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Washington, D.C.: It’s Our Home

Washington, D. C.: It's Our Home was a program rich with the memories and flourishing traditional practices of the city's fishermen, taxi and bus drivers, lawyers, dancers, activists, retirees, seamstresses, craftspeople, musicians, choirs, quartets, gardeners, poets, cooks, quilters, and rappers, from east of the Anacostia River to west of Rock Creek Park. Washington, D.C., is a city of refuge and advocacy for the marginalized peoples of our nation and the world, and participants helped visitors see the social, cultural, and political context for their folklife practices. More than 45 researchers from community institutions and universities in the District worked for over a year and compiled cultural documentation on hundreds of potential Festival participants. Then they tackled the ticklish task of making a coherent statement about their multi-faceted city. A few examples illustrate what they found and chose to present on the National Mall.

Soccer, for example, offers windows to connections and community. New immigrants to Washington often search for soccer teams from home. Each week Washington's parks host a small contest between nations, from Trinidad to Korea and Ethiopia. Spectators cook and share traditional foods, play music, and dance, transforming these games into celebrations. Long-time Washingtonians have grown to love soccer as well, and the city has nurtured its own legendary players and coaches, clinics and camps, styles, language, and new generations of players.

Washington, D.C., residents are also enthusiastic participants in and spectators of numerous parades and processions throughout the year. Caribbean Carnival, Gay Pride, Chinese New Year, Unifest, Halloween, the Cherry Blossom, and inaugural parades and Good Friday processions are examples of lively celebratory events that take place on city streets. Participants in those celebrations spend countless hours in detailed planning and preparation to create the delicate balance between artistic style and performance. Spectators interact with performers as this unpredictable form of dynamic street theater pulsates through city neighborhoods. Folklife Festival visitors could enjoy both the celebrations themselves and the behind-the-scenes preparations.

The program also honored community life and civic action, including the memories of the neighborhoods that people built as safe spaces from discrimination, and others that people lost through urban renewal and relocation. Participants described the city's long tradition of human rights activism, and they shared the songs, arts, stories, icons, rituals, and memorabilia that have enlivened this tradition.

Go-go, Washington's indigenous music, may be the quintessential urban music, all percussion and beat, pulsing from garbage can lids, plastic buckets, homemade drums, cowbells, bass guitar, and saxophone, drawing audiences into passionate call-and-response as they identify the neighborhoods where they live. As musicians, deejays, dancers, stylists, instrument builders, and fans make this music, they also communicate its deep and complex roots in African-American musical styles, the history of live musical gatherings in the city, and the pride of place expressed in a musical tradition that begins with meager material resources.

Marianna Blagburn, Michael McBride, Brett Williams, and John Franklin were Curators, and Ivy Young was Program Coordinator. Program Area Organizers were: Gabriel Benn (spoken word), Tom Blagburn (basketball), Sally Gifford (social justice dialogues), Lisa Pegram (spoken word), and Lauren Rogers (reunions). Marianna Blagburn and Brett Williams were Research Coordinators.

The program was produced in collaboration with the D. C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Major support was provided by the Government of the District of Columbia, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, Hilton Hotels Corporation, The Dunn and Bradstreet Corporation, The Meyer Foundation, The Washington Post, Chevy Chase Bank, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, IBM, and the Recording Industries Music Performance Trust Funds. Additional support was provided by the D.C. Humanities Council; the Blum Kovler Foundation; Program in African American Culture, Division of Cultural History, National Museum of American History; and SPOT Image Corporation.

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