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Future of button by Jess Solomon, Director, Art in Praxis

I live in one of 70 units in an apartment building. We are in close proximity with entirely separate lives and I’ve been asking myself, “is this community?”

I connect with my neighbors in passing; running to the bus, doing laundry, checking the mailbox. Even when I sometimes rush through pleasantries with my neighbors, deep down I still want more.

As someone who values civic engagement, I want to bring those values to my doorstep and practice intentionally spending time with my neighbors discussing what we love and don’t love about where we call home.

I have a sense of urgency in making this happen. Where I live is changing. Gentrification, flux, development, whatever you want to label it is steadily shifting the cultural and economic landscape of the District. How are the people I share walls with impacted?

I walk in the world with the assumptions that sharing and visioning with those in close proximity to you is transformational and that eating together builds community.

And I suspect I am not the only one.

On April 1st, 2014, the evening of the D.C. primary election, I am having dinner with my neighbors and friends. We will eat well and exchange ideas to create a shared vision for our neighborhood. I am encouraging others across the District to do the same. I'm dubbing this neighborhood-powered grassroots initiative #FutureOf for “The Future of (Your) Street.”

“The Future of (Your) Street” is powered by Art in Praxis and our community partner, Maximize Good. We blur the lines between making, performing, organizing, and community engagement with “experiments” like this.

To date, there are #FutureOf dinners planned across the District in Deanwood, Columbia Heights, Anacostia, Capitol Hill, Waterfront, Congress Heights, Tenleytown and Brookland. The grassroots dinners are colored by the personalities of each host and the communities they are in. We're equipping hosts with a guide and support, but how the dinner takes shape is up to them. They could be potlucks, fancy catered affairs, or something in between.

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Really, though, dinner is just the beginning. I’m most excited about what will happen afterward. If my assumptions are correct, I guarantee that, in time, the people who dine and dream together will go on to positively impact where they live. I can see community gardens, skill-shares, murals, new small businesses, less potholes, increased participation in local government and more dinners. I recently learned that hosts of the #FutureOf #Petworth dinner want to revisit the epic community block parties of their past.

The artist in me hopes that #FutureOf is the kind of community building and civic engagement initiative that precedes creative placemaking. Getting these resources, people and ideas together will lead to stakeholders strategically shaping the physical and social character of a neighborhood.

As the Director of Art in Praxis (AiP), my primary goal is to promote creativity as a catalyst in communities. I’m interested in tapping into our collective imaginations, getting a lot done in small spaces and working across sectors. The nature of my work is temporal; it is collaborative, experimental and transient. Even still, each project—including #FutureOf—is built to take roots or wings in the hands of participants.

Will you join us on April 1st?

Sign up to host a #FutureOf dinner in your neighborhood at artinpraxis.org/future.

Special thanks to our media partner, ElevationDC!!

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