Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square is one of the most striking sites in the District. But for such a stunning building, it’s gone through an awkward transition — for years, it sat largely lifeless as the city shrugged over how to best use it. Now, it’s the home of Apple’s flagship D.C. store (801 K St. NW), but you’ll probably end up there more often for something other than getting your cracked iPhone screen fixed.
“With [the store] being a former library, we really wanted to pay homage to that,” says Ashley Middleton, head of programming for Today at Apple, an initiative offering free educational sessions at select company stores (Carnegie being one). “We want to treat it as a new center for learning and creative experiences.”
At the store, which opened last weekend, visitors can take lessons on coding, photography, design and more creative topics that integrate Apple devices. Apple’s community-focused agenda isn’t anything revolutionary in the tech industry. What is, though, is how the company overhauled the 116-year-old building it’s now leasing.
Carnegie Library is one of 13 Apple Store locations in the world featuring a “town square” concept, designed to accommodate classes and other public gatherings. The library renovation took two years and reportedly cost $30 million (though Apple has not released specific figures).
Some of the library’s hallmark decor was restored to its original state, including the Guastavino tile ceiling in the basement, where a gallery of historic Carnegie Library photos and documents is located. Wait — there’s a gallery at the Apple store? Yup. Three, actually. Aside from the basement gallery, there are two more at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s new DC History Center inside the library: the DC Hall of History, with local artifacts from various eras, and another gallery housing “The Big Picture,” a sweeping collection of panoramic photos of Washington from the past century. There’s also a research library, slated to open in July, where anyone can access the nonprofit historical society’s massive archive, in addition to a gift shop with local goods. All of it is open to the public for free.
“We’re trying to connect our collections back to the local community, so they can find themselves within it,” says John Suau, executive director of the historical society.
Of course, if you’re interested in checking out the latest Apple gadgets or fixing the ones you already own, you can do that at the new store too. But the DC History Center is one way Apple hopes to sell its new home to the public as a cultural destination rather than a glorified showroom.
Another way is through its six-week StoryMakers Festival, which begins Saturday and will feature 40 artists leading workshops on topics including photography, design and music using Apple products. The festival will conclude with No Kings Collective’s three-day block party June 27-29.
“Ultimately, I feel positive about what I’ve seen so far, and the incredible restoration of the building is great,” says D.C. artist Rose Jaffe, who will lead a live drawing event Sunday during which she will showcase portraits she designed on an iPad and draw portraits of visitors. “If the store gets more people into the building, checking out the DC History Center, and can support local artists and get people involved in something creative, then I think that’s a positive thing.”
After the festival, the store will continue to host free creative workshops led by staff and outside local talent, Middleton says. It’s all part of the master plan to build Apple’s reputation beyond the tech space.
“As a team, the most important thing for us is to stay as authentic to D.C. as possible,” she says. “To celebrate the space as a center for learning, but to also give the community a platform to share their stories.”
Apple’s festival might help you tell your story
At Apple’s StoryMakers Festival (running Saturday through June 29 at the new store inside Carnegie Library), 40 creatives will helm free workshops on photography, videography, music and design that incorporate the company’s products (sign up on Apple’s website). There’s live entertainment too, including a three-day concluding block party with No Kings Collective that will showcase all of the artwork made during the festival’s sessions. Here are three workshops to consider.
Photo Walk: Idea First, Image Second
June 2, 4 p.m.
D.C. photographer Jarrett Hendrix has built a sizable Instagram following for his cinematic cityscape photos. During his workshop, he’ll show others how to mimic his artistic approach using just an iPhone.
Video Lab: Empathy in Filmmaking
June 8, 4 p.m.
D.C.-based filmmaker Bryan Bello will explain how to sharpen your documentary storytelling skills using an iPad and Apple Pencil. Members of Bello’s organization, Street Sense Filmmakers Co-op (a nonprofit offering the homeless tools to film their own work), will be on hand to offer advice.
Art Lab: Patterns and Prose
June 20, 5:30 p.m.
Ever wanted to learn how to sketch your own designs like a pro? Local artist Jamilla Okubo will guide visitors through her creative process and show how to make sleek patterns using the iPad and Apple Pencil that help to tell a personal story.