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/

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.

 

 

The Miss Senior DC 2016 Pageant

We had the pleasure of attending the Ms. Senior DC pageant earlier this summer.  The pageant featured several of Ward 7 & 8 neighbors, including Miss Congress Heights, Elvera Patrick, who received the title of Miss Congeniality for her efforts with this pageant. Below we present a highlight reel of some of our favorite moments.

 

Artist Theaster Gates at the Hirshhorn Museum

Internationally recognized artist Theaster Gates, whose work embraces the plastic arts, performance, archives and the built environment, was in town for a presentation at the Hirshhorn Museum in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture.

September 14, 2016 - Artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Artist Theaster Gates performs at the Hirshhorn Museum for ArtLab students September 14, 2016.

He kindly agreed to a performance for the Hirshhorn’s ArtLab students and featuring his colleagues the Black Monks of Mississippi and members of the Howard University track team.  The performance was entirely improvised in the moment.

After the performance Gates and his colleagues convened in the ArtLab to discuss creativity, collegiality and process.  Members of the Anacostia Community Museum’s Youth Advisory Board were on hand to experience this opportunity to be inspired by a living artist working on creative placemaking in the same community in which he grew up and lives today.

September 14, 2016 - A Howard University track athlete is part of the performance of artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi who presented at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A Howard University track athlete is part of the performance of artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi who presented at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates’ presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture.

September 14, 2016 - Hirshhorn Museum Museum and Sculpture Garden Director Melissa Chiu (center) chats with Anacostia Community Museum Board Chair Bennie Johnson and Anacostia Community Museum Director Lori Yarrish prior to a presentation by the artist Theaster Gates. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Hirshhorn Museum Museum and Sculpture Garden Director Melissa Chiu (center) chats with Anacostia Community Museum Board Chair Bennie Johnson left, and Anacostia Community Museum Director Lori Parrish, right, prior to a presentation by the artist Theaster Gates.

September 14, 2016 - Local students listen to artist Theaster Gates talk about his work. He and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Local students listen to artist Theaster Gates talk about his work. 

September 14, 2016 - Artist Theaster Gates associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Theaster Gates’ associates, the Black Monks of Mississippi, speak before the students of the Hirshhorn Museum’s ArtLab.

September 14, 2016 - A student from Thurgood Marshall Academy in southeast Washington shows her artwork to artist Theaster Gates. He and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A student from Thurgood Marshall Academy in southeast Washington shows her artwork to artist Theaster Gates.

Women Photographers of Washington Presentation at the Anacostia Community Museum

The Anacostia Community Museum seeks to be a gathering place for important conversations pertaining to urban communities. We devise our public programming and community forums with this goal in mind.  This Sunday, September 18, we were pleased to present the work of two local photographers, Becky Harlan and Gabriela Bulisova, both members of the 501C3 non-profit, Women Photojournalists of Washington.  Harlan and Bulisova have both been working for many years on the projects they presented.

Women Photojournalist of Washington member Becky Harlan presents her work on the Anacostia River to a full house at the Anacostia Community Museum on Sunday September 18, 2016.

WPOW Member Becky Harlan shares work from her project on the Anacostia River.

Harlan’s project “D.C.’s Anacostia River” looks at the history of the Anacostia, from fertile native American fishing ground, to its status as a polluted river, the river keepers who take it upon themselves to maintain a better tributary, and the communities that have formed around the river. Below is a frame taken from her project, more work can be seen on her website here:

Photographer Becky Harlan's work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Photographer Becky Harlan’s work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Gabriela Bulisova’s work Inside Outside and Convictions examines the lives of returning citizens, the formerly incarcerated, and the families left behind.  According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest percentage of incarcerated people in its population in the world.  Bulisova spent time getting to know returning citizen groups and the families of the incarcerated, making still photographs and short movies to record their experiences.  She shared with us several short films which are accessible below and by going to Bulisova’s website here.

Photographer Gabriela Bulisova shares her work on returning citizens in Washington, DC at the Anacostia Community Museum Sunday September 18, 2016.

The discussion following the presentations was informed by the presence of several of the returning citizens with whom Bulisova has worked on her projects.  They spoke to the administrative limbo many incarcerated DC citizens find themselves in because they are beholden to the laws of the federal system, even as in many states, sentences for many crimes, especially non-violent ones are being commuted or cut short.  Because DC is not a state, prisoners find themselves trapped in a federal purgatory where  they are literally stateless citizens.

The opportunity to hear an artist discuss her work will always further your understanding of the project.  We are pleased at the Anacostia Community Museum to bring these conversations to you and hope you will join us in adding your voice to our community.

Summer Mornings of Fun at the Anacostia Community Museum

This summer from July 5- July 29, Anacostia Community Museum held a series of free arts-integrated half-day programs for seven to ten year old children in the community. The students took part in daily yoga classes, science-based nature tours of the George Washington Carver Trail, art-making, swimming and field trips to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s IMAX theatre.
Performance

Summer Academy program ended for the season on July 29 with a series of poetic performances created by the students and special guests for their families and the community. Summer Academy students worked with educators Johari Griffith, Obika Griffith and Cheryl Rider to create a protest poem entitled Revolution inspired by the music of Beyoncé and fueled by the theme of protest featured in the exhibition the Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington (1963-1975). The performance was choreographed by the Summer Academy’s artist-in-residence Erica Chamblee, actress, dancer and visual artist.

After the performance in the museum, the program concluded on the park grounds of the museum with special guests, Dr. Ray Charles Lockamy, of the Cherokee Nation, and his horse Wind Walker provided to the program by ACM Security Chief Lt. Marvin Dorsey. Dr. Lockamy taught the children about caring for horses, the particular importance of getting a good education and staying in school for African Americans. Students even got a chance to ride Wind Walker and for many of them this was their first time riding a horse. DC Retro Jumpers ended the day with free 60s-style double-dutch lessons for all the children and their families.
Parents were all pleased with the summer programs at the museum and replied the children really enjoyed the program. Thank You. A special thank you goes out to Sarah Turner for creating this video documentary of the Summer Academy Community Open House.

Anacostia Community Museum Academy Performance this Friday July 29, 2016

The Anacostia Community Museum would like to invite you to an end of summer performance by our Museum Academy. I stopped by rehearsal today and got a sneak preview of what you can expect to see:

 

 

Please join us!

July 29, 2016 from 10-12:30

at the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room

1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, DC 20020

As always there is free parking!

The Anacostia Community Museum Academy Summer Practice: Yoga

Designed to enhance reading, research skills, creative ability, and social and intellectual development, the Museum Academy is a cultural arts enrichment program for youth ages seven to eleven in collaboration with schools in the southeast neighborhoods of Washington, DC.  I was delighted to stroll through our gallery and program room and find the students engaged in yoga practice this week, during the school year the Museum Academy is located in our partner schools.  This summer has offered a nice change as our students are coming to the museum on a daily basis to attend our program and they offer me a good reminder to get on the mat.

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

East of the River Artist Amber Robles Gordon

Artist Amber Robles Gordon creates art from recycled materials and fiber. She sat down with the Anacostia Community Museum to discuss her practice and craft.

Urban Waterways Research Trip: Bayou la Batre, Alabama

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson with friends and supporters at the site of his former oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson with friends and supporters at the site of his former oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution.

The last stop on our Gulf Coast tour was the historic town of Bayou La Batre, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump.  Here local activist and former 3rd generation shrimper Paul Nelson leads efforts to improve services for the town which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina when the highest storm surge ever recorded in the area (16 ft), and then again by the BP oil spill, 5 years later.

Mr. Nelson had a prosperous oyster business back in 2005, and a processing plant, the foundation of which is pictured below.  No stranger to rebuilding a business, Mr. Nelson restarted his fishing business as a younger man after another disaster, but says of this time, “I am too old to begin again.” Now, the foundation of his oyster processing plant is a home to an RV and trailer, which provide permanent housing for Mr. Nelson’s relatives, 10 years after Katrina first made shore.

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - The concrete foundation is all that remains of fisherman Paul Nelson's oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The concrete foundation is all that remains of fisherman Paul Nelson’s oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama, showing us a new waste treatment plant that the local government had built.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The Gulf Coast shoreline of Bayou La Batre, where vacation homes were rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – An ante-bellum home which was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it is situated on the Gulf Coast road in Bayou La Batre.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - A home abandoned since Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – A home abandoned since Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

We stopped at the local cemetery, where Mr. Nelson’s own stepson is buried. He died at the age of 28 of an unknown health issue.  Mr. Nelson has been active in advocating for the disbursement of Katrina/BP funds to help with the health issues he reports all around the Bayou La Batre – Coden communities.  He has written passionately on behalf of his family and neighbors, detailing the continuing travails in the community.  In a December 2010 letter submitted to ehumanrights.org, he writes:

Coden has never seen so many people pass away in such a short time. My neighbor Delaphine Barber, age 75 lost her home and died from a heart attack about a year after Katrina. Other neighbors who died, trying to survive in the [formaldehyde emitting] FEMA campers, and hoping to see their homes rebuilt were: Sally Dismukes, age 72, died of a heart attack; Tommy Barbour age 56, died of lung cancer; Michael Goleman, age 36 father of two teenage daughters, suicide; Shirley Clark, age 65, complications from a staph infection; Randy Hall, age 45, lung cancer; Nancy Maples, age 57. Most have spouses or children who are still hoping to see their family homes rebuilt. My mother Hilda Nelson died after living in a FEMA camper over a year and hoping for assistance to rebuild the family that never came…

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - The cemetery serving Coden and Bayou La Batre Alabama. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The grave of Mr. Kevin Dewayne Craft, Mr. Nelson’s stepson, who died of an unknown health ailment in 2013 at the age of 28.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Mr. Nelson locates many of the community’s health problems to after an oil dispersant was sprayed over the Gulf Coast shores in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. The dispersant was meant to put the oil on top of the water at the bottom of the ocean.

Today Mr. Nelson continues to advocate on behalf of his beloved Bayou La Batre.  The first day we went to see him Mr. Nelson never showed up.  He was in the hospital dealing with complications from diabetes and blood clots.  Despite his illness, Mr. Nelson insisted we come back the next day, finishing the tour in his modest pre-fabricated home, where Urban Waterways researcher interviewed him for several hours.

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Local activist Paul Nelson gives an interview in the trailer that serves as his home after his home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Local activist Paul Nelson gives an interview in the trailer that serves as his home after his home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - A vignette in the home of Paul Nelson. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – A vignette in the home of Paul Nelson.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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The Gulf Coast seen from Bayou La Batre, the setting for the movie, Forrest Gump. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Museum/Smithsonian Institution

All the interviews and audio we collected our available by making an appointment with the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.  We encourage you to visit our archives and use our research for your own studies.

 

 

 

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