On the ground in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Arts District brand inches closer to reality

November 9, 2010 - 07:00 AM
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Arts District branding logos
One set of options for banners for the new arts district brand. (Photo: TBD Staff)

I don't care who you are or what you think about the fundamental merits behind the idea of applying an arts district brand to the U Street, Logan Circle and Shaw neighborhoods, at this point you have to have some sympathy for branding project leaders Andrea Doughty and Carol Felix.

Throughout the months-long process that led up to Monday night's semi-final public presentation on their city-financed quest to develop the brand, these two individuals have diligently done their duty to gather community input and incorporate that feedback into their concepts. There was the initial round of panel discussions and q&a sessions. There was the (now closed) online poll. There was the independent survey of close to 200 randomly selected residents. There were the countless private consultations with interested community stakeholders, fellow designers and marketers, local politicians, and area artistic types.

If anything, the healthy supply of criticism leveled at this otherwise fairly innocuous project (we are talking about some light pole banners, after all) has forced Doughty and Felix to concede a not insignificant part of their creative vision to the naysayers. Over the course of the last three months, they've gone from contemplating an "Uptown" or "MidCity" Arts District to ruling out using either of those designations in any way in the final concept.

"We got some really serious push back to the MidCity name," Doughty told attendees at last night's presentation at the Hamiltonian Gallery, including, according to Doughty, from Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham. A couple of people in the crowd had started questioning why MidCity had since just last week been ruled out as a possibility as one of the mini-brands proposed for the banners. One even — gasp! —wondered aloud what the MidCity Business Association thought about the decision. While Doughty diplomatically declined to speculate on that one, I suspect we can probably guess.

"The last thing that we want is to do something divisive," Doughty said.

Welcome to the publicly funded creative process, where everyone must be given a chance to say their piece, even if they have zero expertise or, worse, a particular axe to grind. Doughty and/or Felix's motives for taking on the project might not be 100 percent selfless, but there's no arguing that they've put themselves in the line of the firing squad more times than most of us would ever dare. And sure enough, each time, willing sharp-shooters have shown up to take aim directly at their foreheads.

And so it went once again Monday night, as a handful of newcomers to the project joined those who have been following it since the beginning, leading to a round of discussions over the nearly finalized logo and brand that ranged from vaguely helpful to derisive. One man asked why survey takers were not sent to poll residents east of the Anacostia River. Another actually coughed the name "MidCity" under his breath while standing in one of the break-out sessions following the presentation.

DC Arts District logo
(Photo: Sommer Mathis)

So what about the final logo options? The team has managed to narrow it down to just two names, either DC Arts District or Arts & Design District, which can be shortened to two not super appealing acronyms: DCAD (it's pronounced Dee-Cad) or A+DD (which would presumably be pronounced A plus DD, Add, or worse still, A-D-D, as in Attention Deficit Disorder -- Felix said she wasn't worried about that last interpretation, for what it's worth.)

As for the designs themselves, Felix and the other designers are focusing on two basic ideas at this point, either an abstract design scheme encompassing a series of circles in various forms, or a couple of options that play off the idea of locating the arts district somewhere on a map. Most of the constructive feedback offered Monday leaned toward some version of the map idea.

And the moment you've all been waiting for, when the banners are up and we can all finally stop talking about this, should still be coming in December, according to Doughty, although the actual launch date is now a moving target. There are still just a few more ANC meetings, civic association gatherings, and lofty living rooms to visit before everyone feels like they've had their say. Of course there are.

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  1. Mike Licht Mike Licht

    Mike Licht

    Nov 09, 2010 - 08:23:03 AM

    ADD is right. We have been through this before, Sommer. "Arts Overlay Districts" quickly become "Arts-related business districts" full of interior decorators and fashion retailers. These morph into strips of chain eateries and bars without live music. The only art to be found: a few paintings for sale on restaurant walls.

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  2. monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    monkey rotica

    Nov 09, 2010 - 07:47:53 AM

    One man asked why survey takers were not sent to poll residents east of the Anacostia River. Same reason Ward 8 residents don't poll Ward 1 residents before they rob them. You end up with the sort of "analysis paralysis" that turns neighborhood branding projects into multi-year ordeals and ruins the spontaneity of muggings.

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  3. Kev29 Kev29

    Kev 29

    Nov 09, 2010 - 10:09:48 AM

    Another actually coughed the name "MidCity" under his breath while standing in one of the break-out sessions following the presentation. Wait, people are actually arguing about made up, nonsensical neighborhood names? MidCity, ADD, Borderstan...NoMa, BloMi, Golden Triangle? Man, this really can be a town full of toolbag high school student council members at times.

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