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By The People festival seeks to bring people together

Nonprofit Halcyon is partnering with dozens of Washington-based arts organizations, local businesses, and government agencies for the arts takeover of the city, which will include everything from visual arts installations, an augmented reality art hunt, and high-profile speakers to a range of musical performances, with most events being free.

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Jenny Sabin will present an installation at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building.

Courtesy of Pablo Enriquez

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Halcyon, a nonprofit that supports socially engaged artists and social entrepreneurs seeking to address some of the world’s greatest challenges, is looking to blanket Washington with art during its inaugural By The People festival this month.

“Austin has South by Southwest and Aspen has its Ideas Festival,” says Kate Goodall, co-founder and chief executive officer of Halcyon, in a statement. “We believe it’s time for Washington, D.C., to have its own destination festival – one that is open to all, that reinforces this country’s founding principles and builds on its longstanding commitment to civil discourse.”

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Running June 21-24, the international festival will be headquartered in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, with official activities taking place throughout the city. Sites include the Washington National Cathedral, Union Market, THEARC West, and The Parks at Walter Reed. 

The nonprofit is partnering with dozens of Washington-based arts organizations, local businesses, and government agencies for the arts takeover of the city, which will include everything from visual arts installations, an augmented reality art hunt, and high-profile speakers to a range of musical performances, with most events being free.

The festival seeks to unite people around the themes of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while also bringing together people of varied backgrounds and perspectives. “I can’t think of a better way to bring people from different backgrounds together than through art and dialogue,” says Ms. Goodall in an email interview. “The goal is to engender dialogue by uniting individuals from all walks of life – especially those on opposite sides of an issue.”

Beyond the various art installations and performances, the festival will include curated discussions with experts representing opposing views on high-profile issues. 

“By combining those far-reaching dialogues with art installations and performances,” Goodall says, “By The People invites visitors to open their minds and engage with one another on a deeper level.”

It is the hope of organizers that such engagement will remind visitors of what they have in common. “In the current political climate, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we’re more alike than different, stronger together than apart,” she says. “No matter someone’s political disposition, geographic location, age, race or gender, we generally agree that the founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are critical not only to the foundation of this country, but to its future.”

Goodall explains that the festival has been designed to allow for connection and inclusion and that organizers decided that the events would be free, save for entrance fees for a few performances. 

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The festival touches neighborhoods throughout the city in an attempt to foster even greater inclusion and participation. “It’s expansive and ambitious,” Goodall says. “It also was important to us to bring the festival to all four quadrants of the city.”

In all, programming will include more than 100 events, and the various installations will feature art that is almost entirely being created for the festival itself. Installations include Jenny Sabin’s “LUX,” a knitted canopy of light representing the theme of “Life”; Dan Steinhilber’s “Untitled Interface Site,” a colorful forest of interconnected inflated bubbles made of plastic wrap to inspire discussion around the theme of “Liberty”; and Maya Freelon’s “Reciprocity Respite & Repass,” a lighthearted sculpture made of colored tissue paper referring to the theme of “Happiness.”

Halcyon’s programs outside the festival include an arts lab as well as an incubator for social entrepreneurs.

“The word ‘Halcyon’ refers to a time of peace and tranquility,” says Goodall. “Our hope is that the By The People Festival will provide four days of calm and joy in which we can all examine our founding principles together.”