The Adams Morgan Day festival is set to celebrate its 40th anniversary on Sunday with an array of offerings for adults and children from noon to 6 p.m. The event, DC’s longest-running neighborhood festival, was on the brink of collapse just three years ago. Since then, local volunteers have poured in their time and expertise to ensure that the festival will continue. This year, event planners are hoping to place a heavy emphasis on music, art and the rich history of the Adams Morgan community.
“Honoring the festival and honoring the community is really what we want to incorporate this year,” said A. Tianna Scozzarro, an organizer and one of the neighborhood’s advisory neighborhood commissioners.
The DC Public Library and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum will collaborate with American University to highlight the neighborhood’s history and bring archival content to the streets. Their vehicle in this endeavor is American University’s new Humanities Truck, a bright and colorful remodeled step van similar to those used by the United Parcel Service. The truck is a space to collect, document and exhibit history and primary sources.
“It’s really ultimately kind of a tool to do some form of collaborative, public humanities,” said Dan Kerr, the project director and a professor in the AU history department. “Professors and graduate students at American University can work alongside with different community groups to develop a range of potential projects from across the humanities, and circulate them both back to the communities where they’re derived as well as across the region.”
The truck will feature a projected slideshow of archival photos, as well as interactive content. Staffers plan to hand out neighborhood maps with trivia clues and to text historical photos to interested participants. A revamped payphone will play oral history recordings from the neighborhood and allow festival-goers to record their own stories about Adams Morgan.
“We’re kind of connecting the music stage, people’s phones, the truck, a paper map, all these different ways to try to bring these stories of Adams Morgan history into more visibility,” said Benjamin Stokes, a collaborator on the truck and an assistant professor in AU’s School of Communication and at the AU Game Lab. “The truck is part theater, part symbolism.”
Much of the content on display will be from the DC Public Library’s Nancy Shia photo collection and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s “Right to the City” exhibit. The museum exhibit highlights historic communities, organizing efforts and neighborhood change in six areas of the city, including Adams Morgan. One goal is to bring some of that content back into the community itself, said Samir Meghelli, chief curator of the Anacostia Community Museum.
Meghelli believes there is much for people to learn about the neighborhood. Even the name Adams Morgan is historically significant, he points out. When parents and teachers from two segregated elementary schools, John Quincy Adams and Thomas P. Morgan, came together to implement desegregation in the 1950s, they formed the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference and gave the area its modern name.
Adams Morgan Day itself dates to 1977, originating as a neighborhood potluck block party organized by five area businesses, according to the organizers’ press release. By the 1980s and 1990s, as many as 300,000 people crowded on 18th Street and Columbia Road for the annual event, some of them attracted by beer trucks that eventually led to pushback from neighborhood leaders concerned that the festival had become an overly commercialized regional event.
Three years ago, Adams Morgan nearly lost the annual celebration, which by then had been scaled back to become less commercial and more neighborhood-focused. Adams Morgan Main Street, the former organizer, canceled the event in 2015, citing large outstanding debt. A small group of volunteers tasked themselves that year with coordinating a new festival from the ground up, and in July 2016 they established the nonprofit Adams Morgan Community Alliance to formalize their efforts. In 2015 and 2016, they could not afford the fees to close neighborhood streets for the festival, but last year they raised the money needed for permits, security and marketing, mostly from local businesses. They again have adequate funding this year with a long list of sponsors and contributors, although an online fundraising drive was about $13,000 short of the group’s original $50,000 goal as of Saturday afternoon.
“I think now that we know more businesses and the businesses know us, there’s a level of trust in the community,” said Scozzarro, who is also president of the alliance. “We’ve been really diligent about being transparent and knowing the needs and wants of the community.”
Maintaining diversity in the musical lineup was a response to community input. This year’s lineup reflects the variety of genres in the local music scene, with acts ranging from Afro-Soul to mariachi to go-go to indie rock. Participants include DuPont Brass, Batala, Cheik Hamala Diabate and Trouble Funk — which, like the festival, is celebrating its 40th year.
Alongside local vendors and restaurants, Marie Reed Elementary School will host a student art sale. Proceeds will benefit Marie Reed, a bilingual, art-focused, Title I public school where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Art pieces will sell for $2 to $30.
“The Adams Morgan community has been very supportive of us throughout the years,” said Hallie Schuffler, president of the Marie Reed Parent Teacher Organization. “This is a way to highlight some of the great things that we do at school and let community members know what we’re all about.”
According to Betsy Collins, a member of the PTO, the event gets students active on fundraising. “It gives them ownership of their work, and the school, and being involved in the community” she said. The school is also helping to organize a new Family Fun Zone, which will include soccer, flag football and games such as Connect Four, Jenga and cornhole.
The festival is free and open to all ages. It is set to take place on 18th Street between Florida Avenue and Columbia Road NW, rain or shine.