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By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the eight previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games, and who in the market is responding to this — and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world — that’s almost one-third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music, and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the U.S., time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television — with users spending eight more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to more than 30 minutes. Apps are the new prime time, and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games that are quick to download, easy to play and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50 — a far cry from the traditional stereotype of a “gamer.”

With these demographic, geographic and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90 million in Pocket Gems and$126 million in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5 million in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M million from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2 million from several investors — one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokémon GO has generated $2.3 billion in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250 million players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, which are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming — not just of gaming studios, but all those who have a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400 million minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later, Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750 million. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55 billion in revenue, so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon GO game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses — providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology and employees locally — as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game.” They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options — for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France,” in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The U.K. Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund — calling the U.K. “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The U.K. Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the U.K. to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program, saying that the U.K. gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced.” But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling, the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over in Germany, and the government has allocated €50 million of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

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Fans of the band Insane Clown Posse protested the FBIs gang designation, as nearby a pro-Trump rally drew a smaller than expected crowd

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was being besieged by a clown.

Dan Rice, the most famous clown of the time he was also an animal trainer and a strong man was running for state senate in Pennsylvania. He had based his campaign on attacking Lincoln over his handling of the civil war.

Rice lost the election and Lincolns clown problem ended. Until Saturday, that is, when more than a thousand people, many wearing clown make-up, gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on Washington DCs national mall for the long-awaited Juggalo March.

The Juggalos the name given to fans of the band Insane Clown Posse were in Washington to demonstrate against the FBI labelling them a gang, a designation they say has led to discrimination from police and in the workplace.

Paint-clad protesters began to gather at around 1pm. Some Juggalos wore full face make-up in tribute to Insane Clown Posse duo Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J; others were wearing actual clown trousers and shoes; many more sported Juggalo T-shirts and sipped Faygo, a midwestern soda popularized by the band.

Just like Lincoln, these clowns had a problem in the form of a hastily arranged pro-Trump rally that was also taking place on the mall, less than a mile away.

The Juggalos were out in Washington to demonstrate against the FBIs designation as a gang. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The Trump event, which organizers had dubbed the mother of all rallies, had been called by supporters of the president, aiming to give him a shot in the arm after a turbulent introduction to the White House.

The mother of all rallies could have overshadowed the Juggalo event. But among the Insane Clown Posse enthusiasts, it was clear they were not worried. Juggalos had travelled from across the country to attend the march, a rare opportunity to gather en masse, and they were determined to enjoy it.

Chris Fabritz, with whom the Guardian spent the day, is known as mankini among certain Juggalos due to his penchant for wearing a bikini. He was hosting 14 Insane Clown Posse fans in his two-bedroom apartment over the weekend, which he said illustrated the bond between Juggalos.

Were a family. We welcome everybody with open arms, Fabritz said. Were people who genuinely believe in the human spirit.

Fabritz added that he and his fellow Juggalos would give you the shirt off our back if you needed it. He was wearing a black bikini top and a pair of American flag underpants at the time.

Chris Fabritz, aka mankini, at the Juggalo march in Washington … We welcome everybody with open arms. Were people who genuinely believe in the human spirit. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The clown paint and overtly masculine music of Insane Clown Posse during the march Shaggy 2 Door described the bands output as the worlds most hated music has given the band and their adherents something of a comical air.

But the FBI designation of Juggalos as a loosely-organized hybrid gang, made in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, has had real consequences for fans of the group.

Many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence the FBI assessment said. Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo sub-sets, according to [National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting.

Insane Clown Posse say that designation is unfair, claiming various people who commit crimes could often be said to be fans of certain musicians.

A number of Juggalos, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and Insane Clown Posse themselves, are attempting to have the ruling overthrown. Until then, Juggalos are suffering.

Todd Okan, 35, was among those on the mall. He said he was pulled over by police in Sacramento, California, because he had stickers of Insane Clown Posses hatchet man mascot on his car.

They said these symbols are considered a gang symbol, Okan said. They were asking me, like: Are you a leader of this gang? Okan, who is an accounting auditor, said he was not in a gang.

I was like: This is the music I listen to.

Others had similar stories. Jessica Bonometti, from Manassas, Virginia, said she was fired as a probation officer in March 2016 as a result of her support for Insane Clown Posse. She had liked several photographs of the band on Facebook, she said, and was told by her boss that her affiliation was the reason she was fired.

She said she had been unable to find a job since then, hampered by the firing and a lack of references.

My job was everything to me, she said. Im 34, I dont have kids, I dont have a husband, so my job was like my life. I didnt leave my house for a year after. I just couldnt deal with people. I felt like a misfit. Like I dont belong. So to say that the effects of it have been devastating would be a serious understatement.

Jessica Bonometti at the march. She says she was fired from her job as a probation officer as a result of her support for Insane Clown Posse. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

The Juggalos began marching just after 5pm, after an expletive-laden speech from Shaggy 2 Dope real name Joseph Utsler and Violent J, aka Joseph Bruce. The Juggalos pride themselves on a sense of community: chants of family, family echoed around the Reflecting Pool, as did the Juggalo identification cry of whoop, whoop.

In the late afternoon sunshine people waved signs Is your band next was a popular one as they strolled east along the mall and ringed the Washington Monument, passing around 500m from the Trump event.

Ahead of the Juggalo event there had been concerns about the proximity between the two groups. In Charlottesville in August, a rightwing demonstration ended in the death of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer as white supremacists launched attacks on counter-protests.

Organizers of the Trump rally had claimed thousands of people would attend. On Saturday, streets surrounding the mall were blocked by police cars. But instead, by mid-afternoon, the mother of all rallies had only attracted around 400 people. The crowd gathered in a space the size of a football field on the lush grass of the mall which made for a lot of free grass where they listened to hourly pledges of allegiance and numerous renditions of the Star Spangled Banner.

The supporters milled around amiably in the fenced-off enclosure. Some picnicked on the grass, others held American flags aloft.

Tahnee Gonzalez, 31, was carrying a cloth banner that depicted Trump holding an assault rifle, standing on top of a tank. There was also an eagle on it. She had travelled from Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the rally. She said she decided to come to show the fake news that there is support for our president.

Tahnee Gonzalez, a Trump supporter, at the rally in Washington which took place nearby the Juggalo event. Photograph: Tom Silverstone for the Guardian

Its America first now. We can no longer support any other country until ours is completely united and strong again, she said. I want my fellow millennials to know they need to rise up before its too late.

The only millennials rising up on the mall that day were on the other side of the Washington monument.

The upbeat, open-minded nature of the Juggalo march, in spite of the reason for it taking place, provided a stark contrast to the Trump event, where people waved anti-communism flags and talked variously about Hillary Clintons emails, the need to take our country back, and craven politicians.

The only palpable similarities between the events was that both took place on the national mall and both offered free face-painting although the stars and stripes designs at the Trump rally differed in style from those of the Insane Clown Posse crowd.

When you step in we throw politics aside, Fabritz said as the Juggalo march wound its way back to Abraham Lincolns statue. Were Juggalos, and we just love everyone.

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Trump spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr declared I have a dream, and told the largely white crowd: Youre not forgotten any more

Donald Trump staked his claim to Washington on Thursday by promising to make America great again while at the feet of the US capitals giant marble statue of Abraham Lincoln in a celebration of patriotic music, military pageantry and fireworks.

The president-elect delivered a brief speech from the Lincoln Memorial, close to the spot where in 1963 Martin Luther King Jr declared, I have a dream. Trump told the largely white crowd: Youre not forgotten any more.

On a cold night of heavy and sometimes heavy handed symbolism ahead of Fridays inauguration, Trump led thousands of supporters in chants of make America great again, saying: And Ill add, greater than ever before. A spectacular array of fireworks shot into the sky and spelled: U-S-A as the Battle Hymn of the Republic rang out.

Accompanied by his wife, Melania, and other family members, he then walked up the steps and spent the better part of a minute silently contemplating the seated Lincoln, the president who won the civil war and helped end slavery. His celebrated Gettysburg address and second inaugural address are inscribed on the chamber walls.

Supporters lined the pool at the National Mall, many wearing Make America great again baseball caps and other regalia, though the area was far from full and some left early as temperatures plummeted after dark. Nearby were the Vietnam war memorial and ghostly figures of soldiers at the Korean war memorial.

But it was the juxtaposition with Trumps fellow Republican Lincoln, the 16th and arguably greatest US president, that was most striking. Hollywood actor Jon Voight, a vocal Trump supporter, told the crowd: President Lincoln who sits here with us Im sure is smiling knowing we will be led by an honest and good man, who will work for all their people no matter their creed or colour. We will see a renewed America.

Some observers, however, found the choice of the Lincoln Memorial jarring. Keith Stiggers, 25, who is African American, said: When I saw that I was like, wow! Probably a lot of his supporters dont like Lincoln and his legacy for the country. Is he going to uphold that legacy or is he going to do what he can to step on it?

Stiggers, a law student, had come with his fiance to support democracy and feels that Fridays inaugural address will be crucial. I think he should definitely build bridges. He got a lot of support from the alt-right and now he should make it clear he is governing for all Americans. His speech is going to be very important; its going to dictate the pace of his presidency.

The free welcome celebration had begun just after 4pm with military marching, music and pageantry, including the national anthem, followed by a change of gear with drummer DJ Ravidrums (Ravi Jakhotia), who has served as a personal DJ for Hugh Hefner. Behind him giant TV screens flashed the names of every US state.

There were performances from soul singer Sam Moore and an improvised country music group, laden with patriotism. Eventually Trump and his wife, Melania, appeared to the soundtrack of The Rolling Stones Heart of Stone. The president-elect turned to give Lincoln a military salute before descending the steps to chants of Trump! Trump! Trump!

They joined other family members behind protective glass to watch artists including the Piano Guys Its time to put all our differences aside rock band 3 Doors Down, Lee Greenwood and country singer Toby Keith, who was introduced as one of the most popular artists in history. Trump is said to have had trouble attracting A-list stars to appear at the event.

Tom Barrack, president of the presidential inauguration committee, then introduced the TV celebrity and businessman turned politician. I would like you to pay tribute to the courage, to the strength, to the loyalty of this man, he said.

Trump, holding a microphone in his left hand, thanked his supporters and said: Im just the messenger … Its a movement like weve never seen anywhere in the world, they say … its something thats very, very special. The phrase, you all know it, half of you are wearing the hat: make America great again.

Trump reflected on the noisy rallies of his election effort, which few observers thought would lead to Fridays ceremonies 18 months ago. There was never an empty seat, like tonight, he said. We all knew that last month of the campaign … we knew that something special was happening.

The polls started going up, up, up, but they didnt want to give us credit. Because they forgot about a lot of us. When the campaign started I called it the forgotten man and forgotten woman. Well, youre not forgotten any more.

The crowd cheered. Trump promised to bring jobs back, and not let other countries take US jobs any longer, while also rebuilding the military.

Trump addresses a pre-inaugural rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

We are going to do things that havent been done in our country for many, many decades, I promise you.

Washington is a Democratic stronghold where Trump polled less than 5% in the election, but his supporters relished their time in the capital.

Chris Lehman, 55, a maintenance supervisor from Belmar, New Jersey, said: Its thrilling to be here today. This is a historic event. Weve got a president again whos proud of the country and will bring jobs back to the country. Its a good feeling. Hes brought jobs back even before hes taken the keys to the office yet. Unfortunately hell probably spend the first 20 days undoing the garbage President Obama did at the end to slow him down.

Lehman, 55, booked his hotel in nearby Baltimore before the election because he was so confident of Trumps victory. You dont become a billionaire by losing and not knowing what youre doing, he said. He speaks his heart and he speaks his mind. You know what hes saying is the truth, and youve got to love a president like that. He doesnt owe anybody anything. He can come in and do this right.

Shannon Wilburn, 48, who runs a Christian youth centre, travelled with a friend from Roby, Texas, for her first visit to the US capital. We just wanted to be here as patriotic Americans. Its a bucket list thing to see a swearing in of a president. I do believe Donald Trump is a Christian. One of the biggest things is his pro-life stance and, as a Christ follower, its very hard to accept someone whos not.

Wilburn said she doubted that Trump will be able to bridge the partisan divide in his inaugural address on Friday. Theyre not even going to give him a day. Look at the Democrats boycotting it. He cant get one day of grace. Thats a little frustrating, I think.

Nearly a million people are expected on the National Mall in Washington for a ceremonial transfer of power that will observe time-honoured traditions and pageantry but usher in profound political uncertainties.

Trump has promised to shake up the postwar liberal order, issued contradictory policy statements and, even before taking office, sparked anger in foreign capitals with his volatile approach. Questions have been raised over the character and temperament of a man who boasted about groping women and still picks fights on Twitter.

Protests are expected on Friday, and a huge womens march is planned for Saturday, as liberals dig in for four years of opposition to Trump, who enters office as the most unpopular of at least the past seven presidents at the beginning of their terms, according to opinion polls.

He also takes power under the shadow of Russias alleged meddling in the presidential election, which has led some Democrats to question his legitimacy. Up to 60 members of Congress will boycott the inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol.

At least 28,000 security personnel from 36 state, local and federal agencies will be deployed for inauguration events, reportedly costing $200m, divided between taxpayers and private donors. Parts of the capital are on lockdown, with steel barriers erected on normally busy streets, to head off disruptive protests.

Trump and his wife, Melania, will on Friday morning go to the White House for tea with Obama and his wife, Michelle, even as house movers work upstairs to swap their private possessions.

The inauguration ceremony will begin with performances by the Talladega Marching Tornadoes, the Rockettes dance troupe, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho.

At noon, in a scene not so long ago unthinkable to the political establishment, Trump will take the oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. He will place his hand on his own Bible a gift from his mother in 1955 as well as a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration.

In an operatic tableau, standing nearby will be Hillary Clinton, the candidate Trump threatened to jail during the campaign. She received 2.9 million more votes than he did last November but lost the electoral college. Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter will also be present.

Trump will become the first US president in the 240-year-old republic who has never served in the military or held public office. At 70 he will also be the oldest in his first term, eclipsing Ronald Reagans record.

Barrack said Trumps inaugural speech would focus on the issues that unite us and claimed that the divisions from the campaign would vanish. What youll hear in his address is a switch from candidate to president, he told the CBS This Morning show.

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The supreme court justice and opera lover, 83, had her first speaking role in The Daughter of the Regiment at the Kennedy Center

The curtain rose on act two of The Daughter of the Regiment at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night, to reveal the figure of a tiny woman barely visible in a large dome chair with her back to the audience. Suddenly, she swiveled around and there was supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Cheers and prolonged applause rang out even before Ginsburg, a lifelong opera lover who was making her official operatic debut, opened her mouth to speak as the imperious Duchess of Krakenthorp.

Her character, a non-singing role in Donizettis frothy 1840 comedy, had come to find out whether the title character, Marie, was worthy of marrying her nephew.

Looking frail but determined and wearing an elegant acid green silk dress, the 83-year-old Ginsburg read from a crib sheet a series of qualifications that sounded very much like requirements for high political or judicial office. Her deadpan delivery was boosted by a microphone, though laughter from the audience occasionally drowned her out.

Such lines included: The best of the house of Krakenthorp have open but not empty minds. The best are willing to listen and learn. No surprise, then, that the most valorous Krakenthorpians have been women.

There was also: Applicants seeking a station so exalted must have the fortitude to undergo strict scrutiny. Their character must be beyond reproach.

Ginsburgs biggest laugh came when, in apparent reference to the bogus birther campaign against Barack Obama, she asked whether Marie could produce a birth certificate and added: We must take precautions against fraudulent pretenders.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, left, as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in a dress rehearsal. Seated next to her is Deborah Nansteel as the Marquise of Berkenfield. Photograph: Scott Suchman/AP

Ginsburg wrote her own dialogue, in collaboration with Kelley Rourke, dramaturg for the Washington National Opera, which is presenting a new production of the opera. In the original version of La Fille du Regiment, as it is known in French, the duchess has little dialogue, but the role is often taken by comedians or ageing singers who improvise their own lines.

Francesca Zambello, the WNOs artistic director, asked Ginsburg to appear in all eight performances, but she declined to do more than opening night, citing her day job. Actress Cindy Gold takes over for the remainder of the run.

It wasnt Ginsburgs first time on an opera stage. She had appeared three other times dating back to 1994, but always as a non-speaking supernumerary. This time her presence added a unique lustre to a performance that would have been memorable even without her, thanks to world-class singing by the cast, led by soprano Lisette Oropesa as Marie and tenor Lawrence Brownlee as her sweetheart, Tonio.

After Ginsburgs first scene she was escorted off stage, while many in the house gave her a standing ovation. But she was back again near the end, this time brought in by a servant in a white powdered wig of the type worn by British judges. Hearing that Marie had decided to marry Tonio instead of the duke, she exclaimed: Quel scandale! She then retreated to a chair, fanning herself vigorously until the curtain fell.

She would appear one final time, led on during the curtain calls by Brownlee. Then, leaning on him for a bit of support, one of the most influential and revered women in American life smiled and curtsied three times to the audience.

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The South by South Lawn festival opened the presidential mansion to innovators in a freewheeling celebration of using technology for social change

You cant imagine a President Trump inviting a crowd like this to invade the South Lawn of the White House. Nor, for that matter, would it seem plausible were the Clintons back in residence in the mansion.

But on Monday the nations most famous expanse of grass became the stomping ground of a few thousand geeks, techies, nerds, rappers, funk musicians and social entrepreneurs. Or as the civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis neatly summed up the motley crew: Troublemakers in a good way.

It was the first and you have to presume the last South By South Lawn. Modeled upon and organized together with the original Austin, Texas, interactive festival South By Southwest, it brought a riot of color to the usually sedate seat of the US presidency.

As a visual statement of intent, a giant placard proclaiming SXSL was erected just in front of the mansions back facade. Around it were dotted a series of wooden benches with life-sized figures seated on them created by artist Nathan Sawaya out of Lego bricks in brilliant red, yellow, orange and blue.

New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya sits with his figures made of lego pieces on park benches, his art series Park People. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

In perhaps the ultimate expression of the sense of liberation suffusing the Obama presidency in its final days, the doors to the White House grounds were flung open to those deemed to be using cutting-edge technology as a tool for social change. That was the theme that Barack Obama promoted when he and first lady Michelle Obama headlined SXSW in March, and it was replicated, albeit on a much smaller scale, on the South Lawn.

The president is saying to the innovators of today: You are great at making things happen, so why not use that power to create positive social change, said Hugh Forrest of SXSW, who worked with the White House on planning SXSL.

The Lumineers perform at South by South Lawn. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

True to its festival roots, the event also featured some of Obamas personal musical favorites including a performance by the Denver folk-rock band the Lumineers, who he championed last year on his summer Spotify playlist. The crowd stretched out as the sun went down on red checkered blankets that were handed out to guests, and sang along to the chorus of the Lumineers song Ho Hey.

Earlier, the Obama team invited a number of tech startups and creative companies to showcase their wares, with an accent on innovation for social reform. Displays included solar-powered cooking equipment for developing countries, and flexible prosthetics custom-designed by engineers from Olin College in Boston to meet the physical and emotional desires of disabled people.

Among the creative booths, virtual reality (VR) reigned supreme. Thats the nascent art form in which viewers wearing Oculus-style goggles are immersed in total-surround imagery to give them the impression that they have landed in alien territory.

The Guardians first virtual-reality film, 6×9, was among three separate VR products and one augmented reality (AR) film on display at SXSL. Directed by the Guardians executive editor of virtual reality, Francesca Panetta, in collaboration with creative content studio the Mill, the film traps its audience for nine long minutes within an animated 6ft x 9ft concrete cell of the sort that houses up to 100,000 Americans in solitary confinement at any one time.

Common: the Guardians VR film blew my mind. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

SXSL attendees professed to be deeply affected by the film. Hip-hop artist Common said it blew my mind while Kara Hollinsgworth, who trains young people for political leadership roles, said it was very intense it only lasted nine minutes but I really wanted to get out of there.

Valerie Jarrett, Obamas senior adviser in the White House, watched 6×9 and declared it to be profoundly disturbing. Even though I knew intellectually I was in a virtual reality, it felt quite real. That was nine minutes I couldnt fathom how it would feel to be there for 23 hours in a day or for multiple days or even years.

Jarrett said 6×9 was an example of what Obama and his White House team were hoping to achieve in the last flush of his presidency. We are seeking to encourage technology that leads to informed change. Technology is a powerful tool that can be used as a force for good.

We wanted to highlight best practice in the hope that people across the US will look at whats happening here and engage to effect positive change in their communities.

Attendees sample the virtual reality experience. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images

Obama has made combating the use of solitary confinement in the US one of the mainstays of his attack on mass incarceration. America currently has more people in isolation cells than the entire prison population of countries such as the UK and France.

In January, Obama used his executive powers to ban the use of solitary for juvenile offenders in federal prisons. Despite the bold move, that still leaves the vast majority of solitary confinement prisoners in isolation under the jurisdiction of state penitentiaries.

Evidence shows long-term effects of solitary confinement can be deleterious particularly for young people. Using the Oculus and seeing the Guardians film can give folks a sense of why that is, Jarrett said.

The other main focus of the event was climate change. Towards the end of the day Obama emerged from the White House on to the lawn to join the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University for a conversation tied to the release of DiCaprios new climate change documentary, Before the Flood, which received its US premiere at SXSL.

DiCaprio, who served as the moderator, drew cheers from the crowd when he opened the conversation with a not-so-subtle jab at Donald Trump, saying: If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts or in science or empirical truths, and therefore, in my humble opinion, you should not be allowed to hold public office. (Earlier in the day, Trump named a well-known climate denier to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Barack Obama discusses climate change with scientist Katharine Hayhoe and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

During the discussion, Obama framed climate change as a looming national security threat and suggested climate deniers lack patriotism. He noted that droughts and changing weather patterns had the potential to displace hundreds of millions of people in vulnerable countries, exacerbating the refugee crisis and sparking new international conflicts. He cited early research suggesting that drought in Syria may have contributed to the countrys extreme civil unrest.

Obama suggested Republicans who dont take climate change seriously are out of sync with the nations military leaders. We have members of Congress who scoff at climate change at the same time as they are saluting, wearing flag pins and extolling their patriotism, he said. Theyre not paying attention to our joint chiefs of staff and the Pentagon, who are saying that this is one of the most significant national security threats that we face in the next 50 years.

With less than four months to go before the Obama era officially comes to an end, the president and his inner coterie are clearly already contemplating life after the White House. The president is very interested in building momentum outside Washington through change that becomes sustainable. That comes from people, building from the ground up, Jarrett told the Guardian.

Participants write suggestions on the To Do board during the South by South Lawn event at the White House. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

John Lewis, who proudly invoked his record of having been jailed 40 times in the 1960s during the civil rights movement and five more times since he became a member of Congress in 1987, exhorted the young South Lawn invaders to become the non-violent change-makers of the new generation.

We didnt have the internet, we didnt have fax machines, we didnt have social media, he said just a stones throw from the virtual and augmented reality booths. But through the actions of thousands of young people in America we made change happen, and now its your turn to pick up where we left off.

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With the Republican candidates professed love for the poorly educated reciprocated in the polls, socioeconomic class could swing the presidency in 2016

The sign hanging on Main Street announces, Crawfords Restaurant, Guns & Ammo. In the window an illuminated sign elaborates: Breakfast, lunch specials; cards, gifts, toys, ammo, guns, groc. Inside, there is an unpretentious cafe and shelves of gift cards, tinned food and other sundries as well as camo hats, firearms and ammunition. A deers head is mounted on the wall.

The family that helps run Crawfords, in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland, owns more than a hundred guns. Allen Crawford, Pam Rutherford and their four teenage daughters are deer hunters; a single kill yields around 80 to 90lbs of meat for their dinner table, and they donate the hide and antlers to be recycled as furniture. Come Novembers presidential election, they will vote for Donald Trump.

Crawfords restaurant, Boonsboro. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

You either have the common man with Donald Trump or the privileged with Hillary Clinton, Rutherford said this week. Clintons supporters could go 50 miles or less from their plush condos and elegant houses and find someone who has to hunt to support their family. I dont think they realise that.

In Britain it might be called a class divide. The nation premised on the American dream is more reluctant to accept such terms. Accent, dress sense and taste are not supposed to matter in the ultimate meritocracy. But the uniquely polarising candidacy of Trump has raised the prospect that, with important faultlines such as age, gender, geography and race relatively settled from election to election, socioeconomic class could swing the presidency in 2016.

Allen Crawford and Pam Rutherford. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

One marker is education. In 1992, Republican voters were much better educated than their Democratic counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center. Today registered voters with a college degree favour Clinton by 23 percentage points, while those without a college degree prefer Trump by five. This trend cuts across demographic groups, although it is most pronounced among whites. The Slate website noted: The educational split among white voters is the defining characteristic of this election. If this holds in November, it will be the widest educational divide at the ballot box for several decades.

Another marker is cultural and about optics. When Clinton recently referred to half of Trumps supporters as a basket of deplorables, critics also seized on the context: she was addressing millionaires at a fundraiser headlined by the singer Barbra Streisand at the New York restaurant Cipriani Wall Street. And her backers include those other temples of coastal privilege, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Trump, by contrast, was anointed the blue-collar billionaire at the Republican national convention, where Willie Robertson of the TV reality show Duck Dynasty, wearing stars and stripes bandanna and bushy beard, declared that media pundits dont hang out with regular folks like us, who like to hunt and fish and pray and actually work for a living. Heck, I dont even know that they know how to talk to people from middle America. I mean, when I tell em Im from Louisiana, they really start talking real slow and real loud.

In Boonsboro, a town of 3,400 people steeped in revolutionary and civil war history, a giant Trump sign has been spraypainted with the word love. Opposite a Subway restaurant and closed-down bakery, the Turn the Page Bookstore, owned by the romance novelist Nora Roberts, sells soy candles, handmade soaps and organic coffee. Its employees make little secret of their allegiance to Clinton. Two doors away, at Crawfords Restaurant, Guns & Ammo, a handwritten sign behind the laminated counter warns No free refills on drinks and the staff are for Trump.

As a reality show about hunting in the woods played on the TV, Rutherford, who is cashier, dishwasher, shelf stacker and much else, said of Clintons supporters: I dont think they realise the importance of small-town America and they dont see the value of it. Everybody in this community loves this little store but big companies make it harder and harder for us.

People say, You must be doing well with Obamacare. I say, actually, unless you have an astronomical salary or a company to pay for it, its crippling. Our health insurance is $900 per month for the family; thats why I work. Obamacare sounds really good to people not close to the reality of it.

Chevy Chase Village, Maryland. Photograph: Eric Kruszewski for the Guardian

Rutherford, 47, who grew up Southern Baptist, has seen the urban-rural divide from both sides. She attended the prestigious Winston Churchill high school in Potomac and still visits friends in the wealthy Chevy Chase area. But she moved to Boonsboro in 2002, where the family keeps horses, dogs and chickens on 30 acres of land and hunts 80% of their own food. Her daughters, aged 13, 14, 15 and 16, all hunt and play volleyball.

Displaying a phone picture of herself with a deer she bagged, Rutherford said: A lot of my friends dont agree with what I do but they dont have trouble wearing a full-length coyote coat to a fundraiser in January. They will wear leather shoes and carry an alligator handbag. The people of Washington dont want to go out to the rural areas; no one wants to go out of their comfort zone. But I would love to go to a Clinton rally just to eavesdrop and hear the interaction.

Along the street, at Marlys Laundry, Wayne Stonesifer was waiting patiently as his clothes spun in a tumble dryer. In his spare time, the maintenance technician goes hunting and fishing or watches TV: Fox News or childrens shows with his grandsons. He belongs to the National Rifle Association and intends to vote for Trump.

Hillary Clinton wont come round here, the 48-year-old said. Were too low class for her.

Wayne Stonesifer. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

Clintons followers would object to him hunting deer, Stonesifer believes. They have their opinions and I have mine. As long as we dont bother each other, thats fine. If you try to interrupt me when Im hunting, thats different.

The country has a bigger divide now than ever, he added. Youve got your gay rights, abortion laws, racism. Everybodys split. It wasnt this bad when I was growing up. Everybodys afraid to say something cos youre going to hurt someones feelings. The 80s were better. I think God needs to be back in the picture; everyones taking him for granted. Times are getting nearer.

Kevin Dobereiner, 36, owns two small businesses and complains that taxes are too high. He is also supporting Trump. Hes not a liberal and were $20 trillion in debt and unemployment is too high and our healthcare is terrible. The community organiser-in-chief has no qualifications and Hillary Clinton is just an extension of that.

I dont care what Trump says; I care what he does and hes not a billionaire because hes stupid. I like a guy who puts his foot in his mouth because at least he tells the truth.

Trumps plain speaking has been identified as one of the sources of his appeal to voters angry at the status quo in general and Republican establishment in particular. Even his outlandish gaffes are said to humanise him, emphasising his status as outsider and non-politician. His anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim diatribes have disgusted liberals and been cheered at raucous rallies, where he declares his love for the poorly educated.

John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, said: I think supporters look at Donald Trump and see a bit of an everyman, even though his biography completely opposes that worldview. Then they look at Hillary Clinton and see her as more elite than her background would actually suggest. Trump is the person you want to see on TLC; Clinton appears to live the way an average wealthy person lives.

There is a crucial gender dimension, Hudak argues. A female candidate would not be allowed to ramble like Trump does or Bill Clinton did. Only in a race between a man and a woman could her polish be a liability and his freewheeling be an asset.

Trump has scrambled the orthodoxy of class, for example by tweeting a picture of himself eating McDonalds fast food and drinking Coke on his luxurious private jet. He loves both boxing and golf. He has named Orson Welless masterpiece Citizen Kane as his favourite film but also once told the New Yorker that Bloodsport, a violent action flick starring Jean Claude Van Damme, is an incredible, fantastic movie. The music at his rallies ranges from Nessun dorma, an aria from Giacomo Puccinis opera Turandot, to Elton John. His properties are crammed with chandeliers, gold leaf, mirrors and marble tacky to some, aspirational to others. Both patrician and plebeian, his reading list is said to consist mainly of articles about himself.

Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Damme right up there with Citizen Kane, according to Trump. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

Some would say he lacks class, in every sense. And there is a tenacious myth that, free of the ossified layers of agricultural and industrial Europe, America is a class-free land of opportunity, where someone born into poverty can become president. It is not so simple, according to sociologists. Arlie Hochschild of the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, said: Class is profoundly important, imprinting all aspects of childhood, self, character and behind, and the denial of it is in the service of keeping alive the hope of lifting out of it. But America would be far better off talking about the realities of it.

Robert H Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University and author of Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, added: People here, if you ask them, will say they are middle class. Even relatively rich people will answer middle class because we deny theres such a thing as class here, which is of course preposterous. The barriers are different from England but theyre real.

Research suggests that Trumps core support should not be simply characterised as the white working class. Many earn an average of $70,000 but are caught in the downdraft of deindustrialisation, losing jobs to factory or mine closures, lacking the skills for a digital economy, anxious that their children will be worse off than they were. Joe Sims, a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA, said: My sense is that Trumps support comes not so much from the white working class but the lower middle class and small business people who have been pushed into the ranks of the working class. The wages are flat and theyre pissed off.

But in a supposedly classless society, there is often a gap between perception and reality. Sims added: During the 1950s and 1960s there was a myth propagated about the American dream and the American way of life and the sense that everyone was middle class and upwardly mobile. Certainly during that period there was at least a steadiness in increase in income and their children were able to do a little better than them. But this idea of everyone being middle class has crashed on the rocks of reality. Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Numerous academic studies have found that the extent of social mobility was probably always exaggerated and, in the past generation, may have become deteriorated. The soaring cost of studying at university has been blamed for stifling upward movement and allowing middle-class families to entrench their advantage. Pews research, published last week, found a growing ideological divide, with highly educated adults holding increasingly liberal attitudes, while under a third of the less educated held liberal views.

Stanley Greenberg, a veteran political consultant and senior pollster for Bill Clinton, said: I think well see the biggest divide between working-class voters and those with a college degree in this election. Its already there in the polls. Trump is reinforcing it by the nature of the campaign hes running and the issues hes running on. Hes driving away college graduates as well as the whole Republican party.

In the Republican primaries, Trump the class warrior made Ted Cruz, the conservative Christian ideologue, look quaint. Greenberg admits that he was surprised. The college-educated Republicans keep moving year after year more to the Democrats but this election has really accelerated it because its the first time weve had a candidate running on a straight working-class campaign. [George W] Bush was very much centred on faith; thats legitimate but it wasnt an economic argument.

Bernie Sanders stressed income inequality in the primary campaign but Hillary Clinton has yet to emulate his success with the issue. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However, he warned against an oversimplified binary split, pointing to the success of Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, in the Democratic primaries. Sanders stressed issues of economic inequality and access to college education, to the extent that he was criticised by some for neglecting race.

There were a lot of Democrats who were voting for somebody who was a self-described socialist, running against big money, getting big money out of politics, going after Wall Street and big banks, attacking Hillary for being a creature of the big banks, so you need a third bucket, Greenberg said. There are others who are not so focused on the racial and cultural issues who are quite ready to rally. Sanders, in the polls at least, was stronger than Hillary against Trump because he actually was winning both millennials and working-class voters.

But now Sanders is out, there are two historically unpopular candidates and a fear of two classes, or tribes, or nations, mutually hostile and suspicious. Like the Brexit vote in Britain, a painful rift has been exposed and polling day itself will not necessarily heal it. If diehard Clinton and Trump supporters sat down to dinner tonight, would they find much to talk about?

In Chevy Chase, an affluent neighbourhood in north-west Washington DC, an area where deer roam audaciously in the gardens of multimillion-dollar houses, Trump fans are hard to find. The owner of the retro American City Diner has endorsed Clinton with a giant billboard and sign that says: Trump exercise: lifting bags of money. Up the road, the Avalon Theatre, an independent cinema that opened in 1923, sells organic ice cream and shows films including the French-language Les Cowboys.

Levon Avdoyan, a 69-year-old librarian strolling nearby, said: There are people who live the life of the mind and people who live the life of emotion. Trump is a regrettable example of the latter. He has no politics and caters to the worst part of the American psyche. He caters to people who dont know what fascism is.

Asked his opinion of Trumps supporters, Avdoyan replied: Theyre scared little people.

And how would they regard him? Im gay. Im an atheist. I have a PhD. Its almost a trifecta.

Howard Shaker, 64, had just been to see the Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week. He said: Trumps a vulgar man who knows nothing. Hes a very privileged individual who came from wealth. Youd think he would be cosmopolitan but theres something primitive about him. I dont think he would fit here in Chevy Chase but he should because of his background.

Wendie Lubic. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

The retired IT contractor added: Theres a tremendous chasm in the US. In many respects it comes down to urban verus rural. The people who go to a Trump rally are a different crowd. There is a divide between them and other Americans. It confounds me that hes doing so well in the polls.

Sitting in the alfresco dining area of the Chevy Chase Lounge were Diana Blitz, a school counsellor, and Wendie Lubic, an education consultant, both of whom intend to vote for Clinton. Blitz, 59, rejected the notion of a class divide. There are some poor people who are Clinton supporters; there are wealthy people who are Trump supporters, she said. Hes playing to a disenfranchised group in the US. After a black president, the idea of a woman president is abhorrent to them. They feel this isnt their country any more.

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture, completed by UK architect David Adjaye, opens this week

As a general rule, it was written in the 1920s, Negroes have not been and are not thought of in America when you talk in general terms of Americans unless they are specifically pointed out. This general forgetfulness therefore made it necessary for those interested in fair play to all citizens to propose a beautiful building to depict the negros contribution to America in military service, in art, literature, invention, science, industry etc.

The text was part of a century-long campaign, started by black civil war veterans in 1915, that will reach its fulfilment on Saturday, when Barack Obama formally opens the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. It describes with some precision what has finally been achieved. It also suggests what the museums director, Lonnie Bunch, says over and over: that the museum should give a fuller understanding of what it means to be American seen through the particular lens of black experiences and contributions, not a place that is just about and for an anthropologically defined category known as African Americans.

The moment, of course, is charged. A short walk away another building has opened in the heart of the federal administrative district: the chandelier-bedecked Trump International hotel, a possible encampment on the way to the White House for the man keen on the plainly racist fantasy that Obama was not really American-born, and who as a young property tycoon was accused of denying homes to black applicants. Trumps combinations of obfuscation, cunning, bluster and force follow a pattern seen across the centuries in the museums accounts of the ways in which black freedom and advancement were blocked.

The museum, the 19th to be created by the Smithsonian Institution, enacts further principles currently under attack, which are the importance of knowledge and fact, scrupulously gathered, and of shared spaces for their understanding. It is much for a single building and its contents to carry, especially one placed on the National Mall in Washington amid the icons of the nation the White House, the Capitol, great museums, memorials to wars and presidents. How does one compete with such a monumental landscape? asks David Adjaye, the lead designer of an architectural team formed out of four practices for the purpose of this project called Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup.

British architect David Adjaye, the lead designer on the Washington museum project. Photograph: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

This team is led by people of predominantly African American heritage, a rarity in the still very white profession of architecture, such as the lead architect Phil Freelon and the project leader Zena Howard. J Max Bond, a pioneer among black architects, was part of the group but died before the museum was finished. Adjaye is British, born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents. The theme and content of the museum is therefore personal. As a young boy of my generation the African American story was also our story, says Adjaye, who was born as the civil rights movement was gathering force in 1966, in the sense that it was the techniques, the motivation, it was a way of being and it was a way of understanding that one could succeed in the modern world and not be oppressed by it. I feel it as part of my emerging into adulthood and being who I am.

It is indeed the content that should come before the architecture of the building that serves it. It includes artefacts of desperation and sheer survival, such as the shards of tools used by Maroons escaped slaves in their refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. Also of violence, such as leg irons, and fragments of glass from the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. There is exaltation, in the form of one of Chuck Berrys bright red Cadillacs, of the recollected triumphs of Muhammad Ali, of the orange silk jacket and recorded singing of the contralto Marian Anderson. There is abundant film and photography of the struggles and grotesqueries of racial politics, such as the Ku Klux Klan march through Washington in 1925.

The patterns of the museums filigree, bronze-finished screens derive from the decorative metalwork created by African American craftsmen in cities such as New Orleans and Charleston. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Scraps of intimacy and poverty are interspersed with larger structures, such as wooden cabins inhabited by slaves and a watchtower from Angola prison in Louisiana. Objects of American transport technology contribute: a segregated railway carriage, a bright yellow-and-blue biplane used by the African American Tuskegee airmen, that Cadillac. Eventually you find the P-Funk Mothership, a spoof spacecraft that used to land on stage on the 1970s stadium tours of George Clinton and his band Parliament-Funkadelic.

The collection is remarkable for the fact that, little more than a decade ago, it didnt exist. Lonnie Bunch, on taking up his post in 2005, was armed with a Bush-signed act of Congress that supported the idea of the museum, but he had nothing to put in it. This could have been catastrophic, as the world is full of unconvincing museums founded on ideas but little content. So Bunch and his team toured the nation, inviting people to offer whatever they might have. The result is personal, eclectic, touching and surprising, rather than encyclopedic.

The culture galleries at the Smithsonian Institutes National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The displays are sometimes overcrowded but avoid gimmicks and pointless gestures at interaction. They are text-heavy, partly to fill the gaps that arise from the nature of the collection, with a measured and sober tone. The exhibits are arranged in three main sections, starting with a narrative history, rising up from the bottom of a deep basement, that runs from the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade in 15th-century Africa and Europe to the presidency of Barack Obama. On two upper floors, above the ground level entrance hall, are the community galleries, which talk about such things as religion, place, sport and military service, and the culture galleries, which show art, music, literature and performance.

Slave shackles on display at the museum. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The museum thus climbs from slave ships to the mothership, an ascendant trajectory that maybe doesnt do enough to avoid an oversimplified story of oppression ultimately redeemed by blues, funk and hip-hop. The museum nonetheless does an outstanding job of giving due weight to horrors and heroism, to people just living their lives and to the endless repeating stories of creativity prompted by oppression. Many of the histories are familiar even to non-Americans, such as that of Rosa Parks, but they are shown here with new weight. You are assailed by the mental force of something pushing from the back of your mind to the front. Was segregation really so cruel, so laughably hypocritical, so absurdly rigged and transparently unfair? Yes, it was.

The official story of the design is already much told and doubtless will be repeated to the museums visitors for as long as it stands. The triple-decker superstructure of inverted truncated pyramids recalls the celebratory headpieces on certain Yoruba sculptures from west Africa and can also evoke, if you like, arms raised in celebration. They are made of bronze-finished aluminium whose filigree patterns derive from the decorative metalwork created by African American craftsmen in cities such as New Orleans and Charleston. A long, deep canopy that shelters the main entrance refers to the porches of southern houses that acted as social and political centres, little village halls, informal schools.

Inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photograph: Alan Karchmer

These narratives are necessary, says Adjaye, for a project that was definitely not done quietly on a mountain somewhere on my own but had to negotiate a lot of positions and opinions to get this form. So it was really important that this was neither cloaked nor hidden. It was something that had to be absolutely clear and people had to understand why.

But such stories only get a building so far. They could describe an exhilarating work or a cringe-making one. What matters more are the relationships the architecture makes through its space and material between exhibits, people and surroundings.

Here there are tensions between the institutional nature of a museum and its popular ambitions, between a search for authenticity and the tendency of modern museums to resemble shopping malls shiny, escalatored driven as they are by mall-like considerations of people moving and browsing. The design also has to deal with the contemporary habit of putting exhibitions in sealed boxes, where air and light are perfectly controlled, which makes for abrupt transitions with the rest of the world.

One technique that Adjaye tries is to create moments of crowd-pleasing charm a particular tone of purplish pink terrazzo in the entrance halls floor, coppery panels on the lifts, outbreaks of decoration as in an art deco cinema, something as simple as the rich blue over the entrance to the Oprah Winfrey theatre. There is an agile open loop of a spiral staircase going down to the basement, which also helps you forget that because of restrictions on the above-ground volume of buildings on the National Mall 60% of the museum is buried. You might imagine something non-Caucasian in these hues and motifs, but at any rate they are different from the greys and creams of most Smithsonian museums.

More substantially the building seeks to connect with its august surroundings, through views from decks outside the upper galleries that are sometimes filtered through the filigree screens and sometimes through openings specially oriented to particular monuments. The glass-walled ground floor allows views in all directions of both greenery and stone-pillared official architecture. At this point it feels embracing and inclusive.

A first world war helmet of the US Armys 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, on display at the museum. Photograph: Preston Keres/AFP/Getty Images

The hardest job the design has to do is to find a way to stand on its grand stage. It is placed at a corner where the grand axis emanating from the Capitol intersects at a right angle with that emanating from the White House, a cross pinned at its centre by the 555ft obelisk of the Washington monument. All around are white stone commemorations of white men, albeit often built with black labour. As a freestanding largely symmetrical object, the new museum has something in common with its neighbours, but as a dark-clad structure that eschews classical columns for apparently floating horizontal layers, it does not. Its suggestion of pyramids gives a geometrical echo of the obelisk (which, lest we forget, is Egyptian and therefore also African), but their inversion sets them apart.

Adjaye doesnt mind if a link is made between the dark skin of the building and that of the people it remembers, but he gives another reason for it. If it is not the main material for buildings on the National Mall, bronze is nonetheless used for the memorial detail of statuary and plaques. The role of the new museum is itself partly memorial, the idea having started off a century ago with the primary intent of honouring black soldiers. The bronze finish, for Adjaye, is absolutely from the classical family, but to express different ideas seemed like the right thing to do.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture flanked by the Washington monument, right. Photograph: Alan Karchmer

It takes some nerve to do a building like this, on this spot, and the design is confident enough to pull it off. It is not flawless, as it sometimes feels assembled or panellised more than crafted. The bronze-coloured screens are not the delicate, seamless things suggested in computer visualisations. The build-up of the exterior cladding glass wall plus screen plus substantial fixings for the latter impedes the sense of connection between inside and out. There are moments of gawkiness that can be engaging or uncomfortable, depending on your taste. But it achieves its main, difficult task, which is to be both American and African American, and to be of its location but also different from it.

As a museum and as a building it enacts the tone that is so striking in the 1928 text its patience, reason and lack of rancour. It realises qualities of America at its best, ones which, as is now abundantly clear, we cant take for granted.

A century of waiting: the long campaign for the museum

The new National Museum of African American History and Culture is the result of more than a century of efforts to commemorate the contributions of African Americans to their country.

1915 A group of civil war veterans, gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of its ending, organise a committee of colored citizens to build a monument.

A badge showing the unbuilt 1920s design for what has now become the National Museum of African American History. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright

1929 Congress permits a national commission to be set up, but it fails for lack of funding.

1968 Black leaders unsuccessfully press Congress for a museum.

1985 The owner of a bus-tour company, Tom Mack, starts a fundraising group.

1988 Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights veteran, unsuccessfully introduces a bill for a museum. He continues this battle for 15 years.

1994 A proposal to create a museum within a wing of an existing Smithsonian institution, already controversial because of its lack of ambition, is defeated. Republican senator Jesse Helms opposes it: How can Congress then say no to Hispanics, he says, and the next group, and the next group after that?

2003 After bipartisan pressure George Bush signs legislation creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

2005 Lonnie Bunch is appointed director. The museum has a staff of two, no collection, no confirmed site, and needs to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. He launches Saving African American Treasures, a programme to encourage citizens to donate objects.

2006 A site is selected on the National Mall, Washington DC, the last of any size to remain undeveloped.

2009 Following the election of President Barack Obama, a team of architects is selected.

2016 The museum, designed by a team led by David Adjaye, is completed at a total cost of $540m. Its 37,000 exhibits range from the sombre to the joyful. They include the coffin of Emmett Till, the teenager who was mutilated and killed in 1955; the dazzling dresses of Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick; and works by the self-taught 19th-century portrait painter Joshua Johnson.

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Author Uzodinma Iweala was born in Washington DC, and says the city is in my blood, my diction and my style. But how has the city he loves, and where his mother and father worked, changed since his birth?

The last time I returned to Washington DC, I arrived as I usually do, by train into Union Station. It was the end of March, the day before Easter Sunday, and the platforms teemed with travellers coming into town to see the citys cherry blossoms, gifted to the city more than a hundred years ago by the mayor of Tokyo.

The colonnade of delicately blossomed trees along the Tidal Basin walkway to the Jefferson Memorial is a historical and aesthetic delight for visitors; but for me, as a child, they were a harbinger of Washingtons aggressive hay fever season. When I was in high school, I would do my best to run speed workouts on the track while inhaling my own snot and wheezing through pollen-aggravated wind pipes. As an adult, I discovered Claritin and my whole world changed.

When I return by train, weather permitting, I often walk the mile-and-a-half from Union Station to the White House along Constitution Avenue before catching an Uber home, just to reacquaint myself with some of the structures and institutions that make my city so unique.

Here are the Smithsonian Museum buildings, many of which I entered as a child on school field trips. This is the majestic, David Adjaye-designed African American History Museum, so long overdue. There is the Washington monument in marble of two shades because the civil war disrupted its construction. Here is the White House, where the most powerful man in the world resides for a few months longer, a black man like me. This is the Federal Reserve, which for conspiracy theorists is the ultimate arbiter of all our fates. And here are the paths one million people marched along to hear Dr Martin Luther King preach for an end to Americas love affair with structured hate.

Cherry blossom in front of the Jefferson Memorial a harbinger of Washingtons aggressive hay fever season. Photograph: Beau Finley

Washington DC is not a subtle city. Unlike the capitals of other once-great powers which, many hundreds of years old, present a more seamless meshing of monumental memory and daily life, DC is constructed to shout Here I am! I am powerful! to the world.

But walking among the tourists earlier this year, I was filled with both smugness and sadness. Unlike these interlopers, I was born on this soil, within the 70 sq miles divided into four large quadrants that constitute our nations capital. I consider this city and these public spaces my own, yet I am cowed by the vastness of its outsized influence.

I rep Washington DC hard despite not having really lived here since I graduated from high school, and despite spending the past few years working in Lagos. DC is in my blood, my diction, my sensibility and style. I am, though, in love with a city that cannot fully love me back.


My DC starts in 1982 at the Washington Hospital Center. I was born in a city that was nearly 70% black. They called it Chocolate City: birthplace of Duke Ellington and Marvin Gaye, home of Chuck Brown and the citys idiosyncratic Go-Go music.

Ronald Reagan was not quite two years into his presidency, and Marion Barry was still a mayor celebrated for having made the jump from civil rights activist to consummate city politician. Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was still an active thoroughfare, not yet closed to traffic for fear of assassination attempts or terrorist attacks.

Uzodinma with his father at his high school graduation

There was also trouble. Drug usage and crime rates had steadily escalated through the 1970s, creating a vicious cycle of white flight and depressed municipal revenue, which in turn led to decreased services, increased poverty, worsening crime and further white flight to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The DC I entered was a divided city, populated by a minority white elite in the upper north-west section of the city that buzzed around the corridors of power; and a majority mixture of black wealthy, middle and working class with the poorest residents confined to pockets of debilitating poverty, and largely ignored in the citys outward projection of itself.

Yet this great divide did not manifest in the way you might have noticed in other cities.

For as long as I can remember, the majority of Washington DCs police force has been black. For that reason, perhaps, the city has been spared some of the worst excesses of police brutality, exacerbated by racial misunderstanding. But young as we were, my siblings and I still felt the racial tensions in assumptions our friends and their parents made about where we should live (read: not in the affluent suburb of Potomac); in the joking remarks white classmates made about majority black sections of the city (automatically the ghetto) to which they had most likely never been; in the skin colour of the people riding the metro buses compared to those on the subway or driving their cars; and in white peoples presumption of incompetence on the part of the mostly black city officials.

Even more troubling to me was the fact that growing up white in Northwest DC or the surrounding suburbs meant one could get away with not noticing these complex racial dynamics. Im pretty certain that for many of my classmates at the elite private school I attended, my black classmates and I formed the majority of their substantive interactions with people of colour.

But Washington DC has always been a divided city, most obviously between the officialdom of the United States federal government headquartered here, and the informal lives of the people who inhabit the city and its surrounding suburbs. It is a city fractured by its infatuation with official remembrance (as seen in its monuments and museums), and its seeming indifference to the personal memories of the permanent residents whose lives have truly shaped it.

The National Mall in Washington DC. Photograph: Beau Finley


People often speak of DC as if it has always existed in its pure state; as if brought to us by virgin birth. In fact, its territory was carved from two slave-holding states. Within its original borders were two slave trading ports: the first in what is now the trendy north-west neighbourhood of Georgetown, and the second in the modern city of Alexandria, Virginia.

Upon its founding, nearly a quarter of DCs population was black, and just under 10% of that population was free. The citys grand avenues and whitewashed structures were built by black slaves and freemen for the powerful white men who met inside to pass laws and uphold social norms that severely compromised the fundamental rights of black Americans.

Slavery is the reason DC looks like a half-eaten sandwich on a map. Slave holders in Virginia feared a growing abolitionist block in the United States congress might eventually push to outlaw slavery in the federal capital, so they petitioned to have the portion of the capital donated by Virginia returned to the state in 1846.

Four years later, congress outlawed the slave trade in the nations capital. Soon after, during the nations catastrophic civil war, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in all states, triggering an influx of ex-slaves from the south who sought safety and opportunity in this relatively progressive enclave.

DC has since seen the rise of a flourishing black community that, despite both legalised and de facto segregation, managed to found the nations most prominent historically black university (shout out to Howard I see you), produce a strong class of black professionals and artists, and amass black wealth in a way few other black communities have done in the United States. This was in part due to the benefits of proximity to an ever-expanding federal government which was generally more progressive than the southern state governments that did everything in their power to limit the freedoms and economic progress of black citizens.

Washington DC has seen the rise of a flourishing black community despite its history of segregation. Photograph: Beau Finley


When my mother came to Washington DC in the early 1980s, she had three things on her mind: her new job at the World Bank, the one-year-old baby girl she gave birth to just before earning her PhD, and me as yet unborn but already demanding a larger living space than she and my father had originally intended for their temporary sojourn in America.

My mother found a three-bedroom apartment at 4600 Connecticut Avenue just a few blocks from the Van Ness metro station, and half a mile from the Wesley United Methodist Church where I was baptised, attended pre-school, and where we still attend Christmas Eve service when assembled as a family during the holidays.

For my mother, the decision to live in Northwest DC was practical. She didnt have a car and needed to be close to her demanding job; and she needed something affordable (which much of the city was at that time). When she interned at the World Bank as a young graduate student, her African and black colleagues advised her to avoid Virginia because, despite cheaper accommodation, its political and cultural history made it more hostile to minorities.

The Iweala family at Uzodinmas high school graduation

I almost took a place in Adams Morgan, but the apartment was too dark, my mother told me the last time I was home, as she drove me to Union Station to catch my train back to New York. Adams Morgan is now an overly trendy area to the north-east of Dupont Circle, but 30 years ago, it was more immigrant, more black and Hispanic: the kind of place your mother dragged you after church on Sunday so she could buy oxtail, crayfish and dried cod from the Latin American and African grocers selling the ingredients of the Nigerian food we regularly ate.

Later, after adding two more children, my family moved to Potomac, Maryland in large part because my father, a man who values his quiet and privacy, wanted enough space that he didnt have to see his neighbours unless absolutely necessary.

My mother built her career in downtown Washington DC at the World Bank headquarters, close to the White House. She worked with the international and domestic policy makers and practitioners who often move to Washington in waves as presidential administrations, congressional terms and ambassadorial appointments turn over.

Most of the kids I went to school with were white. They lived in neighbourhoods of white people, shopped in grocery stores with other white people, attended church or synagogue with other white people. For them, and in large part for me and my siblings, DC was wealthy and white even if this wealthy whiteness was hardly representative of the city. Perhaps Im unkind, but Id wager that many of my classmates were unaware, except for the odd cross-cultural or cross-class interaction, that the city they lived in actually looked more like me than them.

I knew this because my father worked in a Washington DC just a few miles from my mothers office, but worlds away culturally, economically and psychologically.

If my mother worked in official DC, then my father, when he finally moved over from the United Kingdom and began work at Providence Hospital in Northeast DC, built his career in unofficial Washington. Located on Varnum Street Northeast, Providence sat in a working-class black neighbourhood not far from the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On the drive there, I would notice how the houses shrank in size and grew closer together. Some had fake green turf lining their front steps. There were fewer trees and the grass in the beds separating the curb and street was patchy and brown. The streets also had more cracks and potholes than in other areas of the city. Though it was perfectly safe and pleasant, it was evident, even to a childs eye, that this place received less attention than parts of Northwest DC.

When my father first started at Providence in 1993, his patients worked unglamorous jobs as teachers and support staff for government offices, as bus drivers, police officers and firemen. They carried with them stories of a vibrant and diverse majority subculture that, largely unbeknown to greater America and the world, built and shaped DC.

I remember working in Providences stuffy medical library, which occasionally would fill with black doctors and nurses taking a quick break away from the hectic wards. I also remember walking around and hearing an entirely different kind of English spoken: a slow, almost southern drawl that was instantly inviting and comforting. Washington DCs indigenous (for want of a better term) black folk were kind and open. They asked strangers, How is your day? and smiled, because that was good manners.

I liked it, my father told me when I asked what it was like to move from Manchester, England and Edinburgh, Scotland to black America. I was finally able to practise; to use my skills to take care of people and make money to support my family; and to work in a community that appreciates your work even more because you look like them.

Two decades ago U Street was a predominately black neighbourhood, but has since been gentrified. Photograph: Beau Finley


All that changed with the citys budget crisis of the mid-1990s. These were the nascent years of the extreme partisanship and Republican intransigence during the (hopefully) first Clinton presidency, that managed to shut down the federal government twice including right after the blizzard of 96 (which meant DC schools were closed for almost two weeks).

As usually happens during spats between the branches of the federal government, DC got tossed around in the middle, and ended up being stripped of its little sovereignty when President Clinton and the Republicans agreed to appoint a control board to oversee city finances.

As with many American urban centres that have seen financial hardship, this meant corporate executives making hardnosed decisions to cut services and save money. One of the casualties was DC General, the citys public hospital, which served lower-income communities across the district. After DC Generals closure, hospitals such as Providence saw an increase in patients from some of the citys more neglected areas, and it wasnt pretty. We saw a lot more gunshot wounds. We saw much more in terms of drug addiction and alcoholism, my father told me.

The worst was that hospitals in Northwest such as George Washington University Hospital where President Reagan was treated after John Hinckleys attempt to assassinate him, and where my youngest brother now works as a resident orthopaedic surgeon would illegally turn these patients away by telling them they could not treat their problems. How can you do that? Its not right! Its reprehensible, my father told me, his voice still brimming with anger many years later.

They could do it because of a dissonance at the core of Washington DCs existence. The people turned away didnt fit the whitewashed image of the marketable city, even though they were the majority of the population. It was the same reason my siblings and I were able to attend posh schools that could achieve a black student enrolment of 10% in a city more than 60% African American, and find those figures cause for celebration.

The NY Avenue area was burnt during 1968 riots in DC. Photograph: Beau Finley

Two of my closest friends in school, Aaron and Ismael, were black (we comprised 33% of the black population of our high school class) and lived in what were then majority black areas. They were always aware of, but hardly surprised by, how different the city looked after a journey of a few miles.

I have to remind myself that its not required that your parents give you a car when you turn 16, Ismael said once, as we sat in the large, blue Volvo station wagon that my parents had bequeathed to my sister when she started driving, and that I inherited when I turned 16. I took comfort in the fact that, compared to some classmates who drove Audis, BMWs and Range Rovers, my Volvo was slumming it.

Ismael lived in the U street area of Northwest on Riggs Street, between 13th and 14th streets. Today the area is full of chic restaurants, multimillion-dollar row houses and condos and white yuppies (and their strollers). Twenty years ago, it was a predominantly black neighbourhood with more liquor stores than trendy restaurants, and more African immigrants from countries like Ethiopia than American immigrants from Idaho and Montana.

This is the neighbourhood where my father asked me to drop the car off with a Ghanaian man who owned a vacant lot full of problematic Mercedes Benzes and Volvos that he fixed for much less than the dealership a few miles away on Wisconsin Avenue. Young black children played in the streets because backyards were small. The pavements cracked over prying tree roots and there were some businesses with boarded windows; a testament to the 1968 riots that decimated a neighbourhood which had been an incubator for the black artistic renaissance of the early 20th century.

At the time, property values were much lower. Ismaels parents bought their row house in the 1980s for less than $100,000 (75,000). His mother was recently offered over a million in cash for that same property.

Whats changed? Quite simply, more and more sections of DC are beginning to look the way city has always thought it looked. I remember one visit to Ismaels neighbourhood where he pointed to a house at the end of the block with a rainbow flag flying from its porch. There are some gay guys living there now, he said.

This was the mid-1990s so being gay was still a big deal. It was also a harbinger of change; an almost textbook sign that gentrification was on its way. First wealthy but socially unacceptable white people who nobody wants to live next to find acceptance among black people who nobody has ever wanted to live next to. Then, years later, Im more likely to run into a white college classmate on the way back from grocery shopping tote bag slung over her shoulder, kale leaves peaking over the edge than I am to see one of Ismaels old neighbours who can speak to the rise and fall and rise of a community that has always been integral to the citys life.

As Ismael put it one afternoon a couple of years ago when he, Aaron and I sat at Hooters in Chinatown salivating over the chicken wings: When we were in high school, our white classmates used to come here with fake IDs to buy alcohol for their parties, and I didnt like that. Now they live here and they dont like that my mum does too.

Has gentrification really benefited Washingtonians? Photograph: Beau Finley

Gentrification is a tough topic to consider, especially given that my education, income and love for kale means I am demographically a gentrifier myself. For the gentrifiers and those in neighbourhoods being gentrified, there are contradictory emotions caused by the interplay of race, class and ambition in the winner-takes-all pursuit of constant growth that we have termed urban renewal.

Like many major cities built around a humming economic engine (LA has entertainment, New York has finance, my city has the ever-growing, ever-giving federal government), DC is an epicentre for urban renewal and thus a locus of intense debate and discomfort around how this change impacts the soul of the city.

DCs economic transformation began when Anthony Williams, the control board-backed chief financial officer of the city was elected mayor in 1999. In his two terms, Williams brought over $40bn of investment to the city. Coupled with an expanding federal government during the presidencies of George W Bush and Barack Obama, this led to an unprecedented increase in population, increased pressure on existing housing stock, and a demographic transformation that has seen Washingtons African American population decrease by 7.3% while the white population has increased by 17.8% over the last 15 years.

Washingtons new younger, often whiter money meets its older darker residents in a process that has accelerated under two subsequent mayors, and resulted in the conundrums facing places like the H Street Northeast corridor, where my friend and original New Yorker Mary lived during her time at Georgetown Law School and where an influx of students, hipsters and Hill staffers has brought new economic life, but also the possibility of cultural erasure, to another historically black subsection of the city.


One morning in late 2015 when visiting Mary to attend her law school graduation ceremony, plagued by jet lag, I slipped out of her house early to take a walk around her neighbourhood. As the sun rose, I steered clear of the new hipster pubs and draft beer houses on H Street, and instead followed side streets where aged row houses stooped towards the sidewalk.

I nodded to a dreadlocked man waxing a large SUV. I felt myself being watched, followed. From across the road, a man and a woman cat-called me. I pretended not to hear and continued my stroll, but they crossed the street to stand on the sidewalk in front of me.

The fire station in upper Northwest. Photograph: Beau Finley

The man was rail thin, and wore cut-off jean shorts with frayed hems and a blue form-fitting tank top that exposed his sinewy arms. He waved his skeletal fingers at me. His companion, a shorter, rounder woman with close-cropped platinum hair and a pot belly, stepped forward.

You new to the neighbourhood? the man asked.

Just visiting, I said.

Where from? the woman asked, stepping closer. I stood my ground. You thinking of coming here and buying one of our houses, arent you? she asked.

No, no, I said with a nervous laugh, Im from Nigeria thinking that distance would ease the tension.

But you want one of our houses, she insisted. People keep coming up in here buying our houses and shit, changing the neighbourhood and shit. Must be because we got that good stuff.

Then she reached forward and grabbed my crotch. You want that good stuff? Her companion squealed with delight as she cackled: You come with us. We can show you that good stuff.

Um. No, thank you, I said, and quickly stepped on to the grassy patch next to the sidewalk and hurried off. As I quickened my pace, I could hear them cackling to each other. The man in the tank top finger-waved good bye.

I was shocked, mostly by the unwanted sexual contact, but also by the realness of demographic and community change across the city. According to the architecture critic Robert Bevan: In part, we recognise our place in the world by an interaction with the built environment and remembering these experiences, and by being informed of the experiences of others: the creation of a social identity located in time and place.

So what happens when the built environment changes directly beneath your feet; when new money brings new structures, or the reconfiguration of old structures, that define a physical-mental-emotional space?

Iweala as a child. Though the community has changed, Iweala still loves the city

In DC, as people come for the good stuff in this case, the cheaper real estate of fringe communities the shared memory changes, and communities lose their distinct social identities, falling into the trap of market-defined millennial America. Suddenly, the face of a neighbourhood in real-estate brochures and tourism posters becomes an appropriately bearded 30-something white man or his smiling, blue-eyed girlfriend, their ethnically ambiguous interracial couple friends, and occasionally someone who looks like me. Meanwhile, the original resident is left wondering whether each potential new face represents the increased possibility that they will be excluded from their own story.

My friend Aaron who grew up in Northeast Washington DC with his mother and grandmother (and now lives in New York) told me: I dont know if I could really go back and live there. DC for me was close-knit, working-class residential communities. Its like the city wants something different for itself now. I dont know if Id fit in.

A lot of original Washingtonians I know (rich and poor) share this sentiment, even as there is a recognition that many of the changes have improved the overall perception and standard of living in the city. But there is also recognition that these changes have hardly been beneficial for everybody.

Before I retired, the people who lived around the hospital were all black. Now when I go around there, I notice the faces are different: they are all white and Hispanic and suddenly its become a more desirable place to live, my father said when I asked him what he thought about DCs transformation. I just wonder where everyone went. I just wonder why its only when white people move to a place that people suddenly pay attention.

As the citys demographic shift results in better services for once-black areas that now have increased white populations; as newcomers without concern for the citys rich history and implicit biases become more populous, and unconsciously use the citys security apparatus to neutralise difference that makes them uncomfortable; and as the citys police department itself becomes less black, less integrated with the communities it serves, and more aggressive, people lose faith that the city they once knew still wants to know them.


Like all things, cities must change even a city as enamoured of the past and memory as DC. But one hopes that, however seductive the pressures of new investment and economic growth, a fusion of social and economic identities, rather than erasure of one to accommodate the other, is allowed to form a new city soul which respects all of its histories.

Months before my friend Mary graduated from law school, she told me I had absolutely no choice but to present myself for her pre-graduation gala: an elaborate affair in which the almost-lawyers and their visibly relieved significant others, parents and sometimes children, dress up for a night of horror that can only be called adult prom.

The event, held at the National Portrait Gallery in the now-revitalised Chinatown, was close to where I had my horror of a high school prom at the Verizon Center just up the street. After a night of awkward conversation and observing awkward flailing that is future lawyers dancing, we left the event tipsy, holding each other for support.

Driven by an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, I insisted we walk down towards the Capitol Building. We strolled slowly, occasionally turning to admire the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial shimmering in their floodlights behind us.

The street was empty, and the only sound came from our feet crunching the gravel paths as we walked. A soft drizzle fell, catching in the lights and obscuring the buildings so that everything suddenly felt otherworldly, unreal.

I love this city, Mary said, as I took her hand and we walked towards our waiting Uber. I love my city, I replied.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. Order the book for 7.37 (RRP 8.99) at the

Hinckley, 61, will live under restrictions with his mother, continuing therapy and volunteer work

The man who shot Ronald Reagan was released from a Washington psychiatric facility for good on Saturday, more than 35 years after the shooting.

A federal judge ruled in late July that the 61-year-old John Hinckley Jr is not a danger to himself or the public and can live full-time at his mothers home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

A spokeswoman for the District of Columbia department of mental health said early on Saturday that all patients scheduled to leave St Elizabeths Hospital had been discharged. Hinckley was among those scheduled for discharge.

An Associated Press reporter saw a hired car pull into the driveway of the Hinckley home at around 2.30pm. Officers from the Kingsmill police department chased reporters away.

Hinckley had already been visiting Williamsburg for long stretches and preparing for the full-time transition. He will have to follow an extensive set of rules while in Williamsburg, but his longtime lawyer, Barry Levine, said Hinckley would be a citizen about whom we can all be proud.

Hinckley will have to work or volunteer at least three days a week. He has not yet done paid work in Williamsburg, but he has volunteered at a church and a psychiatric hospital, where he has worked in the library and in food service.

Hinckley will start off living with his elderly mother in her home in the gated community of Kingsmill, on the 13th hole of a golf course. According to court documents, Hinckleys room has a king-size bed and TV and is decorated with paintings he has done of houses and cats. In the past, he has done chores such as cleaning, dishwashing, laundry and leaf-raking. After a year, he may live alone or with room-mates.

He will continue to go to therapy while in Williamsburg, seeing a psychiatrist twice a month for at least the first six months and attending weekly group therapy sessions. He will return to Washington once a month, to St Elizabeths outpatient department, to discuss his mental health and compliance with the conditions of his leave.

Hinckley will be able to travel he got a drivers license in 2011 and the court order in his case lets him drive within 30 miles of Williamsburg by himself. He can go up to 50 miles from the city if accompanied by his mother, sibling or a therapist or social worker. He can also drive to and from Washington once a month for his outpatient meetings.

Hinckley has long considered himself a musician and an artist. He paints and plays the guitar and has been involved in both as part of his therapy. He will continue to see a music therapist once a month while in Williamsburg. At court hearings in the case in late 2011 and early 2012, lawyers discussed the fact that Hinckley had recently developed an interest in photography.

There are limits to how Hinckley can spend his leisure time. He cannot drink or use illegal drugs, while he can surf the web but is not allowed to search for information about his crimes or victims, among other things. He cannot have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or LinkedIn without permission.

Once Hinckley lives in Virginia, he will be able to register to vote there. He has expressed an interest in voting in the past and tried unsuccessfully to get a ballot in the 1980s and 1990s. Levine told a newspaper in early August that he suspected his client would register to vote. Virginias deadline to register for the November presidential election is 17 October.

Finally, Hinckley is barred from talking to the press.

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Opening next month in Washington, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture investigates 400 years of US society

From slave shackles to Princes tambourine: when the Smithsonians African American museum opens next month, it will offer visitors a layered journey through the long and complicated history of black people in America written in artifacts large and small, old and new.

Most of the museums larger installations a guard tower from the Angola prison in Louisiana; the Parliament-Funkadelic mothership retrieved from frontman George Clintons home have been in place since at least this spring. Many, like the guard tower, which was transported more than 1,000 miles on the back of an oversized flatbed truck, had to be in place before the building could even be finished.

But as the public opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture draws near, the Smithsonian has released details about some of the artifacts that, while physically smaller, still represent monumental moments in the history of black Americans. The list spans some 400 years of US society, from the barbarism of the slave trade to the outsized cultural achievements of black Americans in decades past.

Museum director Lonnie Bunch stands in front of one of the museums engraved walls. Photograph: Paul Holston/AP

Arranged chronologically from the buildings basement up through its three glass stories, exhibitions about pre-colonial, pre-enslavement Africa greet visitors. In short order, the exhibitions turn to the transatlantic trade that brought more than 12 million Africans to the western hemisphere in shackles, displaying a genuine pair of 17th- or 18th-century iron wrist locks.

They are probably one of the most poignant objects we have in our collection, said Kinshasha Holman, deputy director of the museum. Its something that doesnt ever allow us to forget that we as African Americans were born of a county built on the enslavement and the ownership of human beings.

If these shackles could speak, they would say it took the resources of an entire society to create slave ships, said Charles Johnson, scholar and author of the historical novel Middle Passage. Everyone in slave-trading societies, even those who never owned a slave, was implicated.

The original ambrotype portrait an early form of photography captured on glass of Frederick Douglass is on display marking the nations fight for abolition and subsequent civil war. The abolitionist, speaker, writer and freedman was also the most photographed American of the 19th century. Deborah Willis, a scholar of African American photography at New York University, said Douglass believed the emerging technology of photography was a powerful instrument of racial uplift.

According to Willis, Douglass believed photos could challenge the racist caricatures of black people that pervaded the United States and beyond with images that communicated black humanity, self-worth and achievement.

In the 1940s, in the pre-dawn of the civil rights era, Dr Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie conducted what may be one of the most far-reaching social science studies of the 20th century. Clarks doll tests demonstrated the way white supremacist ideology infects black people at miraculously young ages, asking black schoolchildren from segregated and unsegregated schools to pick whether they preferred a white or a black doll. The Clarks findings, that black children from segregated schools were more likely to prefer white dolls, factored in the landmark supreme court decision in Brown v Board of Education that made segregation illegal in the US. One pair of black and white dolls used in the experiments are exhibited in the museum as well.

An exhibit depicts the life and presidency of Barack Obama and his family. Photograph: Paul Holston/AP

Fast-forward through time about 50 years: the museums third floor will feature a tambourine from Princes 1990 Nude tour. He was always looking forward, working to expand his knowledge and understanding, said Sheila E, a musician and longtime Prince collaborator. He pushed every boundary of art and challenged every concept of the way things were supposed to be, in music and life.

The music section of the museum also features singer Chuck Berrys trademark red Cadillac and film reels of jazz musician Cab Calloways home movies.

More than 100 years in the making, plans for an African American history museum in the nations capital date back to a 1915 meeting of black Union army veterans, frustrated with discrimination and racism. Their efforts led to a presidential commission gathered by Herbert Hoover, but little else. The idea was essentially mothballed for more than half a century before re-emerging in the 1970s on the heels of civil rights advances.

The now realized museum, in a prominent location on the national mall and in the shadow of the Washington monument, was approved in 2003 and architects broke ground in 2012, with Barack Obama in attendance. In September, the nations outgoing first black president will help celebrate its grand opening.

The president will be prominently featured in the museums A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond exhibition, which illustrates the impact of African Americans on social, economic, political and cultural life. The exhibit spans from the death of Martin Luther King Jr to Obamas second election and features dozens of pieces of campaign memorabilia from his historic 2008 and 2012 victories.

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