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U Street Funk Parade Showcases Spirit

U Street’s annual one-of-a-kind celebration returned with a fair, parade and music festival.

The 2016 Funk Parade stormed through the historic corridor on Saturday, May 7, with new art installations and activations, performances and an estimated 70,000 participants.

“The city is at a turning point in so many ways. Funk Parade brought together artists, musicians, and technologists to explore that,” Justin Rood, co-founder of Funk Parade, said.

“These artists have created amazing projects which bring together the city’s past and future, bring together its sounds, and bring the residents themselves together in new ways.”

A few years back, Rood had a dream of bringing what is now the Funk Parade to U Street. In 2013, he partnered with Chris Naoum of Listen Local First, summoning dozens of local businesses, nonprofits and community leaders to bring the idea to life.

In 2014, the first Funk Parade took place with over 25,000 Washingtonians participating. The next year, attendance doubled to 50,000 participants.

One of the features for the parade this year was “Birth of a City,” a curated and choreographed roller-skating activation and performance by D.C. artist Holly Bass.

This presentation honored the art form and popular pastime of the 1970s and early ’80s.

“Roller skating is just as much a part of D.C. culture as Hand Dancing and going to the Go-Go,” Bass said. “In the ’70s and ’80s, people would grab their skates and meet at the many roller rinks around the city.”

For the Funk Parade, Bass organized a public skate jam at Harrison Recreation Center in Northwest in the basketball court area.

“The rinks are gone, but the skaters are still doing their thing in Anacostia and out in Maryland. Hosting the skate jam and

after show is our way of shining a light on the amazing talent of style skaters in the city.”

Parade participants got to experience “Oral Histories/Oral Futures,” which consisted of an array of telephone booth-like enclosures in public areas throughout the U Street neighborhood.

Each booth contained a phone that dialed up an oral history from the neighborhood or a story about a possible future.

The project came about as a collaboration by several D.C.-based artists.

Seshat Walker curated oral histories from D.C. Public Library’s archive, and Erik Moe and the Future Cartographic Society crafted oral futures.

Upon traveling the parade route and hearing the different stories, participants were asked to consider what they would tell the past and what they would tell the future. They also got to record short messages in the booth that will be given to D.C. Public Library’s Funk Parade Archives.

“Engaging attendees in the day’s experiences has always been central to the event,” Rood said. “This isn’t a spectacle to watch; it’s a celebration to join.”

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