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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dean Wood Celebrates Home Rule

It’s hard to miss the newest addition to the Deanwood Library at 1350 49th St NE. Standing nearly five feet tall, complete with a baseball cap and fashionable scarf, the figure appears to be a real person exploring the stacks, but the amalgamation of household objects and library supplies known as Dean Wood is the library’s new civic engagement mascot.

The installation is the creative work of Dawn Fox, a native Washingtonian who developed her “love for community” through social work and later through time in various roles at the DC Public Library (DCPL).

Having served in 23 of the 26 DCPL branches across the city, first as a floater and now as a library associate at the Deanwood branch, Fox has turned her attention to community outreach programming with a focus on accessibility and education.

In the midst of an election year, Civic Engagement Month and the 50th anniversary of home rule in DC, Fox was looking for a way to make a local impact on the important issues of statehood, voting, census data and civic engagement. But for Fox, Dean Wood is more than just a conversation starter. The mannequin serves as an example for all who see it as what it means to be a citizen.

Her imagination “got to work” as she built the figure, starting with a mannequin, wig, head and outfit using recycled shredded paper to complete the look. “The first thing I wanted to do was capture the attention of the community because when you capture attention it offers the opportunity to educate and open up a conversation,” Fox noted.

The mannequin has drawn significant attention from visitors. Fox recently struck up a conversation with a mother checking out books when her toddler noticed Dean Wood. “His eyes lit up, he was just astonished,” Fox said laughing. “He wasn’t able to tell if it was real.” The interaction was a segway for sharing information about DC’s home rule anniversary with the mother, who was new to the District.

These interactions, Fox noted, are not uncommon and are important. The mannequin serves not only as a catalyst for discussion about civic engagement but also for general camaraderie among neighbors.

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The installation is also interactive. The space around Dean Wood is filled with infographics about census data, voting and home rule. Fox also created a space for community members to write what civic engagement means to them.

Additionally, the mannequin has a QR code on its cap with information about DC home rule. The exhibit has already made an impact.

“Whether the conversations were between library staff and the individual, or two people who just happened to walk in at the same time and noticed it,” Fox said, “the dialogue begins with them. It’s definitely something that initiates conversation, captures attention and educates.”

Even with 26 branches across the District, outreach is incredibly important for community members who are unable to access the library’s services. Schools, senior facilities and group homes are some of the places the libraries have focused their outreach. “I think society does everything to remove barriers, but they’re still there, so outreach helps us overcome those barriers and to reach the population that can’t come to us,” Fox said.

While the library will remain a place for visitors of all ages to explore and engage with books, Fox hopes this initiative will provide an additional opportunity for education.

“I am a community member, and so many people in my community can be empowered through knowledge,” Fox said. “That creates a more collective community.”

Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.

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