I was sitting in The Diner in Adams Morgan on a rainy morning, where a slight tinge of southern humidity made the dreariness cozy. Drinking tea out of a silver pot and reading one of D.C.’s great hallmarks (the local neighborhood newspaper), the cover story of the Washington City Paper caught my eye:
I had just passed the iconic Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant Presidential Mural near the Duke Ellington Bridge, which is painted on a brick wall of the restaurant’s side facade, so our city’s street art was already on my mind when I saw the paper’s main story. There is something refreshing about its simplicity and its lack of partisanship: the modern presidents, no matter their party, surround Ayesha Abraham (the restaurant’s founder) with idealized district iconography in the background. It’s about unity and community, and the statement is appealing to the general public. It’s a lovely spot to visit. Intriguingly, President Trump is not currently being considered for inclusion on the mural, which is quite a statement given the fact that even Nixon made the cut for the mural. The restaurant told Washingtonian that there isn’t enough money in the budget to add President Trump, and that there is no partisan reason for his exclusion. I’ll monitor this story and update as the occasion arises.
But not all street art is as integrated into the city as Karlisima’s mural dedicated to inclusion. It’s the destruction of lesser known pieces that prompted the Washington City Paper to run a beautifully in-depth piece about the beleaguered state of murals in the city.
In “Mural Decay,” journalist Patrick Fork tackles the endless struggle between artistry and functionality, especially when it comes to the literal aspects of street art: location and space. Growing gentrification entrenches on alleyways and open spaces for murals, new and rapid development razes areas where street art thrives, and deconstruction and tearing down old developments eliminates art from the landscape altogether. The article is about the quest to save this art form, and I feel this fervently as I see all the colors as I walk around these diverse, special, memorable neighborhoods.
I feel the outlook is a little bit grim when it comes to the views of our current Administration, which has been more than eager to talk about their willingness to cut funding to humanities and arts endowments. We’ve heard these threats before, and culture fights back, but in such an unpredictable environment that we now live, it’s hard to get cheery about the prospects of how the local art scene can continue to thrive without money and in an area that is expanding very, very quickly. There are so many good things to be said about D.C.’s extensive infrastructural projects (the Wharf is a good example), but there are always downsides, and the lack of areas for murals is a side effect of revamping the city. Now more than ever, we need art on our walls and in our gardens and on the sidewalks and street corners. We don’t necessarily need a lot of money to express our feelings about the political situation, but we do need the exposure.
Keep D.C. colorful – in all aspects of that word.
Update: November 12, 2017
Yesterday, me and my best friend went to the iconic institution of literary culture in D.C. – Politics and Prose. Around what for seems like forever, the bookstore is a staple of every book tour for every significant person you can think of: legends of fiction (literally anyone you can name has spoken there), forward-thinking journalists like Rachel and Masha Gessen), as well as celebrities, presidents, and local writers. It lives in a little neighborhood that belies its significance in our city’s literary landscape. In the back of the store, this mural surprises and delights with its whimsy:
There is something typical in its modernist view of the pastoral scene that comes with many children’s books, but the colors (greys, off-yellows) and depiction of animal life with less quirkiness and more of an adult eye really brings depth to this pop on a concrete wall. Our street art always feels special and unexpected, to me at least. (The Lorax is represented to the far left of the mural in the first photo.)
Also! Please support your local/neighborhood/regional/state papers! We need them to work through the wreckage that is our current political mess. We can’t do it without them. You can find free issues in many cities and towns, but you’ll have to subscribe to some to keep investigative reporting and meaningful cultural stories in our lives.