How seven residents and three businesses saved Adams Morgan Day (and how you can help!)
Before living in Adams Morgan, I had spent little time in the neighborhood beyond a few late nights of dancing and jumbo slice on 18th Street. But, the Adams Morgan history and culture has always loomed large with eclectic art, diverse cuisine and culture, and avant-garde shops. It’s reputation as a community ripe with heart and activism held strong in a rapidly changing city. Since moving to Adams Morgan seven years ago, I have met that character firsthand and could not be prouder to be a local resident.
Perhaps my favorite place to get a glimpse of the neighborhood spirit is Adams Morgan Day, when the community dynamism comes to life with street artists, bands, local crafts, and restaurants selling foods along the sidewalks. I’ve long heard about legendary massive festivals of the early era with upwards of 100,000 festival-goers. It was the place to be for Washingtonians from all parts of the city.
Little did I know that a few years later I would be working with a rag tag team of volunteers to continue that legacy.
You see, three years ago, Adams Morgan Day almost didn’t happen. Just four months out, Adams Morgan Mainstreet (the entity that had historically organizing Adams Morgan Day) collapsed, disbanded, and announced “no more festival.” Given the tradition of the event — the longest continuously running neighborhood festival in the city — we had to intervene. So, through public meetings with whoever would listen, we wrestled together committees for music, art, businesses, and safety, and started planning. We pulled off a small-scale sidewalk festival with business participation to keep it going.
This was no small feat. With no infrastructure, no list of businesses — let alone contact information — this was the essence of a grassroots effort. We took to the streets and talked to business owners, one-by-one, about how to get involved. Many new residents and business owners came to the table and rolled up their sleeves. They offered their expertise in recruiting bands, artists, and engaging businesses.
The next year was much of the same, with a consolidated team of core volunteers. But still no closed street with our limited capacity and budget.
While this was largely a swift rescue mission to maintain the historic event, it was also a chance to give it a fresh start. So we set out to gather input from residents and business owners. As with any community event, our call for neighborhood input yielded a surplus of ideas. Luckily, they all coalesced around one shared vision: A community-oriented event that showcases local businesses. Many small businesses had in fact shuttered their doors on Adams Morgan Day in the past, when the festival drew a ruckus crowd and featured carnival food from outside vendors. Neighbors felt like it was more for outsiders than for the community. We wanted to invite them back.
So, six months shy of the 39th annual event, we made a commitment to close the street.
This was not a simple decision. Namely, because a street festival is a costly endeavor. The city permits, stages, marketing, police and safety staff were expected to cost up to $90,000.
Our handful of volunteers got to work slowly raising the funds, with $1,000 or $2,000 “sponsorships” here and there. Many businesses didn’t realize that the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District (BID) does not organize Adams Morgan Day, and remained reluctant to provide any financial support, given that they are already paying a monthly fee to the BID. Most other local festival are organized by the neighborhood’s Mainstreet, with paid staff and fundraising infrastructure. Nonetheless, slowly, the vision took shape and funds trickled in from vendors and community groups.
I am so proud of the vision of Adams Morgan Day that we executed on Sunday. It remained true to the spirit of the day — a vibe that is welcoming of neighbors and families, showcases the local bars and restaurants, creates space for eclectic artists and musicians, and promotes local government resources and activism alike. We welcomed thousands of visitors from across the region to learn about Adams Morgan. We had live interactive art, a children’s scavenger hunt and activities, dozens of performers and musicians, more than 80 arts and crafts vendors. Without food vendors on the street the spotlight was on delicious food offered on the patios of local restaurants. With beautiful weather, the event drew a packed crowd and the day was smooth and safe.
Some of the core members of our all-star volunteer team include residents Kara Davis, Carol Miller, David Smith, Michele Casto, Robert Turner, Josue Martinez from Corinto Gallery, as well as Joe Lapan from Songbyrd, Dave Delaplaine from Roofer’s Union, Mike Evans from Grow Club DC, and many others. These individuals have poured hundreds of heart-felt volunteer hours into keeping this event alive and true to our neighborhood’s share vision of the day.
I would like to applaud my fellow volunteers and thank the support of the DC government for their support in making this a safe and successful event. However, this applause also comes with a plea to my fellow community members and businesses. We cannot do this alone.
Next year is the 40th anniversary of Adams Morgan Day. As the longest-running street festival in DC, that’s worth a huge celebration! The DC Arts Center served as our tax exempt fiscal sponsor this year, but we have formed a nonprofit, the Adams Morgan Community Alliance, so that we can accept donations in the future. We’re building this up from scratch and we need your help. We need a sustainable model that does not rely on volunteers and sees significant support from our local businesses.
Please join us! Get involved as a volunteer event planner, participating business, or sponsor to help make this next year a success.
Donations accepted here will help kickstart fundraising for 2018.