Borderstan People: The Man Behind Groundhog Day in Dupont Circle

by March 15, 2012 at 10:00 am 2,311 2 Comments


"Borderstan" "Aaron Denu" "Dupont Circle"

Aaron DeNu in Dupont Circle. (Luis Gomez Photos)

By Michelle Lancaster. You can follow her and let her know your news on Twitter @MichLancaster. Email her at michellel[AT]

Welcome to another edition of “Borderstan People,” in which we profile residents-of-interest in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area. Sometimes they are people we simply find interesting, but not in the public eye — and sometimes they are people who’ve gotten some press attention. Aaron DeNu falls into the later category as one of the locals who helps organize events in Dupont Circle as part of the Dupont Festival series (check out other events that have held in the Circle and Borderstan stories on events listed at bottom). Recently, you may have read about DeNu who brought the annual February 2 celebration of Groundhog Day to DC.

Borderstan: You’ve successfully staged a giant World Cup festival that received international attention, organized the first ever feature film (E.T.) screening in the Circle, and convinced a Councilmember to “listen” to a stuffed groundhog in the city’s first Groundhog Day event. What’s the next event you plan to bring to the Circle?

DeNu: Thank you, Michelle. I’d like to think we’ve brought some new life to the Circle. We’re taking notes, assessing outcomes, and working to make improvements. The success of these efforts is due to the team work of Dupont Festival and our board of directors. We’re working towards a number of upcoming outdoor experiences that range from continued movie screenings, a festival focused on jazz, and a table tennis tournament.

Borderstan: Now that we have that to look forward to, can you tell us what precisely it is about Dupont Circle that makes it the natural home for these events?

DeNu: Residents genuinely identify with the location. It’s physically and socially tied to the neighborhoods’ identity. These activities are oriented to be site-specific, they establish a sense of place, and they make up a portion of the community’s character.

Borderstan: Any concerns that the possible Dupont Underground could bring an end or disruption to these events? What are your thoughts on the proposals?

DeNu: Of course, I speak for myself, here. The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) proposal is inspiring and thoughtful. I support their vision for the re-opening of the abandoned Dupont trolley station as a world-class gallery space and community hub to promote the arts in DC. I think we’re starting to see a number of inventive projects, across the country, committed to smart, adaptive reuse.

Borderstan: What’s your motivation behind these community events? Is it just a new form of neighborhood socializing or is it driven by a larger goal?

DeNu: I’m driven by this idea of creatively animating public spaces. I consider it a labor of art and collaboration. These endeavors ought to satisfy, so we need to be doing things that bring people together, that improve quality of life, that encourage and promote community identity.

The National Endowment of the Arts define such efforts –towards creatively animating public spaces– as Creative Placemaking (2010). The larger goal is that these efforts ought to satisfactorily impact our city. Honestly, it’s not always easy to accurately assess such goals. How do you measure an ethos? We’re working on it.

Borderstan: How on earth have you been able to work so well with DC government on these projects? What is your advice to others engaged in similar neighborhood endeavors?

DeNu: Networking is key. In the end it’s good ideas and strong relationships that make the difference. Keep at it. Stay focused and positive. You have to put yourself in front of new people, establish trust, and take some calculated risks. I think, it’s a constant learning process, it’s fluid, ever-changing.

Borderstan: What has been the biggest surprise about these events? Any particularly sweet success stories or vignettes to share with us?

DeNu: It was surprising to get a financial donation from Henry Kissinger at one point. He gave the Soccer in the Circle event team a gift towards the implementation of our World Cup festival. As it turns out, Kissinger had served as chairman of the North American Soccer League board of directors back in 1978.

Borderstan: I know you’ve worked closely with ANC 2B/Dupont. If you were a commissioner for a day, what would you put on the top of their agenda?

DeNu: There’s been (unconfirmed) reports of a Sasquatch near the P Street Bridge and Rock Creek Parkway. It would be great if they could check into that for us.

Borderstan: Tell us more about you. What do you do when not planning hijinks in the parks around Borderstan? What brought you to DC?

DeNu: I’m a native of Cincinnati and lived in New York City for grad school before landing in DC for a job at GW. I absolutely love exploring this city on bike. I spend my time around town with friends and with my fiancé, Lauren Rurak, who works as an account executive for Discovery Communications in Silver Spring.

Borderstan: What are your favorite haunts and things to do in the neighborhood?

DeNu: I can’t get enough of the cheese enchiladas at El Rinconcito (11th & M NW). I’ve made a habit of ordering the moules marinière from Café Dupont (19th and Dupont Circle NW). I can confirm that The Gibson makes a mean cocktail (14th and U NW). And I find myself frequenting The Phillips, Long View Gallery, and The Keegan Theatre quite often.

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