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Pop-Ups Endearingly ephemeral cultural spaces—or malicious symbols of economic peril?

In the realm of arty urbanism, few terms have grated so hard in recent years as “pop-up.” Writers at New York and the New York Times took their objections to print this summer, but they should actually count themselves lucky: Nowhere are pop-ups more awful than in D.C. This year, the District’s popageddon built on 2009’s Target pop-up shop and 2010’s National Journal pop-up shop to include a Cherry Blossom Festival pop-up shop and a José Andrés pop-up restaurant selling $10 (later reduced to $8) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (see page TK). Terms like “bazaar” and “sidewalk sale” weren’t good enough for art galleries and business improvement districts; everything had to be a pop-up. At the same time, pop-ups started showing some value. The city’s Temporium initiative funded ephemeral retail spaces in Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon Square that were well-curated and imaginatively programmed.

What makes pop-ups so irksome is that they often pair a transgressive idea—filling a neglected space with something ostensibly unapproved or unexpected—with a much lamer reality, usually complete with jargony press releases. A pop-up whose proprietors actually disavowed the term captured the absolute best and the worst of the concept. Brightest Young Things’ "vitaminwater uncapped LIVE" venue felt ickily corporate, thanks to its onslaught of graffitied logos and a disclaimer that by entering the space you agreed to appear in advertisements for the beverage. On the other hand, it was free or at least cheap most nights, and the 14th Street NW space became a temporary home for lots of local outsider art. (One concert was sponsored by Shark Week, the Discovery Channel event, and featured music from Shark Week, a pretty talented local indie-rock group.) As long as the content’s good, there should be more of this, however it’s paid for. Call it whatever.

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