Arts Desk

Inaugural Ballers: No Kings Collective Teams Up With New America Foundation

The No Kings Collective earned its fair share of media attention in 2012. The fancy-fly art-event consultancy was featured in at least two of the City Paper's year-end Annotated Guide stories (on curators and DIY), and the Washington Post Magazine profiled founders Brandon Hill and Peter Chang back in October. It would appear that the No Kings Collective intends to stay relevant in 2013. The first item on the agenda: ... co-hosting an inaugural ball with the New America Foundation?

That event is M Central, a weekend-long civic and arts festival, plus an inaugural ball, which amounts to an improbable collaboration between the left-leaning think tank and No Kings Collective. The thing bringing them together is the Millennial Trains Project, a nonprofit organization founded by former JP Morgan investment banker Patrick Dowd that plans to send millennials cross-country, by rail, on a whistle-stop tour to spur innovation.

Dowd says that M Central got its start when he noted one big difference between events scheduled for next week's inauguration and the last time President Barack Obama was elected: There's no Inaugural Youth Ball for 2013. (Not to be confused with another 2009 so-called "youth ball," the 51st State Inaugural Ball, which former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr. supported in a kickback scheme that helped to land him with felony charges at the beginning of 2012.) Dowd says that M Central will serve as a missing inaugural event for the youngs, but moreover, as a place for them to work and connect throughout the weekend before inaugural festivities.

"One thing that idea factories in town don't get right is the visual communication of their ideas. These are people publishing white papers all day, all the time, but they don’t really catch on with young people," Dowd says. Instead, M Central hopes to connect two disparate crowds around a central message: namely, connecting young people in a social atmosphere. "You don't see Brookings or the Carnegie Endowment doing things outside their own office or the Capitol Hilton."

So why the New America Foundation? Dowd names Marvin Ammori, a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, as a principal inspiration for the event. Dowd figures Ammori as a freedom fighter in the argument over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate—two bills that galvanized Internet communities.

Be that as it may, SOPA/PIPA was not necessarily a topic on the lips of people who attended Submerge, a multiday arts-ish festival that attracted several thousand people to H Street NE in October for street art, DJs, and other performances. But Dowd says that No Kings had lent his organization a space on H Street NE for a separate Millennial Trains event, and he had the opportunity to see what they had done with Submerge. He says that he simply asked them if they were interested in partnering up for the inauguration, and according to Dowd, No Kings said yes.

The Huffington Post reports that Dowd was inspired to put millennials on trains in the first place by a similar cross-country rail trip he took across India for a Fulbright scholarship. Fittingly, perhaps, one of the first events to take place at Millennial Base Camp over inauguration weekend—at 700 H Street NE—is a gallery opening featuring civic- and train-themed art that No Kings Collective is said to be curating. That's the Friday feature. Neither Chang nor Hill responded to requests for comment on how trains intersect with art, but the participating artists in the "Americana x Trains" event appear to be a typical grab-bag of D.C. artists with a strong leaning toward the street-art set, with Tim Conlon, Kelly Towles, Trevor Young, Billy Colbert, and Gregg Deal among them.

Saturday will be dedicated to an all-day New America Foundation series, the "Millennial Ideas Forum." New America Foundation fellow Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, will give the keynote—perhaps the first-ever keynote address delivered in a pop-up gallery. Participants in the day's panels, which are largely organized around themes of youth and technology, include White House young Americans liaison Ronnie Cho and USAID director of policy Steven Feldstein. It wouldn't be a millennials event without a representative from Uber, so co-founder Oscar Salazar will give a talk on "disruption," a 2012 buzzword that has unfortunately carried over into the New Year. Perhaps classical pianist Berenika Zakrzewski, who will be on hand on Saturday, will make up for that.

Then there's the youth ball on Saturday night. Seventy-five dollars gets attendees a convert from the excellent Brass Connection, whom anyone can see playing outside the Gallery Place Metro station for free, as well as Oddisee, a show worth the price alone. The Funk Ark is also performing, and Los Angeles' Mayer Hawthorne will DJ a set.

Who draws the bigger crowd, No Kings or New America?

"I think they bring in pretty different audiences," Dowd says, hedging that there's an intersection to be found between DIY and NAF. "They have loyal followings in their own spheres."

The original version of this post misspelled Billy Colbert's name. It has been corrected.

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