Many people feel that their voices are not heard and do not carry much weight in society, and so they do not actively participate as citizens. In City of Rhetoric, David Fleming calls for the need for a commonplace. Commonplaces have been used since as far back as Ancient Greece to act as a forum for a community. Though then, Commonplaces were called polis’s. The Greeks emphasized the importance of the polis as a place where everyone could come together to voice their opinions. The polis was both an equalizer and a divider; everyone’s voice was heard who was at the polis. However, the only people who participated were men who owned property and were wealthy. Though the world has only expanded and become more global since then, one thing has not changed: the need for a commonplace (Fleming 25). I will expand upon Fleming’s argument through looking at the rhetoric of the built environment of the Festival Center in Adam’s Morgan.
Every community needs a place of congregation for one reason or another. In Adam’s Morgan, the Festival Center is that place for many different people in the community. The Center is a large building with many rooms and a large amount of space, 19,600 sq. ft to be exact (Festival Center). Within the Festival Center are a small chapel and a Church, as well as various other rooms that you can rent out for events, such as including conferences, Weddings, Birthday parties, and retreats, etc. Access to these spaces allows for communion and celebration. The rental of the space must help contribute money to the upkeep of the place, as well as pay the people who work there.
Although renting space is necessary for profit, how necessary is it? How much profit? In a way, this brings up the same problem the ancient greeks had: socioeconomic status division. People can only utilize the space in the Festival Center if they have money. At the entrance of the Festival Center exists a multitude of flyers, one of which explains the spaces within it. At first, the looks of the flyer are promising: this is a place of community for all. There are many spaces for many different types of activities and events. At a closer look, however, the building is clearly a place that looks to profit from it’s use. The only people who have access to the pricey spaces in the Festival Center are those who have expendable income. The prices of rooms depend on the people who are renting them out. Since rental is through the Church, nonprofit is an option if there is proof through an IRS 501c3 or State Tax Exemption letter. Still, a deposit of $125 is needed if the event has less than 50 people and $250 is needed for more than 50 people. Additional cost per hour for nonprofits is $50, or the 9am to 5pm rate, which is a gaping $500. Questionably, businesses must pay the same rates that nonprofits have to pay for number of people, between $125 and $250. Businesses have the option of paying a rate of $600 from 9am-5pm, which is only $100 more than a non profit has to pay. They must also pay a rate of $75 per additional hour. Weekend rental rates are even more expensive than those formerly mentioned. There are also things such as a kitchen, a microphone, a podium, tables clothes, and a boom box that can be rented for another fee between $25-$50.
The rental rates of the Festival Center are expensive; this begs the questions: how much is the Festival Center actually a place to gather for the community, and how much is the Festival Center a place of business? It seems as though establishments nowadays almost always double as whatever they claim to be, and a business. However, establishments rarely advertise the business aspect. For example, colleges are schools as well as businesses. Additionally, the flyer states that renters are not allowed to charge an entrance fee to attendees. The flyer claims: “The Festival Center has several inviting spaces for rent that can be configured to accommodate your needs”, but what it leaves out is, “but only if you’re wealthy enough to accommodate our needs.”
It seems that documents that are supposed to apply to every person within a society always leave something out in the fine print; there is always a “but.” Examples include, but are not limited to, the Bible and the Constitution of the United States. The Bible preaches love and acceptance, but not for gay people. Originally, the Constitution was written for the equality of all men, but not women or nonwhite men or non-educated men. Thankfully, the Constitution is a living document that is subject to amendments and change, and the Bible is open to interpretation. Food is normally something that is normally up for interpretation, but not at the Festival Center.
Oddly enough, the Center controls the type of food, which is a symbol of unity, that renters serve. The flyer reads: “Food served and or Eaten in the large conference room will be negotiated at the time of rental.” It seems that this could be looked at in a couple of different ways. This may be because there are certain things that may stain floors or that are too messy for the space. This may also be because the Festival Center wants to make sure the restaurants within and around the Adams Morgan area are being supported. Other reasons behind exactly why the Festival Center has a say in the food people eat at their parties remain a mystery.
Open to the community around the Center, as well as newcomers outside of the area, the Chapel within the Festival Center hosts prayer groups every weekday from 12 noon to 12:20 pm. People are encouraged by a small card to: “Come pray in person or leave a written prayer request… All are welcome.” This seems welcoming and inviting. However, what are the reasons that people are not encouraged to come at any other point in the day? The Chapel is small and serene, and a good place to go if people need to pray, but why are people only encouraged to come at a certain point for a certain amount of time? Surely, the Chapel should always be open for people to pray if they need to, for that is that job of a Chapel: to be a built space that people can use if they feel like they need to talk to God or someone else. It is a place where people should feel they are welcome at any time. In conjunction with all being welcome is a bus stop very close by outside the building. Promisingly, the placement of the bus stop, intentional or not, means that the Center is accessible to more people in a relatively easy manner. The door is unlocked in welcoming and there is a ramp outside, so that people with disabilities can access the Church without needing help from anyone else.
Link to a video that briefly shows bus and ramp access.
However, I did not exactly feel welcome as I approached the Festival Center building; I was greeted by blank stares from inside. There was no sense of welcome, there were no smiles, no hands waving me on. I was not sure whether to go inside or not, but I proceeded.
It seems as though religions claim to welcome all to join their faith until people actually want to join. There are often many hoops people need to jump through to become a member of a certain faith. There are at least 3 sacraments you must complete to become an adult member of the Catholic Church and it is extremely hard to become a member of Judaism. Scientology is a whole other story. Was this a display of protection for the community? Why are all welcome and then some met with questions. My identity was not something I thought would matter much in an instance such as this one. That was a rather daft thought, since identity plays a role in everything people do. Perhaps the people within the building sensed that I was an outsider in the community, and so they regarded me suspiciously and with scrutiny. Perhaps the people within the building regarded me with suspicion because they only saw my age and thought I was up to something troublesome, or that I may be lying about why I was there. Perhaps they did not think that these things would play such a large factor in whether or not I could take pictures of inside the building.
When I asked the people I was first met by in the building if I could take pictures of the space, they looked at me oddly and said that I had to wait to ask the Boss. I suppose that must have been a rather strange request on my part. The Boss did not have an issue with my request and told me that he did not mind. Perhaps he thought that a little free publicity for the center and the Church could not hurt. Perhaps the other people I encountered did not want their Center to be taken over by college kids who were not actually members of their community. I stuck to taking pictures of the Chapel as there was a party in the making in one of the rooms nearby. The Chapel was what I thought I was focusing on when I went there, but I realized afterward that the whole Festival Center held more of the community.
It is important to understand a built environment and to think about how it plays a role in the community around it. Commonplaces are important in society because they are places where people can go to discuss the issues or happenings of a community that they belong to. There exists no more efficient way to fully understand the needs of a community than through discussion and the voices of the people that belong to it. No matter the time or place, a space as described above is always necessary. A built environment always affects the community around it, and so a built environment must be created and used properly in order to exercise its full potential.
Festival Center. https://festivalcenter.org/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.
Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. SUNY Press, 2008.