Life, Liberty, Happiness: By The People Pursues Ideals, Innovations in New Citywide Festival

Life, Liberty, Happiness: By The People Pursues Ideals, Innovations in New Citywide Festival

July 1, 2018 | Mackenzie Wienger, Washington Diplomat

A new international arts and dialogue festival —themed around America’s founding ideals — has arrived in Washington, D.C., with grand ambitions to shake up the city’s arts scene and status. By The People, held across over a dozen locations from June 21 to 24, was designed to showcase an array of performances, art installations and speakers with a particularly Washington bent. Inspired by the theme of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the festival aims to promote empathy, build cultural bridges and spark a civil discourse at a time when the nation’s discourse is anything but. It hosted dozens of artists, speakers, musicians and dancers — with most events almost entirely free to the public. And unlike many other festivals, the featured events were anything but conventional. Highlights included an augmented reality art hunt; knitting and crocheting sculptures that paid homage to nurses; an interactive installation that mimicked a prison cell; mindfulness workshops that let participants become artists; a 20-year time capsule of letters written to the next generation of women; discussions where people were randomly paired with strangers or explored topics such as whether true human connection can be found online; and a nontraditional dance performed inside a 17-foot U-Haul truck.

Last summer, Halcyon, a nonprofit organization with a stage series and arts incubator to its name, gathered together a group of arts leaders to discuss the idea of bringing this type of event to D.C. “We just mentioned we thought it was high time that D.C. had its own international arts and dialogue festival, and we found nothing but agreement,” Halcyon co-founder and CEO Kate Goodall told The Washington Diplomat before the festival kicked off. “We all felt this rising tide of this true creative arts scene in D.C., that is more than just a stop between New York and Miami, with so many unique assets and free museums.” The festival taps into the “bubbling cauldron and increasing energy around the arts here,” Goodall noted.