Welcome to the Anacostia Community Museum Community Documentation Initiative

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s Community Documentation Initiative (CDI) is an ongoing effort to document and make accessible to the public a wide range of original material on the social, cultural, economic and contemporary community life of urban neighborhoods. While we maintain an emphasis on the Washington, DC metropolitan area, our research and collecting activities include urban communities across the United States and around the world. The Community Documentation Initiative brings the resources of the museum—particularly research materials and archival/object collections—directly to constituents through public programs, gallery exhibitions, digital content, and special programs, as well as builds and enhances interactive dialogue with museum audiences. Using these research and collections materials, the CDI builds collaborative, community-based networks of neighborhood organizations, cultural institutions, and individuals; and works with our audiences to better understand the ways that the museum can help inform social causes of great contemporary concern.

Book Review: Public Housing, Urban Development in Byker by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen at the Anacostia Community Museum Library

But now you don’t care if your neighbor looks at ye. She might have fifty watches and she’ll not give you the time . . .  ” – Byker by Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen

Published in 1985, and representing over 12 years of work by Finnish photographer Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen, who lived in this working-class community in Newcastle for 7 years, Byker depicts the last days of this public housing development before it was razed in the 1970s to make room for a world-famous architect’s design, the Byker Wall Estate by Ralph Erskine and home to 9,500 people.

Here in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, the community of Barry Farm is facing similar issues of relocation and development and there are a few local photographers working in those communities producing work, but none of whom I am aware actually live there while engaging in such a dedicated documentation of this community specificity as exemplified in Byker. Her focus and persistence in following this now very different community is remarkable.

The Anacostia Community Museum is lucky to own a second-hand copy annotated by an original Byker resident.  How wonderful it is to see his/her inscriptions under some of the photographs confirming the veracity of Ms. Konttinen’s portrayal of the Byker spirit.

Perhaps most significantly for us, Byker serves as a cautionary tale in the breaking up and restructuring a community.   Much as the Barry Farm Community was bifurcated by the building of Suitland Parkway in the 1940’s, and then further overwhelmed by the relocation of the majority of public housing to east of the Anacostia River in the 1960s, so is the United Kingdom facing a second wave of public housing redevelopment, though Byker Wall is being spared this time, as the original Byker was not in the 1970s.

Despite the authorities best efforts at engaging the community and encouraging participation – architect Erskine famously set up shop in a defunct funeral parlor in the Byker community hosting open hours for residents  – less than 20 percent of the original Byker residents returned after the new Byker Wall had been erected.

“Over 17,000 people lived in Byker at the start of the redevelopment. Fewer than 20% of them were living in the New Byker in 1976. One is only left to speculate what would have happened had the policy not been to retain the community, ” Peter Malpass wrote in a commission by the Department of the Environment quoted in the afterword in Byker

Through Ms. Konttinen’s work in Byker we can see the effects of the forces of neighborhood change and renewal on one specific populace.  In the photographer’s follow-up work in Byker Revisited, the viewer gets more of a sense that isolation and dislocation have taken hold over Byker, even as the subjects of her camera’s gaze become more multicultural and diverse.

To see this book in person as well as browse other titles in our growing urban community photography book collection, you can come to the Anacostia Museum Library (let us know that you are coming and we will pull the book for you), more information on how to contact us and hours is available here.

More resources on neighborhood change and Byker:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/21/byker-wall-newcastles-noble-failure-of-an-estate-a-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings-day-41

See more of Sirrka-Liiisa Konttinen’s work here:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/bringing-color-to-newcastle/?_r=0

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/byker/

http://www.amber-online.com/collection/byker-revisited/

Urban Waterways Newsletter Issue 7

Urban Waterways and Critical Issues

Courtesy Jeremy Franklin Orr

Courtesy Jeremy Franklin Orr

This  issue was inspired by the events in the city of Flint and the rude realization for many that Flint was not the first, and will not be the last, community to face the daily realities of an insecure water supply. Our contributors in DC, Los Angeles, and Flint explore some of the critical issues facing urban waterways and their communities.  urban-waterways-newsletter-issue-7

December 12th – La Virgen de Guadalupe

On this day in 1531 the Virgin of Guadalupe was said to have appeared in Mexico to an indigenous man, Juan Diego.

The dark-skinned Guadalupe is often interpreted as a coming together of Spanish and indigenous cultures in Mexico. Her name, Guadalupe is the Spanish pronunciation of the Nahuatl name Coatlaxopeuh, a Mesoamerican fertility goddess. Her appearance to an indigenous man in the New World further rooted Guadalupe to the specificity of this place.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a powerful religious and cultural icon for Mexico and Mexican-Americans. Her green mantle and golden mandala are readily recognizable to people outside of those groups. She is not only a visualization of faith, but also a symbol of nationalism, cultural pride, and resistance for those in Mexico and beyond its national borders.

 

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Of the four areas explored in Gateways/Portales, Mexicans are the dominant Latinx group in Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte. In Washington, D.C. metro area, Mexicans are second to Salvadorans. As a result of Mexican migrations throughout the US and the power of her imagery, Guadalupe appears in various iterations throughout the Gateways/Portales exhibition.

 

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She is representative of Mexico in Cornelio Campos’ autobiographical painting Realidad Norteña in “Social Justice & Civil Rights”.

 

 

 

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She is reimagined as an armed millennial in Rosalia Torres-Weiner’s  Madre Protectora displayed in “Making Home and Constructing Communities”.

 

 

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Displayed beneath Torres-Weiner’s painting is a photograph of the altar dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Baltimore’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.

 

 

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Artist Gabriela Lujan placed a candle emblazoned with the Virgin’s image on the Day of the Dead altar in the “Festival as Community Empowerment” section.

 

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High in the festival portal is an image of a diablo dancer resting on the base of an handmade altar for the Virgin after a performance in Durham, NC on her feast day.

 

 

La Virgin de Guadalupe was declared the patroness for the entire Continental Americas by the Catholic Church in 1945. Though she is most often associated with Mexico and Mexican-American culture, she was not specifically designated as the patroness for Mexico until 2002.  Guadalupe acts as a sort of cultural glue in the U.S., with her imagery and associated ceremonies being transplanted, creating a sense of community and solidarity among her devotees in Mexico and beyond.  December 12th marks the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States!

 

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Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

 

 

written with Elena C. Muñoz, research/curatorial assistant for the Gateways exhibition. 

Blended Families – Gateways and Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Most people know that I am Panamanian. Orgullosamente! Only some people know, however, that my father is Panamanian and my mother is African-American. Interestingly, this did not factor into Gateways until a meeting with Charlotte based artist Nico Amortegui.

Nico, born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, has lived and worked in the United States since the late 1990s. He is quick to say, one of the main reasons he is here and that he lives in Charlotte is his wife and two daughters.

Early in our exhibition stages when I was deciding what the salient themes were and how they would be represented, I met with Nico in his studio.  We discussed some of his recent work, the growing population of Latinx in Charlotte, Latin American vs Latinx, and the restrictive focus on Latin Americans/Latinxs. THAT was the inspiration for his piece in GatewaysHe wanted to create a piece that focused on Latinxs, but one that included space for his wife – who is not Latina- and his children.

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants Nico Amortegui, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants
Nico Amortegui, 2016
Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

When his work was in process I referred to it as “blended families” but Nico’s original piece created for the Gateways exhibition is called An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants.   In his words,

It is based on the fact that when we talk about Latinos we blur out the Americans (United States) that have embrace the Latino culture and have made it part of their life.

This beautiful work is in the “Making Home, Constructing Communities” section of the exhibition, but the message resonates throughout the whole exhibition. When we fight for social justice and civil rights, when we build networks, when we celebrate our communities we do not do this alone. It is never ONLY the Latinx community and it is never only FOR Latinx communities.

This is the story of millions of families in the United States, including mine. So in the spirit of this piece, I say Happy Panamanian Mother’s Day to my mom who has embraced the culture and made it part of our lives. Although my mother is African-American, she has a big Panamanian family is mother to Panamanian children so …

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little me sleeping on my mother in New York

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my mom and me at the Bridging the Americas Opening, 2015

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la familia en Panama, 2009

 

 

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!!! 

 

Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

East of the Anacostia River Takeout Tour

Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.

– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French writer, is credited with being one of the founders of the gastronomic essay. As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us it is worthwhile to think about our own food culture.  A prominent symbol of the season is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, which manifests the wealth of the harvest.

However, in many areas of this country, like D.C.’s wards located east of the Anacostia River, food insecurity is confronted on a daily basis.  One of our most basic human needs, access to healthy, nutritional foods is a foundational ingredient towards total well-being.  Yet, food hardship is a daily reality for many Americans.

We took a brief tour of the east of the Anacostia breadbasket: the takeout restaurants (and a couple sit-down ones too) that have defined eating in Wards 7 & 8.

Wards 7 & 8 do have some sit-down restaurants. Busboys & Poets is moving into historic Anacostia.  Uniontown Bar & Grill has survived an ignominious beginning, to become an engaging spot in the community.  Cheers offers some of the best crabmeat-smothered french fries this side of the Chesapeake Bay. Yet wider access to decent grocery stores and healthy food offerings remains elusive for many residents in D.C.’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.

Local archivist and historian Jerry A. McCoy has collected a few relics from the days when a sit-down restaurant east of the Anacostia was perhaps more commonplace:

Hong Kong Restaurant advertisement. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Hong Kong Restaurant advertisement. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

The Hong Kong Restaurant operated on Nichols Avenue S.E., what is known today as Martin Luther King Jr. Ave S.E.  in Congress Heights, just down the street from the Hong Kong carryout featured in the video. Tucker’s Restaurant, advertisement below, was located just across the Souza Bridge from Capitol Hill.

Tucker's Restaurant, Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Tucker’s Restaurant, Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. Collection of Jerry A. McCoy, Silver Spring, MD

Foodways change as cultural mores do.  As we break bread this Thanksgiving, we might take a moment to reflect on something many of us take for granted, that access to healthy foods in one of the richest countries in the world is not a privilege to be taken lightly.

 

 

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