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all photos shot on site at the LINE by Kate Warren
For the record, Morgan H. West has been a DC creative world hero waaaaaaay before she founded A Creative DC. From being the person behind D.C.’s first street style blog over a decade again, to the wonderful Pandahead Magazine, to too many amazing projects with too many amazing people and organizations (including BYT) to count, she has seemingly always BEEN THERE for this city, as a cheerleader of the creative community AND a creative resource herself. A third generation small business owner in the district, and a decade long freelancer, this year she embarked on a full time pursuit as the lead on creative/culture at the soon-to-be-opened the LINE hotel in Adams Morgan. Which we took as a great reason to catch up with her (and take a sneak peak inside the LINE, which, full disclosure – the author of this article did the art program for, and the photographer contributed commissioned work for – teamwork and all-ed). To learn how Morgan got where she is in 2017, and where she is heading next, read on.
BONUS: Want to work where Morgan does? The LINE Hotel is hiring. Visit https://thelinedc.recruitee.com/ to learn more about diverse career opportunities in Washington, D.C.
 
What do you consider your first real job?
I had a long stretch of barista positions in high school, through college, and straight on into 2006 (my first place of employment as an official DC resident was Baked & Wired, back when it was half-coffee shop, half architectural copy place), but my grandparents and then parents had a print shop (first in Blagden Alley, then on Shannon Place in SE). This is the case for a LOT of small business families – it was all hands on deck. I remember being really young and helping fold and collate at the dinner table, and when I got older I worked at the shop during Summers and breaks from school, and whenever I was needed after that, too, until my Dad retired in 2013.

You are a third generation DC small business owner – how has that shaped your perspective?

We jokingly say that our family motto is “EVERYONE MUST SUFFER,” but really there’s just an all-around understanding that a creative career – or working in the creative economy – requires a real support system. Sometimes that means showing up with closed-toed shoes to help move furniture for an event and sometimes it means just being available to talk through some dreadful element of whatever you’re working on because you just need additional brainpower. Macro view? Projects require support. From the local + surrounding community, and at every step of the way.

What made you choose to stay here vs go somewhere else?
It’s funny, I get asked this question a lot. For me there was just never really any option – I love this city. I definitely CONSIDERED moving other places, when I was younger and sometimes even now, but I don’t know how serious any of that consideration ever actually was or is. Shrugs shoulders. THIS is the place.
 
When you look at your path, from education to jobs – are there any things you wish you’d done differently?

The short answer is no. There’s a lot that my 25 year old self would have ideally been told (by my current incarnation), but the 45 and 50 and 60 year old versions of me will absolutely be saying that same thing. There’s no guide book to new media or creative career. and every misstep or project that never really took off has led to something else. I started working online in 2006 and have always tried to keep my scope as wide as possible – whether you’re working in food or tech or hands-on visuals, there’s something to pick up and learn from every sector. If anything I wish I’d had the foresight – or awareness – to see how important that was a few years before it naturally crept in on me. It’s been almost 12 years since I founded DC’s first street style blog and I’ll still get the “fashion blogger” label; my biggest piece of advice when I’m talking with people who are just starting out is DO EVERYTHING. No one should expect you to be a specialist at age 24 – least of all yourself. Leverage the shit out of what you know and the space you feel comfortable in, but let that be a starting point. If you’re lucky, life is long, and it’s to your benefit to learn-learn-learn from everyone and everything you have the opportunity to come into contact with.

If you were giving advice to your 15, 25 and 35 year old selves what would you say?
“You’re not SUPPOSED to have it all figured out,” “You’re not SUPPOSED to have it all figured out,” and “You’re not SUPPOSED to have it all figured out,” respectively

Most people know you from the A Creative DC project but you have worked on seemingly endless jobs as a freelancer…
I have! A Creative DC is a passion project and it’s one I’m really, really proud to head up – but one that wouldn’t have any sort of success without the involvement and contributions of a community whose perspective(s) needs/ deserves visibility. Creative community and creative economy in this city have become much more accessible in recent years, on a local AND national level, but this community has long been here – and made itself sustainable – without the systems, resources, SPACE, and acknowledgement that they deserve and need. A lot of people are working on that from ALL the different angles; A Creative DC tackles the acknowledgment piece, and primarily in the digital realm. Could it be a full-time job? Yes, absolutely. It’s not, though, and it never has been.
For the last five years, before coming on with the LINE, I balanced personal projects with AN ARRAY of different contracts, all of which worked different muscles at different times. Decor and installation and styling and photography – I kind of came up with the phrase “hands-on visuals” to cover all of it. And since I’d worked online since the earlier days of blogging, by the time social media really and truly hit I was fully entrenched not only in content creation, but also in the HOW and WHY of marketing and strategy as well. So that all translated to a lot of of different projects that I was able to have my hands in and on, and that’s pretty emblematic of what I do, now, at the LINE. I kind of get to flex my whole skill set, but just under one roof.
What is the future of A Creative DC?

Haha, you know, when I took the LINE job I purposely kind of kept it to myself! Not because I wasn’t excited, but because I really wanted to avoid this question. I do get why people ask –  and mostly because I think there might be a little bit of a misconception about how A Creative DC operates. It is an enormous amount of effort, but it’s one that’s always existed in the “personal project” folder. There’s a much longer and more involved conversation about why it’s not really a monetized entity, but the short answer is that I’m only comfortable gaining off it in the same capacity as someone whose work we feature or push forward. Is the project’s visibility something I’m able to point to and use as a case study? Absolutely. Have I been able to leverage that visibility to create connections and drive new work opportunities? Yes, and I’m so grateful, and the point of the entire project is to do that for and with people and projects and economy in the city at large. There have been times where it’s made sense to take on consulting projects AS A Creative DC – we’ve worked with Smithsonian APAC, for example, and Mayor Bowser’s 202 Creates campaign – but it’s important to me that we use those financial opportunities to pay other artists and to create original content. Grants, etc (and there aren’t a ton that A Creative DC is eligible for – it’s artist-run, and not a non-profit) go towards paying my team, paying for A Creative DC: Brookland (so that we can open it up to other people for as low a rate as possible), paying for domains, and all of that other admin-y type of stuff. In those applications I do make a point to talk about the personal investment of my time and digital skills, but I’m acutely fucking aware that if it weren’t for my community, I’d be standing alone at an intersection, with an idea and not much else. Maybe that was the long answer. Anyways – A Creative DC is something I’ve been balancing alongside “work stuff” since day one. It isn’t going anywhere!


How did the LINE job come about?
In 2015 I flew out to Palm Springs to do an art layering project at The Saguaro – I basically packed a bunch of suitcases full of crochet doilies and ceramic cats (like, a lot of ceramic cats) and headed to the desert; when I got there I bought a bunch of spray paint and a respirator mask and just went to town. The Saguaro is in the same family of hotels as the LINE, and so last year, when the LINE DC was looking for someone to source 220 vintage nightstands (one for every room of the hotel), they commissioned me for it. That led to another project – working with Idle Time in Adams Morgan to source the bulk of 1200 vintage books that will make up the in-room libraries. Between and around those contracts I came on, on a retainer basis, to support the creative team and the Creative Director, and a year later I’m here, full-time, contributing and L E A R N I N G .
It’s been really dope, honestly – the LINE brand at large (there’s one in LA, and another one being built now in ATX) is responsive to and reflective of WHERE THEY ARE, which I of course love enormously, and they’re committed to art and design and of course I love that enormously, too. I get to wear a lot of hats, and really the most interesting part of it is thinking about the project as a lens through which people are going to see the city  –  as well as a place that needs to be inclusive of and HERE FOR the DC community + the Adams Morgan neighborhood, where I’ve lived for the last thirteen years. It’s a wide narrative and while at core, it’s not much a leap from a lot of the work that I do with A Creative DC and other projects – it IS a new set of parameters and platforms and resources and opportunities, and that’s something I take seriously and am glad to be part of.
 
Describe to us your day to day? (as precisely or mundanely as possible)
Every day is different (which I really appreciate and maybe even NEED), but I generally start with A Creative DC and hotel social, and then I head for a medium cappuccino from Tryst. From there it’s some version of computer or camera, and a lot of outreach and meetings and communication, digital and otherwise. I actually split my time between the LINE team proper and A Rake’s Progress and The Cup We All Race 4, the restaurant and coffee shop F O R T H C O M I N G from Spike Gjerde and his team (behind Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact Coffee). With this project (and all their projects) they’re doing unbelievable work and affecting enormous change in the Mid-Atlantic food system and economy – they are very, very good at what they do, and I really love getting to float around in that headspace + think about how to help tell that story across our channels. There’s also a lot of crossover with Full Service Radio, the community podcast station will live in the lobby of the hotel. It’s a platform for narrative and perspective and VOICE, and there’s a great and H Y P E R L O C A L community built up around it already. As we get closer to open we’re starting to ramp up with activations and that’s a big focus right now – starting to engage around the hotel and in some surrounding neighborhoods, too, which is exciting. Really, every days is just a little bit of this and that, and a lot of collaboration with the hotel team and with the rest of our local partners. It’s all good stuff. And post-work, I’m keeping an eye on the A Creative DC hashtag feed on IG and Twitter, putting newsletters together, attempting to keep up with my email, and carving out-slash-forcing time to make dinner with my husband and sit down to eat before 9PM. #doingmybest.
Describe to us your dream day?
Dream work day at the moment = all of the above, plus a nap and a long walk and as much Netflix as is humanly possible.
What do you do to relax?
I’m getting better at it – I take a lot of pride in WORK in general, but sincerely, the phrase I’ll sleep when I’m dead makes me want to cry. Dude, go to sleep. Make sure you eat lunch. Drink some damn water. I balance A LOT between work and personal projects and also, like, MY LIFE – and while I can’t imagine things any other way, if I’m not working sustainably, then I’m not working effectively. I read books and go to movies and make sure I’m getting outside and moving my body around. I try to hang out with my family when I can. “Relaxing” for me doesn’t really involve too much, but I’m only starting to get good at saying YES to the time it takes to do it.
Who are some people you admire and why?
This city is filled with incredible people, working across a S P E C T R U M of industries. I’m constantly in awe when someone has found a way to inject levity and style into work that otherwise just NEEDS to be done: Linnea Hegarty is doing the work of bringing the NEXT GEN into the fold at the DC Public Library Foundation. Desirée Venn FredericVirginia Arrisueño, Seda Nak, Lori Parkerson, Julie Egermayer – they’re all advocates for – by DOING, or by being otherwise vocal about it – independent retail in this city, because it is in absolute crisis. DIRT DMV is making space, online and IRL, for critical discourse in the DC arts scene after noticing a gap that they could stepping in to fill from a personal and grassroots perspective. Lanae Spruce and Ravon Ruffin at NMAAHC are crushing and re-inventing how to use social media in the museum space. My friend Margaret Bakke is an amazing artist and a COOL MOM; my sister, Cortney Palmeiro, is in the same camp. The women of pineapple DC + anyone heading up a new media platform – Otessa Ghadar of DC Web Fest, Svetlana Legetic of Brightest Young Things, and Nicole Pinedo at Made in the District all make the list…there are a LOT of other people I want to namecheck here, but suffice it to say there are a million more.
 
Who are some people you’d LOVE TO work with (let’s push that out into the wind)? 
I feel like I had way more specific answers for this when I was younger; when I was 21 or 22 I absolutely daydreamed about being a set designer on a Wes Anderson movie!  I think IRL that translates to wanting to be responsible for spaces and visuals and also – I know it sounds crazy – FEELINGS. I’ve gone a really non-traditional route, but I’m proud of having carved out a little space online and IRL where I get to create worlds and help make people feel good and cozy and like they belong. I’m surrounded by people who want to do the same, and I really just want to keep that up – may I/you/we always work with GOOD PEOPLE who contribute their talents and energies into effecting change in their cities/communities/where ever else where they want to see things be different.
And what’s next for you?
I love what I’m doing right now, during the work day and outside of it, and as long as I’m learning and growing I’m going to stay right here. But there’s always a next, right? I’d love to travel more. I’d like to spend more time with people in other cities to see how they’re making sure their creative economies and communities are accessible and on the map (literally and figuratively). I guess that’s big picture. NEXT next? I’m trying to find time to get my roots touched up, and there is A LOT of FALL TELEVISION out there for the taking, people, I’ll race you to it.
What are some of your favorite things right now? Who/what inspires you/makes you happy?
Current favorite things: Riverdale, FaceTimeing with my Dad (and my family’s group-text thread), Sundays at FRESHFARM Dupont, my husband in general (and always), and Suns Cinema. All of the above are inspiring and happiness-inducing; see also/more specifically: Madchen Amick, when my Dad answers FaceTime like he’s answering a phone call and the screen is blank bc it’s shoved against his face, C E L E R Y  R O O T from Tree & Leaf Farm, and each and every member of my monthly horror movie club. It’s a good gang.
Get social: Follow Morgan on @pandaheadmorgan and @acreativedc on Instagram, and stay in touch with the LINE on @thelinehotel
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