Washington DC is full of many attractions, historical landmarks and fun site of entertainment. In fact, the nation’s capital is home to one of the most well known sites of entertainment, affectionately referred to as “The Jewel on U” or The Lincoln Theatre. Anyone not familiar with the Washington DC area such as a tourist is going to want to take to the internet to look up fun and entertaining things to do while they are in the nation’s capital. The Lincoln Theatre’s website uncovers the the type of entertainment that would attract a tourist or a newer resident of Washington DC. The Lincoln Theatre’s website displays all of the upcoming events and performances booked at the venue for the remainder of the year. This essay aims to analyze and consolidate what the website is displaying in comparison to what the Lincoln Theatre is and once was, whom the website is trying to attract, and lastly what this means for a person viewing the website.
The Lincoln Theatre is not only a long standing staple of U Street it is a long standing staple of Washington DC; because of this, the changes that this theatre undergoes have been reflective of the changes going on in Washington DC as a whole. When one goes on Lincoln Theatre’s website, the viewer is met with a warm inviting color tone of a background. The navigation menu displays contact information and information about how to get to the venue and then a scheduled list of plays, acts, and performances taking place in the upcoming weeks. “Lincoln Theatre” is posted at the very top of the webpage in a white, classic style font that matches the regality of the physical structure itself. Immediately under the navigation bar is the running list of acts coming up in the next days, weeks and months.
In my observations, I noticed every single one of the acts that are posted on the face of the Lincoln Theatre website up until December 5th of this year are white people. There are actors, comedians, musicians and other artists scheduled to perform, yet, every single of them are white. This pattern quickly stuck out to me because the Lincoln Theatre, a huge part of history of a jazz music and black culture has been standing on the corner of 1215 U Street Northwest, Washington DC since 1922. The greatest of musicians and artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday performed at this every location. This theatre historically, was home of performance to many black artists and invited people to celebrate black art. Looking at the Lincoln Theatre website site homepage today, this rich history of African American artists and musicians, is not only not reflected, but it is nowhere to be found.
In the past years, the Lincoln Theatre reflected what Harlem looked like many years ago for black artists: it was lively and proud. Although U Street as a whole hasn’t been gentrified much like the majority of Washington DC, one of the biggest staples of this street, The Lincoln Theatre, has been gentrified immensely. I wonder how is it that one of the blackest areas of Washington DC that host right in the very center of it an iconic building that is now everything but a celebration of blackness? Anyone that is new or unfamiliar with the Washington DC area that went to the Lincoln Theatre website to get an idea about exactly what this historic place was about would have no idea of the beautiful, rich and important significance this theatre had to black culture and black people as a whole. Overtime, a space for black art and the support of black young and thriving artist had now changed into a place for young up and coming white artists and that in itself to me is disappointing given that fact that U street is a staple of black culture and this theatre means so much to the black community.
Ironically enough, after going through The Lincoln Theatre’s website today there’s a tab under the “Venue”option about the history of the venue and they insert a short statement about the history of the theatre and they name the famous black musicians that used to perform there when the theatre was first opened. In the history of the venue description of the website is the only part of the website where I saw not just black people but people of color at all. The theatre’s website barely featuring any people of color is beyond bothersome because a venue that was initially built as a haven and space for black artists has now turned into a place that is a common space for white people much like the rest of Washington DC. Looking through the Lincoln Theatre website reminds that people love black culture, but not black people. It’s easy to love something that seems fun and entertaining but this country never truly loved black people, simply only what black people produce; this is exactly what happened with the Lincoln Theatre on U Street . U Street is one of the blackest places in Washington DC, but I’ve also noticed that its “trendy” its the new place for people to go hang out, eat, and observe “culture” and be entertained but of course the biggest entertainment draw on U Street, that been turn into a theatre that is primarily white and only host white artist because its about the culture, the draw and the trend of being on U Street that is “cool” it was never about the people because if it was, the Lincoln Theatre would have black people still performing and doing shows there.
One of the possible reasons for this drastic change in culture of the Lincoln Theatre could be due to the change in management. A company called I.M.P Production is the parent company of the Lincoln Theatre and has been the parent company since June of 2013. I.M. P Productions is owned by Seth Hurwtiz and Richard Heinecke, they started the private entertainment company years ago. When interviewed by Billboard Music Magazine, Seth Hurwtiz was asked about the appeal of the various venues that he and Heinecke owns and he gave the following response, “Our strategy with all our venues is make them so good that artists feel that’s where they have to play. That’s our strength.” (Billboard Magazine).
The term “good” is relative to Hurwtiz’s perspective and I have to wonder in his eyes what exactly does he mean by “good,”. Perhaps Hurwitz means “good” in a sense of making it appealing to the exact audience he wants to attract to the area, but I question if it has to be at the unfortunate cost of the historical prominence artists of color fading away? In this analysis its important to also ask whom sees it as “good” the local people living on Ustreet or people from out of town looking to perform there or see a show at Lincoln theatre.
In terms of how ownership of The Lincoln Theatre came about, Seth Hurtwitz was granted ownership of the theatre in 2013, through a bidding process governed by the then -mayor, Vincent C Gray and the Department of General Services.
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) saw the need to develop a plan that invested in the longevity of the theater, “The DCCAH’s primary role was to continue operating the theatre while developing a sustainable long-term business strategy for the theatre” (dgs.dc.gov). The Commission received a few Letters of Intent to include Hurwitz’s; the decision of ownership was based upon “economic terms”, “vision” and “business model”. After a secondary deliberation between the Commission, Mayor Gray, and The Department of General Services, Hurtwitz of I.M.P Productions, was selected as the new operator of The Lincoln Theatre. In the announcement of the theater’s new operator Mayor Gray stated, “I’m delighted that we can now move forward with I.M.P and being revitalizing this immense cultural asset”.The Mayor and the DC Commission saw as a need for “revitalization” of the theatre in the same way other political officials saw a need for “revitalization” of many other parts of DC as well. The changes in operator and changes of the theatre as a whole is just a reflection of the same change going on around the entire District.
I won’t say that I am surprised that this has happened but I am without a doubt disappointed because this country has a habit of taking things away from black people, whether it is music, culture, fashion styles, space, or simple freedom. The taking, stealing and reclaiming of black culture and turning it into something other than that is nothing new but still hurts the community time and time again. Then we get places like the Lincoln Theatre website that barely have a trace of the true history of the theatre displayed.
This website is evidently trying to draw to a very specific crowd of people and entertainment. There are no superstars such as Taylor Swift and the Zac Brown band scheduled to perform but more specifically, young, and up and coming and white artists that make alternative music such as Stephin Merritt, performing later next week or Yann Tiersen scheduled to perform at the theatre in December. After being under new management it is evident that the Lincoln Theatre is also trying to appeal to a specific group of people, that do not necessarily reflect those people that live on U Street, which has gone from 52% black, 35% white, and 13% other races to present day, 60% white, 24% black and and 16% other races (Statistical Atlas). Despite the location; the target audience is apparent based upon the website in comparison to what the theatre was initially constructed for.
Another noticeable part of the website is the social media insertions, on the face of the website to the right it says “Join our emailing list” , “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter” with the respective icons for each social media platform. This social media segment of the website is in an even bigger font than the theatre’s phone number and address; this displays the urgency to keep up with the times and heighten their social media presents on the interwebs to attract a younger, more tech friendly audience that is constantly on social media. Additionally, being the powerhouse company that I.M.P. Productions is, it owns more than one venue in the area, not just the Lincoln Theatre; so I can can understand one’s initial confusion logging on the the Lincoln Theatre website and seeing on the left side of the screen, ads and promotion for two completely different venues. On the Lincoln Theatre’s website there are ads posted of shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion and the 9:30 Club, two other concert and live performance venues. I.M.P owns all three venues. The Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland is a giant concert venue that has indoor and outdoor seating and host large festivals such as DC’s Trillectro, every year. The 9:30 Club formally known as Nightclub 9:30 was opened in 1980 and then relocated in 1996 to its present location, on U Street about two blocks from the Lincoln Theatre.
On the Lincoln Theatre’s website a viewer can see that the website is designed to grab the attention of a younger, whiter audience than the theatre’s historical talent and audience has once reflected. The website is designed in a way that appears to be holding onto the the classic look of the theatre’s ambience but still trying to remain relevant through various social media platforms and promotion of other concert venues in the area. The website as a whole is reflective of the acts that perform at the Lincoln Theatre today as well as the ownership of the theatre. A person discovering the Lincoln Theatre for the first time and looking at the website, will see a new, modern, less diverse, and classy place to enjoy entertainment rather than the culture filled, fun, celebration of black culture and talent that the Lincoln Theatre once was. It must be acknowledged and addressed when there begins to be a recurring habit of erasing a certain history and at what point does that mean the certain person or people that created that history are erased too? This is the Lincoln Theatre’s website of today, an eraser of what the theatre once was and a display of what it is becoming, a mirror of a “revitalized” Washington DC.
Gensler, Andy. “9:30 Club’s I.M.P. Announces New $60 Mil. Washington D.C. Venue: The Anthem.” Billboard Magazine, 24 Jan. 2017, www.billboard.com/articles/business/7668937/930-clubs-imp-announces-new-60-mil-washington-dc-venue-the-anthem. Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.
“History.” The Lincoln Theatre, www.thelincolndc.com/history/. Accessed 28 March 2017.
“Mayor Vincent C. Gray Announces the Winning Bid for the Historic Lincoln Theatre” | Dgs, DC.gov, 27 June 2013, dgs.dc.gov/release/mayor-vincent-c-gray-announces-winning-bid-historic-lincoln. Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
“Race and Ethnicity in U Street Corridor, Washington, District of Columbia (Neighborhood).” Race and Ethnicity in U Street Corridor, Washington, District of Columbia (Neighborhood) – Statistical Atlas, US Census Bureau, www.statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/District-of-Columbia/Washington/U-Street-Corridor/Race-and-Ethnicity. Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
“The Lincoln Theatre.” The Lincoln Theatre, www.thelincolndc.com/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.