Using the Truck to Spur Digital Experiences (Experiments at Adams Morgan Day 2020)

How could a truck spur digital experiences, especially during a pandemic? This was our third year for experiments at Adams Morgan Day, the longest-running neighborhood festival in DC. We knew things would be different, both for the pandemic and the immediacy of the protests around the murder of George Floyd.

We chose a hybrid approach that combined physical media (prints, signs, fliers, and video) with three kinds of digital interactivity: (1) mural hunt game; (2) trivia map activity; and (3) audio tour. Along the way, we tested our new game engine for cities, Hive Mechanic.

A masked passerby at the AU Humanities Truck on Adams Morgan Day 2020.
Photo Credit: Hazel Arroyo

Humanities Truck as a Socially Distant Hub: Balancing Curated Content and Local History

We took several steps to use the Humanities Truck in a socially distant way, while still showcasing content from the Smithsonian and DC Public Library. First, we closed the interior to the public, and posted all materials to the exterior. Second, we positioned the truck so that the back was visible from all sides of an intersection. Normally the streets are closed to cars for Adams Morgan Day, but for the pandemic the city requested we avoid drawing crowds, per se. We used the back of the truck to hang signage about the larger day — which proved surprisingly effective; on more than one occasion, we overheard passersby commenting, “Oh, that’s right; AdMo Day is today.”

For content, we had historic prints from Nancy Shia, content from the Smithsonian’s exhibition “A Right to the City” focused on Adams Morgan, fliers for the audio tour and mural hunt, and a video running on the outdoor monitor with additional content from “A Right to the City.” Nancy’s work emerged as a real crossover, since her photographs were also in some of the posters for “A Right to the City” and in the video.

In part, the truck served as a theatrical prop to spur digital interactions. Similarly, our print media served as a starting point for more in-depth digital activities. Selfies and social media were in turn generated by our activities.

Our New Scavenger Hunt: Murals and Activist Art

A selfie we received as part of the mechanics of the mural scavenger hunt.

Following the murder of George Floyd, we were eager to highlight protest art as a longstanding tradition in the neighborhood. We were recruited to make this activity by Margaux Granat, the History and Culture content organizer for AdMo Day 2020. We were thrilled to have her join as a co-designer.

The final game (“Mural, Mural, on the Wall”) was a scavenger hunt-style game that guides players physically around the neighborhood, showcasing the murals and protest art along their path. Participating in the game automatically enrolled players in a raffle where the winner won a shirt designed by a local artist. (The prior year we had tested the raffle as a driver of activity, but this year it would be secondary.)

For recruiting, we assumed many players would already be enthralled by the art and history of the neighborhood (i.e., significant extrinsic motivation). The hunt itself is driven by a narrative that is written from the perspective of Margaux and is embedded with riddles, clues, and copious emojis. The playfulness of walking around and taking pictures with beautiful pieces of art was at the center of our experience goal.

To make people aware of the game, we used a combination of online marketing (thanks volunteers for Adams Morgan Day 2020!), and physical fliers that were hung at the truck and around the neighborhood. In retrospect, we would’ve liked to have used more 3-foot sandwich boards, and moved the truck to different intersections throughout the day.

Piloting an Audio Tour from a Local Historian

Flier for the audio tour we piloted, in collaboration with local historian, Eddie Becker.
Graphic Design Credit: Meagan Couture

We also tested an “audio-plus-photographs” collaboration with Eddie Becker, a local historian who runs tours of the neighborhood. His tours frequently highlight slavery, institutional segregation, bank red-lining, the riots and police occupation of the 1960s, immigrants, housing displacement, and gentrification from the 1980s through present day. Eddie was interested in making his tours work for a socially distant audience.

Our audio tour centered on Kalorama Park, where players might pick a bench and listen on their own phones. The twist is that our hotline also sent historic photos to callers phones, timed to Eddie’s voice. To create the tour, we had Eddie record the audio and we put it together into a hotline format, something we’ve had a bit of practice designing and operating.

Postcard for the Adams Morgan Trivia Map. Graphic Design Credit: Carolyn Thaw

Return of the Adams Morgan Trivia Map

As in previous years, the Adams Morgan trivia map made a return. Hundreds of postcards were distributed to local businesses in advance of Adams Morgan Day. The map was originally created to be deliberately evergreen to distribute quality content for years to come. We also had the cards at the Humanities Truck.

Challenge: Getting the Word Out

A woman scanning a QR code to start the mural hunt. Photo Credit: Hazel Arroyo

Our biggest challenge in the pandemic was getting the word out — without overdoing it. Normally the closed streets do all the work for us. But this year, despite being featured in numerous radio and newspaper stories, there was hardly any foot traffic. Instead, the nearby park served as the draw — with dozens of people going in an out every fifteen minutes.

For live recruiting, the attention and visibility of the Humanities Truck was powerful in physical space. At the same time, we feel that we missed an opportunity by not including sandwich board signs as part of our strategy. With so many activities, the side of the Humanities Truck became a bit cluttered. In retrospect, it would have been great to use the sandwich boards to bring attention to each of the interactive experiences, allowing the truck space to be dedicated for the video and physical content (“A Right to the City” content and Nancy Shia’s prints). Another idea that occurred to us afterward was to offer more of a “menu” of activities with time estimates for each one, and thereby offer a clearer vision of what each activity might involve for choosy participants.

This post was contributed by Hazel Arroyo, a professional game designer and member of The Playful City Lab.

Iterations on the Mount for the Classic Phone

The classic phone mount has become our most popular way to display our simple installation (including in libraries and the Humanities Truck), both for portability and the small footprint on-site. How did we get here?

The initial box was long and unlabeled:

Classic Mount Prototype during initial discussion and testing meeting.
Continue reading Iterations on the Mount for the Classic Phone

Spanish Hotline and Dual Phones (“not an accident”)

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we created a Spanish version of our hotline and installed a direct line at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library (on 9/17/2019). This library is a focus for Latino events and activities in the DC area, and was eager to refine their installation for the A Right to the City exhibition.

Our classic phone in Spanish and English. (Photo by Hazel Arroyo.)

Having the two phones next to each other immediately made the entire set-up look much more intentional. This helps with a barrier to use that we had observed with just the English phone: some people still wondered if they were supposed to interact, or if it was an accident. With two physical phones, the intentionality is clear and the invitation is stronger.

Continue reading Spanish Hotline and Dual Phones (“not an accident”)

Save the Date! Adams Morgan Day 2019 (Sept. 8, 12-6pm)

The AU Humanities Truck last year at Adams Morgan Day. (Photo credit: Playful City Lab)

We will be returning to Adams Morgan Day for a second year to anchor the “Community History” section of the Festival with the Humanities Truck, an experimental recording and exhibition space on wheels. The truck will feature stories about historic Adams Morgan from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to the City” exhibition, in partnership with the DC Public Library.

We will be featuring several interactive and digital elements of our DC Storytelling System, including a raffle that sends historic photos of Adams Morgan from the event. In addition to everything happening around the truck, we plan to station a couple of our “Classic Phones” at select local businesses for the day so that more community members will be able to participate in the storytelling system.

For the history section, DC Public Library is sponsoring the performance stage of music and dance with an international flair reflective of the diversity of the neighborhood. Stop by the library booth to get a library card, check out books, and learn about neighborhood history resources in Washingtoniana!

This community history section will be at the intersection of 18th and Belmont Streets NW from noon-6pm on September 8, 2019.

For general information on Adams Morgan Day, visit

Here is the official press release from the event organizers:

Continue reading Save the Date! Adams Morgan Day 2019 (Sept. 8, 12-6pm)

Panels in Libraries (Connecting to our Hotline)

After passing the circulation desk on the main floor of the Mt. Pleasant Library, the satellite exhibit for “A Right to the City” is a prominent feature that demands attention. With its interlocking panels and dynamic visuals, visitors are beckoned to take a closer look at the new structure.

A closer examination reveals the subject of the structure – the neighborhood. For residents, perhaps it speaks about the events that they have witnessed and perhaps they learn about how their neighborhood came into its current state.

For those reminiscing and for those with curiosity, the participatory panel stands out. The dedicated hotline allows for participation for residents who look at the exhibit and think “I remember when…”. It also allows for the curious to explore their neighborhood through the eyes of those who helped shape it.

Library Event: Panel Dialogue at the Woodridge Neighborhood Library

The Woodridge Neighborhood Library sign.

Around DC, a series of events at neighborhood libraries are beginning in collaboration with the exhibit “A Right to the City” at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

Dr. Samir Meghelli (Left) and Dr. Joy Kinard (right) discussing the pushback for building the North Central Freeway.
Continue reading Library Event: Panel Dialogue at the Woodridge Neighborhood Library

Library Event: Coffee and Conversation at the Parklands-Turner Library

Paul Perry (second from left, from the Smithsonian) and Auset Whaley (at center, from the DC Public Library) with two Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (on ends) and a teen volunteer. Credit: Lawrence Clinkscale

Around DC, a series of events at neighborhood libraries are beginning in collaboration with the exhibit “A Right to the City” at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

One of the first took place this past Saturday (Feb. 16, 2019) at the Parklands-Turner Neighborhood Library. Their “coffee and conversation” event presented the project and several opportunities for involvement. Overall, the residents in attendance expressed great interest in seeing more community programs of this nature and are eager to visit the Humanities Truck, either at their local libraries or at local festivals. Residents are also looking forward to contributing their stories and memorabilia for what may evolve into a Congress Heights oral history project.

There will be more public events in the near future to share stories from the exhibit — and to gather more from the public. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Auset Whaley for most of this information, which was posted by Hazel Arroyo of American University.

Planning the DC Public Library Events

Gathering at Washingtoniana / Special Collections of DCPL

We introduced our truck and system to library leaders this week, as part of planning the next nine months of DC activities and the satellite exhibits for A Right to the City. Our location was fitting: the Washintoniana Collection (Feb. 14, 2019), which was a key source for the exhibit, and is part of the Special Collections for DC Public Library (DCPL).

Parking the Humanities Truck — we are still learning how!

As a teaser, we wanted to show what the AU Humanities Truck could do for DCPL outreach. We are adding more approved drivers, and exploring how to best position it for events.

A very early map draft of branch libraries hosting the satellite exhibits

Three main materials were prototyped in preparation for the event: a post card of a hand-drawn partial map of DC with the six participating library locations indicated, a post card to be used in a hypothetical scavenger hunt, and a phone line that corresponds with the scavenger hunt post card.