Eight years ago, Aaron DeNu, GSAS ’06, was living near Fordham’s Rose Hill campus when he saw how soccer fans’ passion for the beautiful game could enliven an already vibrant neighborhood.
“I was fortunate to be living on 187th Street during the 2006 World Cup,” he said. “What an amazing experience it was to be in the heart of Little Italy during the Italian national team’s march to the finals.”
DeNu helped some local merchants coordinate ad hoc viewing parties.
“TVs were pulled into the street, makeshift projectors showed replays at night on Arthur Avenue,” he recalled. “I knew that wherever I would be living during the next World Cup, I would try to re-create the energy I felt during that summer in Belmont.”
In 2010, DeNu made good on his goal.
By then he was living in Washington, D.C., having accepted a job at George Washington University, where he currently works in the student affairs division as associate director of technology, outreach, and events.
Prior to the 2010 World Cup, he and a friend secured the permission, funding, and equipment necessary to stage what they called Soccer in the Circle. The daylong World Cup viewing party drew a multinational crowd of hundreds to D.C.’s Dupont Circle to watch three games, including a U.S.-England match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
“Dupont Circle is right in the heart of D.C.,” DeNu said. “It’s only a few blocks from the White House and it’s surrounded by embassies, so it seemed a natural place to host a World Cup festival.”
So natural that four years later, as the 2014 World Cup is set to kick off in Brazil, DeNu is at it again.
|Aaron DeNu, GSAS '06|
This time, DeNu has far more experience working with local and federal officials to plan free public events in the park.
Following the 2010 World Cup, he founded Dupont Festival, a nonprofit that organizes activities in and around Dupont Circle throughout the year. DeNu is the principal organizer, and there are three other people on the group’s board of directors.
“Since that first World Cup viewing,” he said, “we have hosted more than 40 public projects in the park.”
They’ve organized outdoor film screenings, showing movies on the National Film Registry such as E.T., Casablanca, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And DeNu has exhibited a flair for promotion.
For a screening of Back to the Future, he rented a DeLorean similar to the one featured in the film, parked it in the park, and attracted passersby by blasting “The Power of Love” and other tunes from the movie on the iconic car’s stereo.
“I’ve had a lot of luck in finding the right mix of pop-cultural activities and tying events in to the calendar,” DeNu said. “On the summer solstice we show a movie. When the fountain is turned on in the spring, we have a fountain day.”
Early this year, DeNu campaigned to get Bill Murray, star of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, to take part in the Dupont Festival’s annual Groundhog Day celebration. “The D.C. Council even agreed to rename [the holiday] Bill Murray Day if he showed,” DeNu said. Although the actor did not respond, the Huffington Post published a piece about DeNu’s effort.
DeNu said the Dupont Festival’s events are about “creative placemaking,” leveraging arts and cultural activities to serve the community and transform the neighborhood around Dupont Circle.
“Our mission is to creatively animate public space,” said DeNu, who has been working closely with the National Park Service, the D.C. Council, the police department, and local businesses.
“We’ve been building trust with folks in town, and they fully understand what we’re trying to do,” he said. “They know that all of the money we raise goes directly to the events.”
The upcoming World Cup viewing party already has the community buzzing.
“Hundreds of people have RSVP’d already,” DeNu said, “so we’re expecting a nice crowd [for the U.S.-Germany match]. We’ll also be showing the Belgium-Korea match that afternoon. We have two large, super-high-definition LED screens that are glare-proof and weather-proof.”
Having the support of the German Embassy is especially satisfying for DeNu, whose paternal great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Baden, Germany, and settled in Indianapolis.
DeNu grew up in Milford, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. He was a record-setting striker on the Milford High School soccer team and went on to play for four years at Wilmington College of Ohio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and history.
In 2004, he continued his interdisciplinary studies at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, focusing in particular on the effects of technology on human interaction.
“I specifically sought out Fordham,” he said, “for its interdisciplinary master’s degree program.”
DeNu also said his time in New York City inspired his interest in creative placemaking.
“Living in New York City accelerated that for me. Walking around the Rose Hill campus and seeing all the different activities there and in the Bronx and in Manhattan, going to events in Central Park and Bryant Park, that was a real inspiration,” he said.
“Being at Fordham and being able to see all that stuff and see how it works was a degree in itself.”