To mark the 10th anniversary of D.C.’s annual mural program — surely the Department of Public Works’ most colorful approach to abating instances of graffiti — officials doubled the project’s usual budget and commissioned 11 murals across six wards.
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities provided a sizable allocation of about $100,000 to the project this year, doubling its overall budget to $200,000, according to Public Works Department spokesperson Nancee Lyons. In Northwest, artists completed one of these new murals last week, located outside the Right Proper Brewing Co. at 624 T St. NW.
Created by social justice activists Rose Jaffe and Kate DeCiccio, the vibrant work is the city program’s first three-dimensional mural. For their project, Jaffe and DeCiccio fastened wooden portraits of prominent D.C. jazz musicians to the wall, including Duke Ellington, Ron Holloway, Mahalia Jackson, Billy Taylor, Shirley Horn, Meshell Ndegeocello and Davey Yarborough.
“Growing up in D.C., I felt engaged,” Jaffe said in an interview. “I saw that my art could be a way to add to the conversation.”
Meanwhile, Arizona artist Joe Pagac finished a 35-foot-tall mural at Ketcham Elementary School, 1919 15th St. SE, on Saturday, after investing 12-hour days at the wall for a week. Pagac’s colorful mural pays homage to D.C.’s history, featuring five African-American children outside the house of abolitionist, statesman and orator Frederick Douglass, with cherry blossom trees and the Washington Monument serving as a backdrop.
“I like my art to have that sense of nostalgia for a time that may have never existed,” Pagac said in an interview. “Something that you would want to step into.”
Pagac’s mural is laced with subtle threads of the region’s culture — D.C.’s state tree, the Scarlet Oak; Virginia’s state insect, the tiger swallowtail butterfly; a local children’s book, “A Is for Anacostia”; and the city flag on a child’s hat. Douglass’ words appear on the mural’s frame: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
The program’s largest mural, located in the alley of Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1210 V St. NW, features the profiles of two African-Americans connected by a thin, eye-level line, standing among green and brown leaves. The artist, Alberto Clerencia, is slated to complete the mural on Wednesday.
The remaining Northwest murals are at different stages, all expected to wrap up this month. Michael Crossett and Skyler Kelly’s work at 2017 11th St. is in progress; Kaliq Crosby’s at 1026 U St. will start this week; Federico Frum’s at 1738 14th St. will start this month; and Karl Addison’s artwork at 2603 Connecticut Ave. was slated to start on Monday.
All the artworks funded through the District’s 2017 mural program are slated to wrap up by the end of the month, Lyons said.
While the prospect of extensive federal budget cuts for the arts and humanities under President Donald Trump and the current Congress remains an open question, Jaffe isn’t too concerned about the future of the arts locally.
“The city is flush with cash. … We’re not on the immediate chopping block of this administration,” Jaffe said. “There’s always going to be a role for art, and there’s always going to be oppression.”