Friday, September 16th, 2011
“We live in a city like no other in the world. DC has so much in terms of arts, culture, and access to the international community through the embassies. Sadly, so many people only think of us as the halls of power and monuments, and all of the good and bad that comes with that. The truth is that I don’t know anything about that stuff because I don’t live in that city. I live in DC. I want to help people access that city, and put that city back on the map by helping to cultivate the creative economy.
“When I came here in June 2008, I was working as a national organizer for Greenpeace, and thought it would be my dream job. Fortunately, I kept getting promoted, which is a good thing, but the more responsibility I had, the less I was organizing. I ended up sitting behind a desk, crunching numbers for ten hours a day. At a certain point, I stopped feeling like I was having an impact on things.
“One afternoon, I was sitting in Columbia Heights with a friend who was a music teacher at a prestigious school in Cleveland Park. She told me how upset she was to walk through her neighborhood on the way to her fancy school, knowing that the kids she passed would not get an arts education. I am not a musician or an artist, but I saw that as an opportunity to make an impact, so I started fundraising and organizing.
“I went to the DC USA developers and Councilmember Jim Graham’s office, and helped her start an arts camp for kids in the neighborhood. From there, I started a non-profit, CHARTS (Columbia Heights Arts Foundation), to help unify our neighborhood through the arts, and started Vestibule, to help emerging artists in DC. We have people from so many backgrounds who don’t interact for so many reasons in DC, but I have always seen art as the language that transcends all differences. I left Greenpeace, and devoted myself fully to these things in January 2010.
“I really like the path that I am on, but it can be a struggle sometimes. It sounds cliché, but I am literally a starving artist. I may have $25 in my account right now, and do whatever jobs I have to do to pay the rent. I have taken on paid internships, been a personal assistant, worked as an interior designer, and most notably, was a locker room attendant at an underground sex club in DC.
“Working at the Crew Club taught me about hard work and humility. I got paid $9 an hour to pick up rooms after people had used them for whatever purposes. I would get harassed on a daily basis and tell my managers. They would just laugh and say, “You know where you work, right?”
“I take these jobs because I really believe in DC as a creative capital. If helping to expose people to that means that I have to mop up golden showers and pick up used anal beads to keep pursuing my passion, I will do it. I still go to bed happy and feel like I am contributing in some way to DC. Right now, so many people are paying attention to this city, and it is our job to tell them what to pay attention to.
“I hope that other people will take the time to explore the great things about this city and get invested here, too. Go be a mentor with Big Brothers/Big Sisters or get a library card. No matter how long you plan to be here, you are here. You should make it count.”