As a transplant living in Washington, D.C. (by way of Pittsburgh, Pa.), I can attest to a foreigner’s urge to experience the cultural heritage of the city. For those who have never visited, it’s hard not to feel this compulsion if for nothing but the fact that most of these experiences are free. It’s like tasting your favorite sweet treat for the first time—the rush of energy, the colors, the sensory immersion—you’re insatiable. It’s a natural part of living in a new environment, wanting to interact with its people and communities.
“I guess everyone was trying to connect with D.C. culture,” said Maliyeah Grant at the Tenleytown Chick Fil A, a popular spot for her American University classmates, no doubt. The Senior from York, Pa. opened up about her gradual involvement in the District’s creative scene running parallel to (and at times intersecting) her collegiate radio career, with Nappy Nappa’s social media acting as her entry point. “ I started listening to him on SoundCloud and following local artists. We started going to events at Uptown Art House and talking to people who aren’t from AU.”
The Art House is actually where I first met Grant. Last spring, she rented the now defunct venue space for WVAU’s annual prom. Just a year following my own graduation, the early-twenty-somethings’ youthful energy was contagious and I became nostalgic of simpler times. I thought about the house parties and DIY shows Rob Stokes encouraged me to see my sophomore year, like MILF and $uicideboy$ on the same bill. I wished my friends and classmates were privy to those untapped worlds so that we could experience them together. Yet, there was Grant looking eerily similar to SZA in her “Love Galore” music video, amplifying that same spirit through her school. Rather than merely being a part of the vibe, this time she was curating it.
Such foundational experiences can have a compounding effect on someone who is eager to support the arts, especially someone like Grant who has university resources and money at her disposal.
“There’s a responsibility when you move somewhere that you’re not from to engage with the community in a positive way. A lot of people come to D.C. and take what they can get out of it, without giving what they have to it,” she said.
Although WVAU is a campus station, the internet network is committed to highlighting locally-based talent, whether that’s playing music on air waves or inviting artists to interviews. It’s about bridging the arts and academic communities to not only expose young people to identities and perspectives they might not have considered before, but also fostering future collaborations. The station’s early 2000s party, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot,’ featured sounds from D.C.-based collective MXDHOUSE while Greenss is slated to offer an exclusive set at AU’s Batelle Atrium in support of Stephn, who is releasing his album Time Before Us with WVAU on February 22.
“Putting funding towards local artists. That’s a big way I like to connect the two [communities],” Grant said.
Other universities could take a page from American, WVAU & Maliyeah’s script. Of course, there are some who already align with this identity. Oberlin College brought a full blow mind-melt to Ohio, booking the Model Home combo of Nappy Nappa & Pat Cain along with Sir E.U and Rob Stokes in December. Treat the arts like any other community outreach program and bring culture to campus. It doesn’t have to be thousands of dollars spent bringing major artists to the quad. Local experiences are relevant to the student experience, plus, they inform the real estate you inhabit.
Photos by Jason Brandon