Performances at Adams Morgan PorchFest. Photos by Philip Graulty.

Weirding The City

Can a deceptively simple slogan spark constructive conversation about the city we have and the city we want?

Erik Moe
Erik Moe
Nov 23, 2015 · 4 min read

Make

…is a verb. You are the implied subject. You are being urged to step up and work towards the completion of something. To participate in an act of creation.

DC

…is the name of our home. It is a vibrant, rapidly changing home with a rich cultural legacy and plenty of problems to address. It is also a home that is often mischaracterized as a dull place filled with bureaucrats and transients who have no stake in the future of our neighborhoods. If you’ve truly explored DC, you might be deeply hurt by that characterization. You and I know that DC has an unending depth of creativity and passion.

Weird

…is an adjective and a chameleon. Its definition can change depending on the viewer, depending on what you bring to it in terms of lived experience. Weird necessarily represents an alternative, an opposition to some thing that is not weird. But, you’ve got to define it for yourself, along with its opposite. In this case, weird is positioned as a positive, as something to work for. Perhaps a definition appropriate for this context is “those qualities that are proudly unique to DC,” but perhaps it also suggests “those things that are most endangered by ‘business as usual’” (which you must also define).

Writer Elizabeth Gutting climbs onto a dining room table in Truxton Circle to read from one of her short stories at Little Salon, a monthly nomadic arts showcase. Photo: Eric Krupke.

Putting it all together

String those three words together as MAKE DC WEIRD, and these are a few of the questions that come up:

  • DC is a complex organism. It includes: residents and neighborhoods; politicians and the developers who fund them; institutions and their employees; built infrastructure and natural resources; diverse cultures and their national, global context. What does it mean for a city to be weird?
  • DC is in the midst of tremendous change. To many long-time residents the city is unrecognizably weird already, and often not in a good way. While there may have been more crime in the past, the city may have also been more unique in the past. Do recent changes represent “weirdness” or homogeneity?
  • With apologies to friends in Oregon and Texas, isn’t this idea of “weird” just another tired, played out, franchised sameness imported from white hipster culture in Portland and Austin? What does DC have in common with other so-called weird cities? Do we have shared values?
  • There are all kinds of examples of incredible arts and culture in DC (some cited on makeDCweird.com). Why not say “Keep DC Weird” instead of MAKE DC WEIRD?
  • Surely with all these questions, some other slogan would be better, less controversial, more topical? Surveys suggest crime and education are DC residents’ top concerns, not culture or “weirdness.” Might “Make DC Safe” or “Make DC Schools Great” be more important messages to put forward? What kind of change do we want to stand up for? What phrase would you rather stand behind?

Pick it up

Make DC Weird is a conversation. I’d love your quick (or long and nuanced!) answer to any of these questions. Respond here on Medium (scroll down to start your own post), or use hashtag #makeDCweird on Twitter/Instagram.


Make DC Weird sticker available at makeDCweird.com.

Arts & Ideas

Dialogue about culture, the arts, and social impact. With a focus on sustainable locally-driven models for change. Led by Washington, DC writer and artist Erik Moe.

Erik Moe

Written by

Erik Moe

Writer & Artist

Arts & Ideas

Dialogue about culture, the arts, and social impact. With a focus on sustainable locally-driven models for change. Led by Washington, DC writer and artist Erik Moe.