopened on March 5—now in a permanent larger space. Dr. Debra Diamond, curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Freer and Sackler, tells City Paper the exhibit, with the collected sacred objects from New York collector Alice S. Kandell, is “thoughtfully and aesthetically curated” according to Buddhist liturgical practices. To create the space as sacred rather than secular, visitors will not find didactic labels or other reminders of its location. Silk-embroidered thangkas cover the scarlet walls, and crimson and navy woven rugs are scattered on the floors. Intricately painted furniture displays the hundreds of burnished bronze sculptures while flames flicker in gilded votives. The chants of monks echo around the space. Sweet incense fills the air. It’s a feast for the senses that also creates a sense of peace and contemplation. “It’s like walking into a different world,” Diamond says. —Colleen Kennedy