Kojo looks back on the local impact of Dick Gregory, the legendary comedian and civil rights activist who adopted Washington as his home town.
Mention Rosslyn, Virginia, and most people picture a corporate-looking downtown, home to Fortune 500 companies. But Rosslyn also hopes to be known for cutting-edge art events, with its annual jazz festival and Artisphere, a cultural center for visual and performing arts. The latest addition to its burgeoning arts scene is a performance art festival, set for the second weekend in June, when artists will take to the streets with performances designed to engage and entertain.
- Cecilia Cassidy Executive Director, Rosslyn Business Improvement District
- Jeffry Cudlin Professor of Curatorial Studies and Practice at Maryland College of Art.
- Philippa Hughes Chief Creative Contrarian, The Pink Line Project
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. If you mentioned Rosslyn, Va., what likely comes to mind is a somewhat cavernous corporate downtown, a hotbed of cutting edge art, maybe not so much, but Rosslyn is hoping to unleash its creative side. Next weekend, dozens of performers will take to the streets for SUPERNOVA, a three-day performance art festival.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRosslyn's been trying to buff it's image for some time, not to be overlooked as its annual jazz festival going strong for more than two decades now, and it's home to the creative space known as Artisphere. Perhaps Rosslyn's where it's at art wise. Joining us to discuss this is Philippa Hughes. She leads The Pink Line Project. She produces creative projects and runs a website highlighting arts events in this area. Philippa Hughes, thank you for joining us.
MS. PHILIPPA HUGHESThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio -- and by the way, Philippa is the producer for SUPERNOVA. You should know this is going to be taking place from June 7 through 9 in Rosslyn. That's next Friday through Sunday. Also joining us in studio is Jeffry Cudlin. He is a performance artist and professor of curatorial studies and practice at Maryland College of Art in Baltimore. Jeffry Cudlin, thank you for joining us.
PROF. JEFFRY CUDLINThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Cecilia Cassidy is with us. She's the executive director of Rosslyn's business improvement district in Arlington County. Cecilia, thank you for joining us.
MS. CECILIA CASSIDYThank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you know the drill. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or if you have comments or questions, you can send us an email to email@example.com. Cecilia, Rosslyn is known as a corporate center for good reason. Give us a general idea of what goes on in Rosslyn.
CASSIDYWell, you know, Rosslyn is the largest commercial district in Arlington and in Northern Virginia. We are undergoing a major renaissance here. And we'll have 11 million square feet of commercial office space. We will have 11,000 residents, 500,000 square feet of retail. And that's just what's happening on the building side.
CASSIDYWe are full of all that is new. And we have new buildings, new spaces and the innovation technology and the thought leadership that comes with that. So this new festival and the new perspective it creates, it fits right in. And part of the reason that it fits in is because it's so unexpected, and that's what we want to -- the image that we want to create here.
NNAMDIIndeed. Jeffry, perhaps because of all of the kinds of institutions that Rosslyn already has, it may have something of an image problem. Tell us what your impressions are when you visit Rosslyn.
CUDLINMy impressions of Rosslyn, well, I will say first off that I lived in Rosslyn from -- I mean, Rosslyn -- in Arlington from about '95 to '98, and I always thought of it as sort of a concrete canyon, a place where, you know, people went to work and it cleared out at the end of the day. But hopefully, you know, we're a part of rethinking that space. I think that's a reputation that it hasn't continued to earn.
CUDLINCertainly, Artisphere, you know, brings people there. I worked for a number of years at the Arlington Arts Center, which is not in Rosslyn. But all of this to say that I think it's really an exciting place to bring these cultural forces to bear. And yeah, so I -- while that hasn't been the impression, I think that this is an opportunity to remake that.
NNAMDIAs Cecilia says, we want to enliven these concrete canyons and maybe change Rosslyn's image. Philippa, you're producing the performance art festival. What is SUPERNOVA?
HUGHESSUPERNOVA is a performance art festival that gives a platform for artists from around the world to perform. And it's a very unusual opportunity because, really, there is only one other major performance art festival in the world. And so we're -- we've got an opportunity here to really put Rosslyn on the map and put the whole Washington area on the map as a place that is doing something weird and unusual, which -- but weird in a good way, of course.
HUGHESAnd it's an opportunity to really explore sort of these emotional and human connections that, you know, you don't really associate with concrete canyons. It's really about showing that people can actually exist here, not just cars and concrete.
NNAMDIWhere does the name come from, SUPERNOVA?
HUGHESWell, actually, the name comes from Jeffry.
HUGHESI brilliantly invited some of my smartest friends over for dinner one night and told them to name the festival for me. And this was actually Jeffry's brainchild.
CUDLINYou know, I was totally happy to not take credit for that and just be part of the hive mind, but I'll accept it if it is offered.
CASSIDYAnd part of it is that the NOVA is part of Northern Virginia, and it fits in with the star and...
HUGHESYeah, I mean, everything about it.
CASSIDYThe star of Northern Virginia.
HUGHESYeah. I mean, it's like an explosion of creativity.
NNAMDIA super weekend in Northern Virginia, I guess, is what it boils down. Cecilia, it might surprise people to know that the Rosslyn Business Improvement District or BID is sponsoring this festival. How do the arts fit into what a business investment district does?
CASSIDYWell, we really see the arts as an economic driver for any community. You know, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, STEM, has been, you know, the learning phrase, but we want to institute the arts so that the steam is -- drives the...
NNAMDISTEM becomes steam.
CASSIDYBecomes steam. It drives the economy. You know, the arts in Arlington generate $85 million in local economic activity, and that's according to the Arlington Arts Commission, who also tell us that Arlington audience members spent $7.5 million on retail each year.
CASSIDYYou know that we have Artisphere, of course, and there are many other temporary art projects that the BID is promoting because it is our experience that when a business is making a decision about where to locate, part of their consideration is whether the environment enriches the life of their workers. And that's a very important component to the Artisphere.
NNAMDIYeah. But you have a lot of choices -- or quite a few choices in terms of what kinds of arts festival you'd bring to Rosslyn. Why did you select performance art?
CASSIDYWell, it fits in with the kind of innovative thinking that the technology community has who is here, and it's really cutting edge. And we wanted to do something that made people think differently about Rosslyn. The fact that a performance art festival is being held in Rosslyn rather in D.C. is a great surprise. It's very unexpected. And we want to play on that.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Cecilia Cassidy. She is the executive director of Rosslyn's Business Improvement District in Arlington County. Jeffry Cudlin is a performance artist and professor of curatorial studies and practice at Maryland College of Art in Baltimore. And Philippa Hughes leads The Pink Line Project. She produces creative projects and runs a website highlighting arts events in Washington. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us call. Do you associate Rosslyn with arts events like its jazz festival and Artisphere?
NNAMDIDo you think Rosslyn could use an image makeover? 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Philippa Hughes, you have said that part of this idea is to give Rosslyn a distinctive identity, not simply as a part of Arlington or D.C. So I guess the SUPERNOVA -- you said there's only a similar arts festival in one other part of the world.
HUGHESYeah. It's called Performa in New York. But other than that, I did a lot of research, and there are small performance art festivals all over the world but nothing on this scale. This is a very ambitious project that we've embarked on. And, you know, and just to add on to what Cecilia was saying about economic development, I mean, it goes even -- I think it goes even deeper because performance art in particular gives people -- it expands the way people view themselves in the world and their place in it.
HUGHESAnd it expands the way you solve problems, basically, because you start to see things in different ways. And so I would think that any business would want their employees to be surrounded by these kinds of inspirations from art and performance art in particular.
NNAMDISo you're saying that after this takes place, people who live in Rosslyn who when they get outside of this area and people ask them where they're from they usually say, oh, I'm from Washington. You're saying that in the wake of this event, they'll be saying proudly, no, no, I'm from Rosslyn.
HUGHESI hope they say that. And I -- I'm...
CUDLINThey'll be saying, I'm from Rosslyn, the home of SUPERNOVA.
NNAMDIExactly. Right, right, right, right.
HUGHESThat would be amazing.
NNAMDIJeffry, you're one of the performers who will participate in the festival next week, and you took your inspiration from the streets of Rosslyn. Tell us what you will be doing and how you came up with the idea.
CUDLINI will be leading a team of faux rock climbers on an eight-hour grueling trek through the streets and skywalks and crosswalks over Rosslyn. So we'll be wearing full protective gear: helmets, pads, ropes and harnesses. The only difference is that we'll be traveling horizontally. We won't be climbing anything. We'll be crawling, but mimicking the act of climbing. And we'll be doing it for eight hours, starting at the Key Bridge on the Georgetown side, into Rosslyn, across many skywalks, down several streets and ending in Freedom Park.
CUDLINMy inspiration is I sometimes -- I look at Rosslyn, and I think of it. It is an area of great attention and transition, but I look at its wide streets, and I look at what it means to be a pedestrian in Rosslyn. And it has, you know, a walk score of, I'd say, 83 because there's many amenities in a concentrated area. But as a pedestrian, I personally find it a little confusing sometimes, and I know that it's in transition.
CUDLINThe skywalks that we intend to make use of are something that, in the future, they'll be taking down. It's something that was meant to move pedestrian traffic to the second level. So I'm sort of asking, well, how navigable is Rosslyn? If I were to choose to be an adventurer and, in this sort of faux grandiose manner, claw my way through the city, what would that look like and experience in this very slow and deliberate manner?
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break, but we are absolutely sure that you have questions about what faux rock climbing is and how it is undertaken, what kind of equipment is needed, how is that equipment used. You can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Or if you just have questions in general about the SUPERNOVA Performance Art Festival, you can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the SUPERNOVA Performance Art Festival scheduled to take place in Rosslyn, Va., next weekend, June 7 through 9. We're talking in studio with Philippa Hughes. She leads The Pink Line Project. She produces creative projects and runs a website highlighting arts events in Washington. She is the producer for SUPERNOVA. Also in studio with us is Cecilia Cassidy, executive director of Rosslyn's Business Improvement District. Of course Rosslyn is in Arlington County.
NNAMDIAnd Jeffry Cudlin, he is a performance artist and professor of curatorial studies and practice at Maryland College of Art in Baltimore. And when we took that break, Jeff, you're talking about the faux rock climbing that you will be doing through the streets of Washington over Key Bridge. Tell us a little bit more about it. You will be actually wearing and using rock climbing equipment?
CUDLINWell, sure. You know, we'll be wearing helmets, pads, harnesses. We'll be roped together, the three of us, my fellow climbers, Maggie Schneider and Caitlin Tucker, who are both students at Maryland College of Art, graduate students. Maggie's a rock climber. I am not, and neither is Caitlin. I -- you know, I have conversations with people about this, and we get to a point, an awkward moment where they ask me how long I've been rock climbing. And I said, ask me again in a few short weeks.
CUDLINSo -- but we'll be traveling for eight hours, crawling on our bellies, roped together, across crosswalks. We have a team of three committed volunteers who'll be keeping us hydrated, feeding us energy bars, keeping people from running us over. But, yeah, I imagine eight full hours of being in the sun and scraped and exhausted.
CASSIDYAnd, Kojo, as Jeffry climbs through Rosslyn, one of the...
NNAMDIOr crawls, as the case might be.
CASSIDY...one of the things that he will be climbing under and around are some of our temporary art projects that are really softening Rosslyn's hard edges, so that if he tries this again in a few years, he might have a hard time having, you know, hard surfaces because we have been working with artists on something called the Artisphere Yarn Bomb, which was a crocheting and knitting project that brought the community together to decorate the trees leading to Artisphere.
CASSIDYAnd they have received acclaim from the Smithsonian and has really caught the attention of people in Rosslyn. We've also worked with a nationally known fiber artist named Rachel Hayes, who has hung brightly colored flags from all of the skywalks. So I don't know if Jeffry will be able to see those as he's facing the sidewalk, climbing, but they have really lightened up the streets and the skywalk element and have also gained renown. They've been noticed by Sculpture Magazine. And so Rosslyn is really becoming known in a different way than it was in the '90s.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think of performance art? You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Philippa, performance art has been parodied and poked fun at as elitist, obscure or sometimes just plain incomprehensible. I guess it says here insert joke about performance art here. So how many performance artists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: I don't know. I left.
NNAMDISo how do you counter some of the less positive perceptions about performance art, and how would you define performance art?
HUGHESWell, it's very hard to define performance art. We had a whole panel discussion last week at Artisphere, and we just talked about it in circles for about an hour and still came up with you just know it when you see it. But the cool thing about SUPERNOVA is that there are so many performance artists participating that there's a huge range of performance art, so that you can sort of -- there's something for everybody. But there's also -- it's to show you that performance art encompasses so many different kinds of performance and art forms.
NNAMDIYou actually had a performance art piece staged in your apartment two years ago. I remember reading about it, but tell us about it.
HUGHESYeah. Yeah. I became part of the performance art, unwittingly. A woman named Agnes Bolt built a giant plastic -- we called it a bubble -- inside my apartment and lived inside of it for a week. And I had to care for her during that week. I had to feed her and follow her rules. And, you know, it was kind of interesting because, even though it was an art piece, it became really about our relationship to each other.
HUGHESAnd we were hugging and crying and arguing, and so it was kind of interesting. That's -- it really encompassed what performance art is. It encompasses a range of human emotion, and it's really about personal connection. It's not just about looking at an object on the wall and being a passive viewer. You have to be in it.
NNAMDIJeffry, this is something you have been engaged with. You consider yourself a contemporary art evangelist. What is that?
CUDLINYes. I'm an evangelist for contemporary art. I mean, I think -- you know, performance art and contemporary art generally has a reputation as being difficult to understand, as trying people's patience, and I think it's unfair. I think, if anything -- I mean, performance art, it gets you away from the object, from the sculpture or the painting and the special space in which that is experienced.
CUDLINAnd the amazing thing about SUPERNOVA is it's in the public realm. It is on the streets. It's in people's spaces. Increasingly, performance artists deal with life as it is lived in the day to day. We may have some fantastic conceit around that -- climbing on your belly, pretending to be rock climbing -- but it's all about vernacular culture, things that people deal with, things that they see and requires the audience's participation. So it's bringing the art to them, dealing with the day to day.
NNAMDIYou also teach at the Maryland College of Arts in Baltimore, and you're working, it's my understanding, with grad students now on bringing art to churches. Tell us about that.
CUDLINActually, there's a show that's going to open in September called "Congregate." That's a collaborative project that my graduate students are working on, where five artists are doing residencies this summer in five houses of worship within the Station North Arts and Entertainment District central Baltimore.
CUDLINSo all summer, they're working directly with parishioners to create original works of art that will be seen at the studio center gallery beginning the first week of September. So putting art in unusual places and recruiting new audiences for contemporary art, not the traditional gallery-going crowd.
CASSIDYKojo, I was probably one of the skeptics about having performance art festival in Rosslyn because you never know what's going to happen. But we had some teaser events last fall. And we had a Hyde Park Speakers' Corner set up in Crandal Mackey Park.
NNAMDIIt's one of my favorite. It's in London, yes.
CASSIDYIt was great. And we had a line of poets said set up a row of typewriters in one of other parks, and they had the public -- members of the public come down and sit opposite them and asks to have the poet write a poem or to write a letter. And the public engaged with artist and came away with a wonderful experience. And Rosslyn wants to create a community that people call home.
CASSIDYAnd the way you create community is to have a shared experience. So even if people don't quite understand why Jeffry is climbing along or, you know, climbing up the sidewalks of Rosslyn, the shared experience of people in the community experiencing that creates a sense of community. And that's what we are aiming for with all our new residents here.
NNAMDIPhilippa, can you tell us a little bit more about some other performances that we might be seeing the during the festival in Rosslyn and where they'll be taking place?
HUGHESActually, one of my favorite parts of the festival is happening is Sunday. We've decided that Sunday, being the third day of a very grueling festival for us, will be sort of a relaxed family-oriented day, so all of the performances will happen in Gateway Park. And they'll all be very family-friendly but yet still challenging intellectually. But one of my favorite things that's happening that day is what we're calling the superhero grandma parade. We're celebrating grandmothers and other caregivers.
HUGHESAnd the idea of being that, you know, in sort of fast-paced society now, we're forgetting about the connections between the generations and the way that caregivers have play such a powerful role in creating a sense of community and binding people together. So we're actually contacting nursing homes, and anybody across the region who is a grandmother of any age or type can participate in our period. And that's really one of my favorite things that we're doing.
NNAMDIOne of the reasons we like having you on the show, Philippa, is because you have an unusual profession. How would you describe what you and The Pink Line Project do?
HUGHESThat's a very good question, Kojo.
HUGHESPartially because it's really evolved so much. I quit my job as a lawyer in the first place 'cause I thought I was going to be a writer.
NNAMDII remember that.
HUGHESAnd that didn't -- I mean, I was writing. It's just that then Pink Line Project took off. And, you know, it just evolved in the sense that I thought all I was doing was just, you know, posting a few arts events for people to go to and maybe having a few people over for a salon every once in a while. But those things just kept growing.
HUGHESAnd it made me realize that there is hunger in this area for something different, something that really gets to your soul. And so it just grew. And so I just had to kind of go with it basically. And so it's been amazing to me that we can actually produce a performance or a festival in this area. Like I -- five years ago, I never thought that could be possible.
NNAMDIBut if there's anybody you would call upon to do it, it would be Philippa Hughes. Here is Chrissie in Silver Spring, Md. Chrissie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISSIEYes. Hi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I really just had a comment. And that was to commend your panel for what I think is really bravery in doing this performance arts festival in Rosslyn. And I say that because I agree with the previous comments about performance art really still being misunderstood and sort of maligned by the general public. And also with comments about the fact that performance art has a tendency to be really participatory, which is something you don't get from other forms, I think of visual art.
CHRISSIEAnd my comments are really based on my own personal experience with my best friend, who happens to be a performance artist. And I performed with her in a couple of pieces way back in the 1990s. And it was really a fantastic transformative experience. And again, I just want to thank your panel for making this opportunity. This is a fantastic opportunity.
NNAMDIChrissie, thank you very much for your call. Move on now to Joe in Rockville -- did you want to comment on that, Cecilia?
CASSIDYI just wanted to say that that bravery is due to the board of directors of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, really, the property owners and the developers: Monday Properties, the JBG companies, Vornado, Tishman Speyer. These are companies that you wouldn't ordinarily associate with a performance art festival. But these guys are very devoted to changing the image of Rosslyn and putting their money where their mouth is and...
NNAMDIYou may have just answered Joe's question that I was about to go to in Rockville, Md.
NNAMDIBut, Joe, ask it yourself. You're on the air.
JOEWell, yeah. I think you did partially answer it, in fact. My question was a little bit about funding of these types of things. And I guess you partially -- it's like, where does most of the funding come from? Is it through public grants or taxpayer's money or private donations? It sounds like some of it is at least private donation. And then I have a follow-up question on that.
NNAMDIIn this case, it's the business investment district.
JOERight, right. It is. And who funds that business investment? Is that -- are those basically just developers that want to improve the...
CASSIDYWell, the BID is funded by a self-imposed tax. So the developers, the property owners in Rosslyn pay an additional tax upon themselves, set up a program of activities and programs during the year. We -- you can go to our website at rosslynva.org and learn about all of the programs that we run. But we are putting the performance art festival as part of our economic development program.
CASSIDYThe BID put up $150,000. Our property owners took the lead in getting additional sponsorships that add up to about $50,000. And the staff of the BID has been all hands on deck in helping this and make this happen.
NNAMDIAnd, Joe, this is a question that Philippa has to answer most days of her life, so you may want to add something to what Joe says. It's not about this particular project but about how one gets funding for art projects anyway.
HUGHESThat's a really -- that's another really good question. I also want to add that actually because of the generosity of the BID, all the artists are getting paid in this festival, which is really unusual. So, you know, hooray for that. Funding for arts, that's the question that we all would like to answer. I have -- actually, I really try to go after private funding because I think public funding is diminishing.
HUGHESAnd I think that's a really hard way to get the arts funded. So, you know, this has been the most wonderful way to have an arts festival is to be able to go directly to people who are -- have -- this festival will have an impact on and have them support it that way.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. Joe, thank you for your call, can't get to second part of your question because Samantha in Largo, Md. has an important question in my view. Samantha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMANTHAHi. I direct a public art program in Prince George's County now and called Art in Public Places. And I was just wondering how many performance artists do you have from the DMV region...
NNAMDIFrom the DMV.
SAMANTHA...DMV's region participating in the SUPERNOVA?
NNAMDIIn the festival. Philippa.
HUGHESWell, there are over 75 artists or art groups participating. To be honest, I don't know what the breakdown is, but I would say more than half are from our region, but the rest are from around the world. We have artists coming from Finland and Spain, L.A., Chicago, Boston. So it's a pretty broad festival.
NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. Philippa Hughes leads The Pink Line Project. She produces creative projects, runs a website highlighting arts, events here in Washington. She is the producer for SUPERNOVA. That's June 7 to 9 in Rosslyn. Jeffry Cudlin is a performance artist, professor of curatorial studies and practice at Maryland College of Art in Baltimore, and Cecilia Cassidy is the executive director of Rosslyn's Business Improvement District in Arlington County. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Yellowish-brown water is affecting areas near the primary filtration plant on the Potomac in western Montgomery County. Since Aug. 8, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has received hundreds of complaints, but authorities insist the water is safe to drink.
Leaders in our region grapple with the debate around Confederate symbols after Charlottesville. We speak to D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (At-large, I), chair of the Education Committee and U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.)
The violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend have heightened the debate over America's troubled history with race. We want to talk about it with you.