theater season revel, Gomez and Biden
Selena Gomez and Dr. Jill Biden attend as MTV Entertainment hosts first ever Mental Health Youth Forum at The White House on May 18, 2022; Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV Entertainment

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It’s time again for your weekly roundup of art-related news, headlines, and stories you might have missed in the 24/7 news cycle. But before I dive into a 2022-2023 theater season reveal and Selena Gomez’s visit to the White House, a headline that should not be missed: On Friday, May 20, DC Metro Theater Arts published a piece alleging toxic work conditions at Spooky Action Theater. The investigation comes about a month after the theater posted a vague and lengthy letter of apology on its Facebook page along with a pledge from the board to change practices. 

Fun Home: ‘Tis the season of announcing the upcoming theater season highlights. From the Kennedy Center to Studio Theatre, Ford’s to Woolly, local stages are ramping up for what looks to be a thriving fall/winter in production houses across the city. Studio, which produced one of my two favorite shows this year, will continue working with local talent Psalmayene 24 to debut its newly commissioned play Good Bones, by 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner James Ijames. Inspired by the city we call home, Good Bones tackles gentrification, changing neighborhoods, and upward mobility. Additionally, the theater aims to be the first D.C. company to produce and put on the celebrated Broadway musical Fun Home—a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel‘s 2006 graphic memoir. Studio’s Artistic Director David Muse directs.

Woolly Mammoth, producers of my other favorite play from this year, promises a “break-out collection of unconventional storytelling” in its 43rd season, including the world premiere of Dave HarrisIncendiary, a satire about a Black mother who goes to great lengths to break her son out of death row; and the COVID-delayed U.S. premiere of Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner. Ford Theatre’s lineup for the 2022-23 season includes a free, first look festival featuring works from Pearl Cleage, Dominic Taylor, and Rickerby Hinds. (It would be nice, however, to see a few more women directors and playwrights featured.) Meanwhile, the Kennedy Center’s season will feature runs of Guys & Dolls, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Wicked, and more. 

That’s Chief Curator To You: The Phillips Collection has named Elsa Smithgall its new Chief Curator. With 25 years of experience at the museum, the native Washingtonian will manage the entire curatorial department. Smithgall is not short on accolades: A project director for the Phillips’s centennial celebrations, she helped shape two of its major exhibitions last year, Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century and Inside Outside, Upside Down, a juried invitational for local artists. (City Paper photography critic Louis Jacobson named Inside Outsideone of the most compelling photography exhibits of 2021.”)  Alongside her work as editor in chief of the museum’s collection catalogue Seeing Differently, Smithgall, according to the Phillips, has contributed to numerous publications and initiatives, and directed more than a dozen critically acclaimed special exhibitions in the last decade alone. 

As Smithgall steps into the new role, the outgoing chief Klaus Ottmann becomes ​​the museum’s deputy director for academic affairs and special initiatives, where he will focus on reimagining the Phillips’ library spaces and archives, as well as building academic partnerships, and analyzing its permanent collection. After 12 years, he will depart the Phillips at July’s end.

Jill and Selena 4eva: Pop star Selena Gomez took a trip to the White House last Wednesday, May 18, to take part in the first-ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum. But she wasn’t the only star in attendance. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden joined her, as did former U.N. Ambassador and current Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murth. The forum was the result of a collaboration between MTV Entertainment’s initiative, Mental Health is Health, and the Biden-Harris Administration’s Unity agenda along with the support of 18 nonprofits that work in mental health. With the goal of moving from “awareness to action” when it comes to the mental health of youth, the two-day event brought in 30 standout 18 to 29-year-old mental health activists who hope to use storytelling and media to make change. 

“Mental health is very personal for me and I hope that by using my platform I can help others feel less alone and find more resources,” Gomez, 29, said during the event. Since 2014 she’s frequently spoken out about her own mental health, coming out as bipolar in 2020 and actively seeking treatment to manage anxiety and depression. During the event, Gomez once again stressed the importance of people sharing their experiences whether via social media or to others face to face. Though the need to support youth mental health existed well before the pandemic, COVID sparked a greater decline. According to Mental Health is Health, “The number of suicide deaths among Black residents has doubled in three short years. And each day in our nation, there are an average of 3,703 suicide attempts by young people grades 9-12.” The initiative hopes to change a system it calls broken.

Washington Ballet Artistic Director Julie Kent and Dr. Jill Biden applaud following a student performance; photo by Tony Powell

Go With the FLOTUS: Earlier in the week, Biden visited The Washington Ballet at THEARC to celebrate Washington Ballet’s new scholarship initiative, which seeks to empower people of color, young men, and others who have been underrepresented in the dance form. Going forward, Washington Ballet intends to annually award more than $300,000 in scholarships to students who are unable to afford ballet study. As a founding member of THEARC, the dance company has operated a school campus in Southeast for 17 years.

In her remarks, the First Lady noted: “From training to live performances, the ability to be a part of this incredible community has often been out of reach for too many. That’s why I’m so grateful that the Washington Ballet is committed to providing support to students from all backgrounds. With this scholarship, [The Washington Ballet and its school] are opening the studio doors wider, allowing more people to train, find their voice, and be a part of this unique community.” 

From Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies by Vince Fraser; courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Immerse Yourself: Because D.C. just can’t get enough immersive art, ARTECHOUSE has announced its latest exhibition that will kick off the tech-meets-experimental-art space’s fifth anniversary. Using designs by London-based Afro-surrealist visual artist Vince Fraser, Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies celebrates historical moments of the African diaspora and Black culture. Fraser, who previously collaborated with ARTECHOUSE for the late summer 2020 exhibit, We Rise Above—in response to Black Lives Matter protests, works at the intersection of art, technology, and activism. Aṣẹ works as a continuation of the 2020 show. According to the press release, the focal point of the upcoming exhibition is “Visions of the Black Experience,” located in the Immersion Gallery, the piece uses “18-channel, 270° floor-to-wall surround projection array, and a 22.5-channel hyperreal spatialized audio system to shed light on the cultural and diasporic triumphs and social justice issues facing the Black community.” Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies opens June 13 and runs through fall.