Travel Log – Washington DC – April 2023
The last time I was in Washington, DC, was March 8-12, 2020. Mike Williams and I had joined the Mayor of Jackson in the nation’s capital for a series of meetings I had set up with our federal elected officials to discuss the Planetarium. During this time, the country began to formally go under lockdown.
Given my new role and a recent wonderful info session that Senator Hyde-Smith’s office set up with the NEA and NEH for Mississippians, I decided it was a great opportunity to reconnect with many of the staffers in D.C. and make new connections with Americans for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and others. It was the Monday after Easter weekend, and my family was driving back into town from a weekend in Dallas, giving me 2 hours to unpack, repack and head to the airport. Flying to the Atlanta airport is always a treat because if you walk between Terminals A & B, you’ll experience a delightful light display that transforms the otherwise long and dull tunnel into a colorful rainforest. Walking back through DCA – Reagan International Airport was a surreal feeling, as it was a ghost town the last time I saw it in person.
The first morning, I headed just one block over to Americans for the Arts headquarters. I had connected with several staffers at AFTA already – including President and CEO Nolen Bivens when he graciously joined us to support our Arts Day at the Capitol event in early March. But visiting D.C. was the perfect opportunity to make additional face-to-face connections. Daniel Fitzmaurice orchestrated the meeting. We met with Mital, Genna, Marete, Betsy, Mandi, Leticia, and Theresa. During our discussion, we discussed what MAC does and how AFTA can help us tell the stories of the amazing work being done in our great state. They were so inspired by the stories I shared about the people and places I had been visiting across our state.
After the meeting, I had a nice window before my next appointment, so I decided to connect with a friend who had just moved to Washington, D.C., earlier that week. I hopped on a Lime scooter and meandered his way. We both made our way down to The Wharf, a remarkable example of mixed-used development along a riverfront – if you are ever in the area, check it out. Along the way, we hunted down some of the final cherry blossoms in bloom. We then headed towards the National Mall to the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art to take in the Yayoi Kusama exhibit. I had heard that Les Miserables was starting a run at the Kennedy Center and decided to stop by and try to snag day-of tickets. When I saw the line was over one hundred people long, I bailed but decided to explore the center. I found my way to the top floor – which I had no idea existed – and found an exhibition on Kennedy and his work in the arts. It was such an unexpected treat of the day.
The next day was a blitz of meetings. The morning started with a great meeting with Christopher Miller – a theatre grad from Ole Miss who is on staff in Senator Hyde-Smith’s office. Christopher was the person who had set up the info session with the NEA and NEH, which was so wonderful. Afterward, I met with Semaj Reed in Congressman Kelly’s office. Between meetings, I needed a place to stop, take notes, and write thank-you notes. I came upon the always lovely U.S. Botanical Gardens, outside the entrance of which were a few tables and chairs with umbrellas. This is now my favorite hidden spot in D.C. – so don’t tell anyone. After a break for lunch at Pearl’s Bagel and a quick reset, I headed to meet with Elizabeth Joseph and Milton Robinson in Congressman Guest’s office, followed by Mikhail Love in Senator Wicker’s office. It was great to connect and reconnect with these staffers, who interact with Mississippians daily, and I deeply appreciate them taking the time to meet with me. I ended the day of meetings with a wonderful sit-down with Lara and Michael from the National Endowment for the Arts. We talked about Rolling Fork, Poetry Out Loud, our upcoming State Arts Conference, and ways to connect Mississippians to NEA grant opportunities. I have appreciated the welcoming spirit, ready-to-help posture, and listening ears of everyone I met in D.C. I am certain we will be able to help Mississippians accomplish so much in the arts.
The trip ended with a lovely dinner outside in the street at All Day by Kramers near Dupont Circle with some dear friends that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I met up with Stephen outside the hospital where he works, and we strolled over to the circle to meet Marianna and their daughters. I have always been and will always be a fan of walking in cities with others. It’s a space that I find to be so conducive to uninterrupted catch-up and deep conversation. You have a direction or destination you are heading to, and while you might have to check your phone once or twice to ensure you are heading in the right direction, you are mostly just walking and talking. I truly treasure that time, and it was so nice to have that with friends during this trip.
Revisiting a place you’ve been to many times but only to return after a long period of time can be such a reviving experience. Remembering places, reconnecting, and picking right back up with people, and finding the new within it all – rejuvenates me. I felt this during my trip to Washington, D.C.
I look forward to many return visits to continue building these relationships and ensuring that our elected officials connect to the remarkable work of the arts in our creative state of Mississippi.
Next trip: Newton and Decatur