Street Art — Baltimore Edition

By Lanie Rivera

Last weekend, I traveled to Baltimore, M.D. with a group of friends. Our day there seemed to be immersed in rich art forms, from art museums to public street art. Pictured here are a few of the many murals we found.

*Photos by Lanie Rivera

Art used to merge the District’s two cities

Left: The District's famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

Left: The District’s famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

By Lanie Rivera

District Mayor Vincent Gray recently proposed a budget for fiscal year 2014 that would raise the public city arts budget by $2.3 million; city officials wish to invest the funds into neighborhood art projects to encourage tourists to visit under-trafficked areas of the District, according to the Washington Examiner.

I hold the belief that this infusion of funding is an attempt by Gray and other city officials to create a city with appealing aspects beyond its historical and political landmarks.

And if neighborhoods and historic landmarks were equally inviting, I would also argue that the duality of the District would intertwine. Washington, the political, wealthy city, would merge with D.C., the multigenerational residents who have a stake in the District.

Lionell Thomas, executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, told the Examiner that the neighborhood projects would establish the whole District as an artistic epicenter:

People think of the Mall as the place to go for artistic activities … The new strategy creates that whole vision — the city is a vibrant and wonderful place.

And an influx of visitors in lesser-visited neighborhoods would likely promote neighborhood beautification and renovation. Neighborhood visitors would see there is more to the District than the famous statues and museums that people typically plan to visit.

Furthermore, tourism in both Washington (museums and politics) and D.C. (neighborhoods and local hangouts) would weave the two parts together. This contrast is well explained by Adam Serwer in a 2011 article titled “A City Divided,” published on the American Prospect:

Washington spills out of downtown Metro stations at 8 A.M.; D.C. huddles on crowded buses at 6 A.M. On Sundays, when Washington goes to brunch, D.C. is in church. Washington clinks glasses in bars like Local 16 in its leisure time, while D.C. sweats out its perm at dance clubs like Love or DC Star. Washington has health-insurance benefits, but D.C. is paying out of pocket …

Although this duality has existed for quite a while, these two parts of the District have, arguably, already begun to meld together within the past few years, but not equally — some residents believe Washington has overshadowed D.C.

In his 2013 State of the District Address (according to the prepared text), Gray said that the District is becoming a higher class area. The city was previously recognized for its cultural and economic diversity; the career-focused transplants from all over the country mingled with the District locals whose families had grown up in the area for generations.

Now, though, Gray noted that he was afraid the city was overwhelmingly inhabited by residents with white collar careers:

We once worried about the District becoming a city of “haves” and “have-nots.”  But now we are increasingly in danger of becoming a city of only “haves.”

Some District natives have noticed the same shift.

NY Times writer Latoya Peterson, a District resident, shared her experience with the city’s divide that confirmed Gray’s worry. She wrote that the political bustle of Washington is taking over D.C. in her January 2013 op-ed piece:

My block today looks completely different from the way it did when I moved in just a few years ago. Italian wine bars and trendy street food arrived, bringing a diversity-lite mix of patrons. Washington is taking over, yet vestiges of D.C. remain.

Under-trafficked neighborhoods may be considered these “vestiges.” If tourists were drawn into local neighborhoods, I argue that central Washington and hidden D.C. would be equally celebrated. Art installations, as suggested by city officials, would be one method to entice visitors into neighborhoods and promote equality among the two faces of the city.

Although I have not read any residents’ reactions to this proposition, many officials have endorsed the idea. At-large Councilman David Grosso told the Examiner that an artistic landmark would create a well-rounded city, adding a creative, authentic flare to a predominantly federal city:

Just like Chicago has “The Bean” (officially titled Cloud Gate), a shiny, odd-looking, permanent fixture of Millennium Park that draws flocks of gaping onlookers, the District needs its own distinctive centerpiece, [Grosso] reasons – not another obelisk for a former president.

Grosso and others think that the District is not a large player in the arts scene. These city officials support Gray’s decision to fund the arts because most big cities have large art pieces that attract visitors.

Jennifer Cover Payne, head of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, told the Examiner that she believes the Gray’s proposition is a great sign following years of an artistic drought.

” ‘When there was an downturn in the economy, the arts downturned even more,’ she said. ‘Now … D.C. is ready for a renaissance.’ “

[WC: 777]

The District seen through an artistic lens

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

By Lanie Rivera

While on your everyday commute, you pass by that colorful mural in your local metro station twice a day — do you ever wonder what it means? Which artist painted it? If there are any more like it in the District, and where?

Well, lucky for you, District art lovers combined their local art findings onto one convenient map, creating a simple way to plan a weekend trip to explore the city and quench your thirst for D.C. art culture.

The map features locations, descriptions and titles of public art pieces, delving deeper into the District’s rich artistic history.

Check out the mural details and the interactive map here.

Relative importance of community-based art projects climb


Photo by Art Matters, on Easy City Art

By Nicole Lafond


Two University of Vermont students recently curated a community art project on the school’s campus, encouraging student and faculty members to express what makes them feel “Alive.”

The two Davis Center curators and juniors at the University of Vermont were inspired by a recent gallery at the Penny Cluse restaurant, and decided to bring the idea to their campus, the Vermont Cynic reported. The exhibition is currently being featured in the Dudley H. Davis Center on campus.

The Dudley H. Davis Center is a community center on the university’s campus. It claims to be student focused, complements the university’s academic mission, supports social justice and is environmentally conscious, according to the center’s website.

Maya Curtis and Blair Borax were the brains behind this community art project. The two-student team arranged the specifics of the exhibit and held an opening reception on March 20. The exhibit opened March 19 and will last until April 12, according to the University of Vermont’s arts calendar.

Community member participants were given few instructions for this exhibit. They were given an eight by eight piece of plywood, asked to express their notions of the word “alive” and then return the finished product to be displayed in the exhibit.

The exhibit’s inspiration, “Run” featured at Penny Cluse, functioned similarly to “Alive,” but Curtis and Borax told the Cynic they hoped to make their exhibit more community focused.

“It is definitely important to value fine art, but I think it’s equally important to level with a public who aren’t all art critics, to makes this space inclusive.”

A vast array of skill levels and artistic mediums was the goal of the exhibit, according to the student curators. Community artists who have contributed to date utilized products such as markers, glitter and fake flowers, according to the observations of the Cynic reporter.

Borax has worked with the concept of community art before, and said she sees it as an important part of any art gallery’s relations with the public.

“This is not a super fine art thing, but I think it’s important to get the student body involved.  Especially in the Davis Center where their mission is related to social justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite experience with community-based art projects, Borax was disappointed with the level of engagement she has encountered so far at her university’s art center. Only 15 people had signed up to participate in the “Alive” exhibit, but the pair said they were expecting more to express interest after the opening reception.

The pair also plans to engage in and curate more community art projects in the future.

Community-based art projects are not a new concept in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Organizations such as Civilian Art Projects and City Arts exist because of community engagement in artistic exhibits. These community-based art projects could be the future of art programs in D.C. and beyond.

Civilian Art Projects is a gallery located on Seventh Street in the North West that exists solely to help spread the vision of amateur artists. The gallery provides a platform for community members to engage in the art works of local emerging artists while allowing community members a place to explore their own interests and engage in expression.

Similarly, City Art has created a business model based around the importance of community art.

“City Arts also conducts mural and mosaic residencies at Washington, DC area public, private, and charter schools. These projects involve hundreds of students – most of whom do not have formal art training – in the creation of artworks that pay tribute to their schools and surroundings. Through partnerships with local nonprofits, City Arts offers after-school and summer art workshops.”

I argue local community art projects are one of the most productive means of engaging locals in the power and importance of the arts, and may be the answer to art education in the D.C. community and beyond.

Local D.C. school officials have recently made plans to close 15 public schools in the district, the Washington Post reported. Plans to cut art funding to a prominent art organization, Fillmore, have also been recently announced.

These cuts have local parents and community members frustrated with the priority quality education, specifically arts education, has in the local community.

An increase in the number of art, music and foreign language programs was used as a justification for the “consolidation efforts”  of the DCPS, in response to a recent law suit filed by activists hoping to halt the closure of these 15 schools.

School officials should be criticized for the lack of evidence behind this claim made by DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz. The connection independent community art projects have with schools in the district could be the source of DCPS’ claim, making the claim invalid, as these independent organizations do not claim to be active DCPS affiliates, but rather affiliated with student based non-profit organizations.

The importance of community of art projects is more prominent now that community members fear art funding cuts and public school closures, but should not be cited as a justification behind such actions.

The future of the local art industry in D.C. may lie in the hands of community-based projects, such as “Alive.”

Open Walls provides outlet for legal street art

By Lanie Rivera

Are you looking for an outlet for your intrinsic artistic yearnings?

Contact Open Walls, an initiative that allows District residents to leave their mark on the city by painting a mural on a public wall space (legally, of course). Open Walls is sponsored by Albus Cavus, an international artist organization that improves public spaces while promoting neighborhood engagement through art.

On the project’s website, they list many benefits to their cause, including the enhancement of local culture, improvement of education, promotion of open expression and creativity, economic benefit for property owners and most importantly, the “improvement of public health.”

An article on the Elevation D.C. website recently observed that one of these murals commissioned by Open Walls in 2009, located along the Red Line’s tracks at the Rhode Island metro stop, has been crowded by illegal graffiti.

But the mural represents a legal, beneficial and artistic contribution to the area, changing typical assumptions about street artwork.

“… it stands in loud defiance of both the surrounding gray cityscape and stereotypes about graffiti,” wrote Elevation D.C.

Current Open Wall spaces in the District include Garfield Park, Edgewood, Sherman Wall, Perry Center, Ivy City and the Raritan River Art Walk, according to the project’s website.

To participate, follow the steps listed here. Paint the city.

*Video courtesy of Liane Kay. It tells the story behind the mural on the 700 foot wall on Rhode Island Avenue, Washington, D.C.

“A Survivor’s Journey,” a Brookland mural

By Lanie Rivera

Last Saturday, my peers and I ventured out to Brookland, a Washington, D.C. neighborhood known for its Catholic landmarks including the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception, Catholic University and the Franciscan Monastery. Along the way, we couldn’t help but noticing a colorful, intriguing mural.

Photo by Lanie Rivera

Painted on the side of the Brookland Café building at 3740 12th Street N.E., the mural, titled “A Survivor’s Journey,” depicted an image of a controlling man with his hands on his hips, standing behind a blue-hued woman. She was covering her ears while her son looked up at her, seemingly trying to console her.

The focus of the mural, though, is the bright green-eyed woman, gazing into the distance with hope for the future.

Well-known D.C. mural artist Joel Bergner partnered with the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) an organization that provides services to victims of domestic abuse, to create the mural in 2010. The piece was made to honor the women who survived domestic violence.

According to Bergner, he interviewed various DASH employees and clients to infused each person’s story into the mural. The mural’s focus is the hopeful future of the woman and her child who are supported by women of all races and ethnicities.

Photo by Lanie Rivera

“They now look toward a brighter future with the support of family, friends, and a case worker and are joined by women of many backgrounds, showing that this issue is universal across race, ethnicity and nationality,” Bergner wrote on his blog.