One Of The Most Significant Music Venues In Washington DC Is Outside A Cellphone Store

Today CityLab had a post titled “How Go-Go Music Became Kryptonite for Gentrification in D.C.” This was actually a follow up to an article that had come out in the Spring that I bookmarked with a notation “A T-Mobile store is the cultural axis for Go-Go music?”

I had bookmarked the story with the intention of returning to it in order to draw attention to the way centers of cultural signficance often emerge organically rather than by plan. I don’t think anyone uses a cellphone store as a model when drawing up plans for a cultural facility.

Briefly, the story here is that a guy who owned a nightclub which featured go-go bands opened a cellphone store when the venue closed and started playing his go-go music collection over the speakers outside his store. The neighborhood has gradually gentrified since the mid-1990s and residents of the new condo across the street complained about the music being too loud.

You may not know that residents of Washington DC claim go-go as their own, feeling the music style is synonymous with the city. Hearings were held on October 30 in support of a bill to make it the official music of the city.

They rallied around the store in a big way:

Thousands of people flooded Shaw’s streets and thousands more signed a petition (80,329 to be exact) demanding that Campbell be allowed to keep playing go-go at his corner, all done under the banner #Don’tMuteDC, which was to say “don’t mute—or erase—black people in D.C.” … which was to say, “don’t let gentrification have the final say.” And it didn’t. Several forces converged—including the CEO of T-Mobile, which owns the Metro PCS cell phones and service Campbell sold at his store—to declare that “the music will go on,” which led to the condo tenant dropping the complaint and acquiescing to the will of the streets.

Often speakers/writers about non-profit organizations challenge people to think about their place in the community and ask the question, who would miss you if you were gone, as a way to gauge the degree of relevance your organization has in the community.

Something of a corollary to this question is whether there is an entity in the community so that is so closely tied into the identity of the community that people would become angry if it disappeared. It may not be your organization, but really asking the question and paying attention might be revelatory. On the surface, it may seem obvious. In some communities, everything may seem aligned toward high school or college football. But there may also be some powerful, but overlooked element your organization could do a better job embracing and/or magnifying. Or at the very least recognizing and acknowledging the importance of.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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