Before Art All Night festival, I thought the town is so quiet (and dead), but it changed my mind tonight.
The Humanities Truck was tucked into the parking lot of Citizen Heights Church, connected thematically to the art on display in the basement of the church. A lively band playing across the lot and a vinyl exchange brought people from the sidewalks up to the exhibit and to enjoy the music.
The exhibit on display told the history of punk music at Fort Reno. Community curators Marc Minsker and Ray Barker worked in DCPL’s Punk Archive and with Ian MacKaye of Dischord Records. The story begins in 1968 when the National Park Service created the program “Summer in the Parks” at Fort Reno and other DC parks including Fort Dupont and Meridian Hill Park. In 1976, the National Capital Parks discontinued the program. The concert series at Fort Reno, however, lived on through volunteer organizers and community members becoming a community driven space for music and recreation. The punk concert scene at Fort Reno grew out of “Summer in the Parks” creating an interesting comparison between cheerful advertisements for Summer in the Parks to darker Teen Idles and Fugazi flyers.
We consider Tenleytown our immediate neighborhood and local community because of our connection to American University, but this was only the Humanities Truck’s second outing to the neighborhood. The first exhibit “Finding Reno” was conducted last spring by public history practicum students to look at the history of Reno City not through it’s destruction but by the different components of the community which lived there including people, churches, and schools. “Fort Reno: Retrospective” tells a very different story about the site as a space dedicated to music and recreation.
Stories of displacement and art are relevant across the District. Other projects the Humanities Truck is involved with including the Late Skate events at Anacostia Park Roller Skating Pavilion and an on-going NPS oral history project at Meridian Hill/ Malcolm X Park touch on the importance of park spaces to providing space for community-building and gathering in our neighborhoods. What is the connection between the displaced community that lived in Reno and the later Summer in the Parks program and punk music scene?
Visitors to our exhibit saw these connections without their being explicitly stated. When asked to “Share your memories of concerts at Fort Reno” a participant wrote:
How can these projects be in conversation to create a more rich history of our own neighborhood and to challenge our understandings of the spaces we occupy like Fort Reno Park? Can we think differently about urban parks and how we use them for art, recreation, and to gather with our neighbors? How does the history of punk music at Fort Reno fit into this story?
Each new project teaches us a different way about thinking about communities in the DMV and about making connections across the city. Come find us across the city to see how the Humanities Truck can play a role in helping us think differently about the issues in our communities, neighborhoods, and cities.