An excited crowd of students curators, student photographers, parents, and siblings attended the opening of the third annual ‘Everyday DC’ photo exhibition at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
‘Everyday DC’ is a visual arts unit designed by Pulitzer Center and DC Public Schools to expose middle school students to photojournalism and highlight the everyday experiences of DC residents. Hundreds of students from 15 DCPS middle schools took photos of their surrounding areas as part of the unit to capture the breadth of life in DC and dispel pervasive misrepresentations of what the city is like. A selection of photographs was then chosen by a committee of seven student curators from Jefferson Academy Middle School who designed the final display at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery.
The curators organized the photographs into a variety of themes. One wall featured a collection of graffiti art, itself a reflection of the artistic creativity of local residents. Another showed the natural beauty of DC; another Tenleytown; another residential housing. While discussing the wall he curated, Jaziah, a seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School, said that “every wall is meant to tell a story. We’re trying to tell the good parts of DC and not just the bad.”
‘Everyday DC’ was directly inspired by the viral Instagram feed ‘Everyday Africa,’ the brainchild of Pulitzer Center grantees Austin Merrill and Peter DiCampo. With 'Everyday Africa,' Merrill and DiCampo sought to use photographs of ordinary life in Africa to tell a different story than what is usually presented in the media—the one of a monolithic continent ravaged by civil war, malnutrition, and economic deprivation. Merrill described the founding of 'Everyday Africa' in opening remarks at the 'Everyday DC' opening. “We realized the story we were building was more of the same. More poverty, more conflict, more hardship,” he said. Merrill continued to say that he recognized the importance of the issues on which he initially went to Africa to report, but he also appreciated that “life was pretty normal for most of the people most of the time” and wanted to share that side of the story.
Washington DC is generally depicted as the center of political activity, with little else to do and see outside a few select tourist destinations. “DC in the media is all about government, politics, museums, and monuments,” Constance, a seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School, remarked. “That’s not what I see in my everyday life, and I live here!”
Like ‘Everyday Africa,’ the purpose of ‘Everyday DC’ is to challenge the established narrative of the city and highlight what ordinary people experience on a daily basis. "We want to encourage you to compare the images you see on the walls to the images most people see in the media," said student curator Morgan Shirley as part of the exhibition's opening remarks. "We want you to ask yourself, 'What stories are we telling through our photographs? How can you use the images in this exhibit to begin to question what you’re being shown in the media, and how the images we chose to show change your perception about what it means to be a part of DC, everyday?"
The event’s success over the past three years is a testament not only to the students’ work, but also to their journalistic ability to broadcast their lives through photography. One parent commented that “I’m really proud…I think they do a really good job showing that DC isn’t like what they portray in the news.”
‘Everyday DC’ was on display at Pepco Gallery until Wednesday, March 20, 2019. For more information about the 2017 and 2018 exhibitions, and to access the free Everyday DC curriculum, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The "Everyday DC unit and exhibition are supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition space is generously donated by the Pepco Edison Place Gallery.