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Super Star

Philippa Hughes unveils the region’s first performance-art festival with an unparalleled vision and execution.

DC’s foot soldier of engaging and smart art, Philippa Hughes, says Supernova will help residents “discover their needs and aspirations.”

Arts visionary Philippa Hughes doesn’t dream in miniature. Her ideas are colossal portraits of daring and panache. So, when Rosslyn came calling a couple years ago and asked Hughes to pitch ideas for an arts project, she came up with two ambitious ideas. Still, Hughes never dreamed her patrons would pick the most outrageous one: Supernova, a citywide performance arts festival that kicks off this month. 

The aptly named event is more than a three-day explosion of scheduled and pop-up performances—it’s a meticulously tailored attempt to change the way people view Rosslyn. Supernova, presented by Rosslyn and produced by Hughes’ venture The Pink Line Project, comprises an international roster of artists who’ll take over the city’s parks, rooftops, streets and any other public place they can access. More than 70 acts will be featured alongside events like Art Sports, a decathlon of games that reference famous performance-art pieces. 

Most acts will relate directly to Rosslyn. “Even the totally unaware commuter won’t be able to avoid a performance here or there,” says local performance artist Samuel Scharf.

While performance art is gaining clout in the art world (think Marina Abramović’s 2010 Museum of Modern Art retrospective The Artist Is Present), the genre is notoriously difficult to define. “It’s a live, direct platform for unleashing outrageous ideas,” says Leah Curran, whose band Tia Nina will present a surreal musical bonanza at Supernova. Scharf agrees. “It uses the artist or a body as the medium, as paint is to painting,” he says. “Sometimes the body is a passerby who unintentionally ends up as part of the world as it unfolds.”

While performance art is nothing new to DC—hometown heroes Kathryn Cornelius, Jeffry Cudlin, Holly Bass and J.J. McCracken haven been around for ages—Supernova is distinctive in its use of the art form as a change-agent for community building. “We’re activating the Rosslyn space and using it to ask questions of its residents to discover their needs and aspirations,” Hughes says of the neighborhood just across the Key Bridge. It also boosts the DC art scene’s street cred. “Supernova is huge,” Curran says. “It establishes the region as a hub for live art.”

Ultimately, Hughes wants Supernova to change the way people view the Washington area by activating an underground art community. Chances are, the extravaganza will be as fantastically amorphous and offbeat as its practitioners. “Audiences will get to experience live art that is up and in their faces like a pie fight,” Curran says. “It creates an opportunity for all of us to breathe in bright colors, tight choreography, witty ideas and fringy capes. What’s not to love?” Supernova, June 7-9, rosslynartsproject.‌com