It’s rare for something to perfectly inhabit the center space of a Venn diagram of our interests — or at least, we thought, until we stumbled upon Distrikt. Distrikt is the web and print(!) project spearheaded by local cool-girl Ayana Zaire. A current student at University of Maryland, Zaire took it largely upon herself to examine DC’s creative class problem — namely the mass migration of cool, talented people away from the city.
Distrikt, Zaire’s zine can be considered her thesis — and exception to the rule. Through her beautifully designed and photographed (and interviewed and …) zine, Zaire and her team of collaborators and contributors both highlight the issues that DC has long struggled with in supporting creative talent — and also put a well-deserved spotlight on DC’s coolest who don’t get more mainstream media coverage.
We took the opportunity to chat with Zaire about her take on DC’s creative class, what she found most difficult about putting together a zine and what her ideal day in the city looks like.
What is Distrikt?
Distrikt is a quarterly zine showcasing the style, art, and culture of the young creative community in the DC metro area.
When did you start it?
I came up with the idea is September and I started making plans with a couple friends to push the zine out by October.
How long did it take you to put the zine together?
It actually ended up taking us 3 months from start to finish. Our first issue launched in December. To my surprise, gathering content wasn’t even the longest part. The editing, designing, and the whole printing process was the most time consuming. Initially, I wanted it to be a monthly thing, but once I realized how much time and money went into the issue we decided to make it quarterly.
I also have to shout out my amazing friends Ari Melenciano and Samson Binutu! Sam is our head photographer and Ari is our head videographer. I am SO GRATEFUL these two talented artists instantly connected with my vision and saw the need from the jump. I’m honored to have the opportunity to work with them. They’re cooking up some dope stuff with their personal projects, as well. Ari is doing some amazing things with her brand, Bgoti (@2bgoti). Sam is making some noise with his platform Project 3:30 (@project330_), as well.
What made you want to start Distrikt?
This past summer I spent a lot of time with an old friend. As a method of “catching up” I told him my plans after graduation, which was the interaction that pretty much inspired the idea. I told him I wanted to move to nyc after school and he pretty much dismissed it as foolish. His response went something like, “Why would I want to be a small fish in someone else’s pond when I’m already a big fish in mine?”. And it made sense. I realized most of my creative friends were up and leaving DC as soon as they got a chance. It made me start to wonder why. I’ve come to the conclusion that the two main issues are: there aren’t enough showcasing platforms and the community isn’t centralized enough. The hope is Distrikt will address the showcasing issue, and we have something in the works that will be addressing the issue of a more connected creative community. We can and will make DC a creative capital…we have the talent and political responsibility to do so.
Can you tell me more about yourself? What do you do outside the zine (school/work/etc.)? Where in the area are you from?
Okay. So. I’m a current senior at the University of Maryland – College Park majoring in Innovation, Design, and Society (a self created major), with a double minor in Technology Entrepreneurship and Philosophy. So I basically have three main concentrations for which I take business/entrepreneurship courses, art studio courses, and courses pertaining to sociology and “awareness”. Work? I TA for a class called “Entrepreneurial Decision Making in the 21st Century”. But what’s been most vital to my growth are the on-campus orgs I’ve been fortunate enough to be apart of such as the Start-up Shell, Fearless Founders (Smith School), Hinman CEOs (Mtech), and the Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Being around like minded students and faculty has been so motivating and it’s instilled an unwavering level of confidence as an entrepreneur. Seeing my peers go after their passion and finding success while in college made me go, oh shit…I can do that too.
Oh yeah, and I’m from Prince Georges County, Maryland (WHOOP! WHOOP!)…currently residing in the Bowie area. I fell in love with DC at a very young age though. I first was introduced to the city via the amazing restaurants my dad would take me and my family to every weekend.
How do you feel about the creative scene in DC?
I’ve only REALLY been in the game for about 4 months (although me and my high school friends would do impromptu photo shoots in the city a while back…we had our own creative clique), so it’s hard to speak on it with true conviction. But I can say, from what I’ve seen, it’s extremely divided…as far as class, culture, race, and lifestyle. It’s like you have your Washingtonian-featured, semi-yuppie, creatives…then you have your young, street kids who live and breathe art and creativity but can barely afford to take the Metro. So now I’m really into bridging that gap. I feel like I’m in a good position to make that change, because I’ve seen both sides. There are sometimes I piggy back behind someone going into the Metro because my SmartTrip is in the negative (almost always), but I also recognize my privilege as a college student.
What do you think DC needs to become a creative powerhouse city? Why?
WE NEED TO CONNECT THE ARTISTS WITH THE MONEY and create one central cultural/creative hub. This goes back to what I was saying with regards to centralizing the community and bridging the gap. I am currently working on opening a communal art space in the DC metro area, with the hopes that it will help further connect the community. Accompanying the space will be a new, more “open” approach to a creative agency, which will help with connecting artists to the money. We know there’s money, thus opportunity, in DC. We know there’s artists in DC. I want to create a playground for those two entities to interact.
Why? With access to resources and opportunities comes creative confidence. I want to make being an artist feasible in DC and I believe we have the political responsibility to do so. Before we know it everyone’s job is going to be replaced by technology and soon creativity and human ingenuity is going to become ever more valuable. Let’s start the creative revolution in our nation’s capital. Where else? It makes the most sense. Am I making sense? [Ed. note: totally!]
What would an ideal day in DC look like for you (i.e. food/hang-outs/events/bars,etc.)?
Last semester I interned with Morgan (of Pandahead Blog), she kinda put me on to Big Bear Cafe…now I take all my meetings there. So it would start with a couple morning meetings at Big Bear. Then I’d feed my soul at some art exhibition, depending on what’s new in the city. Then I’d grab lunch (whatever is close, under $10, and won’t make my stomach hurt) with a friend and we’d talk about our goals, life plans, and our fears. Then we’d go to Joint Custody because I need more Parliament Funkadelic stuffs in my life, and they usually have it. After I’d go home and change, then convince my family we should go to Little Serow again, because I miss their staff and food. Later, I’d take a quick nap and get all my girls together. We’d pick up some decent tequila, park the car somewhere near U St., pre-game in my best friends Jetta, and end the night at Velvet with Ayescold or Mista Selecta spinning till close.
What else should we know?
It’s about to get real.
Distrikt is available online, as well as at our sister shop Meeps. It’s also carried at Joint Custody, SMASH!, Art Under Pressure.
All photos by Samson Binutu, courtesy of Distrikt.