Rainbow artwork planned for 17th Street storm drains

Storm drains along 17th Street NW were painted with rainbow colors to honor Dupont Circle's LGBTQ history. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Four storm drains along 17th Street in Dupont Circle will be painted in rainbow colors to honor the neighborhood’s LGBTQ identity, after a previous proposal to paint area crosswalks fell through.

The painted storm drains will be located on 17th Street’s northwest corners with P and Church streets NW, and on its southeast corners with R and Corcoran streets NW. The project will be completed by mid-July, with funding from the local nonprofit Anacostia Watershed Society.

Temporary rainbow-painted crosswalks adorn 17th Street NW in Dupont Circle in advance of permanent storm drain decorations. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Earlier this year, Randy Downs of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle) gathered community support for painting rainbow crosswalks on 17th Street in time for this year’s Capital Pride festivities, which took place earlier this month. Downs was confident that funding would be available, and the D.C. Department of Transportation was amenable to the proposal.

But the agency ultimately rejected the idea after determining that such efforts would violate obscure federal statutes governing D.C. roads, potentially threatening future federal funding for city transportation projects.

Instead, the city suggested that Downs and his group connect with the Anacostia Watershed Society, which is in the midst of a citywide storm drain mural project. The nonprofit put out a call for local artists and will provide each of the four winners with materials and a $775 stipend to complete their 17th Street artwork.

Downs, himself a 17th Street resident, feels his area of Dupont Circle is ripe for such a tribute, given its long history of LGBTQ activism. The stretch of 17th between P and R streets NW also now boasts 12 rainbow banners as part of Downs’ efforts this year.

That stretch of 17th is sprinkled with gay bars and other gay-friendly establishments, and has hosted the annual High Heel Drag Queen Race for the last 30 years. It also earned the official alternate moniker Frank Kameny Way in 2010, in honor of an influential local gay rights activist who was dismissed from his position as an Army astronomer in 1957 because of his sexuality.