Artists, local residents and chairs of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities recently shared opinions on public art during an open house at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
Residents reviewed the vision for the Public Art Master Plan as well as the direction of public art that is already slated to be placed throughout the city. The vision statement for the new initiative reads in part that public art will “strengthen the cultural health of the community.”
Lavinia Wohlfarth, chair of the commission of the Public Art Master Plan, was enthusiastic about allowing residents to voice their concerns about different types of public art.
“Public art impacts the city and how the residents feel about their community and neighborhood day to day,” Wohlfarth said. “Public art brings culture to the city and connects community.”
Masresha Tadesse, the outreach coordinator for the arts and humanities commission, also believes it is important to get the public’s opinion on how they want artwork in the community.
“D.C. is very international, but we are trying to reach out to the local, lifetime Washingtonians,” Tadesses said. “We hired consultants to take all suggestions and come up with a bottom line on the particular artwork that residents will accept and cherish as part of their community.”
Local artist Claudia “Aziza” Gibson-Hunter, has plenty of suggestions for the commission. Gibson-Hunter is part of Black Artists of D.C., which has more than 300 members, yet artists who are not residents do the majority of art throughout D.C.
“They need to address the fact that they are putting cultural images in the city by people who are foreign to the community,” Gibson-Hunter said of the commission’s actions. “There are artists in the city who are struggling and have the skills to create for the community. They may not have the experience as other artists, but there should a coalition that allows artists with skills but no experience to provide public art.”
Julee Dickerson-Thomas, a multimedia artist and resident of the Brookland section of Washington, agrees with Hunter. She states that there are plenty of reasons why local artists aren’t cited to provide public art for their own cities.
“Availability, objectivity and being disenfranchised are reasons why local artists are not put to work,” Dickerson-Thomas said. “There is satisfaction in having pieces of artwork done by local artists.”
However, some D.C. artists have found success in their city. Rick Freedman has pieces throughout the District at locations such as Judiciary Square and at 13th and U Streets.
“Working as an artist in D.C. is a lot better than other cities, but it could be a lot better,” Freedman said. “Priority should be given to D.C. artists, and this open house is a start.”
Artists and residents alike took a survey that will provide data to help the commission understand the kind of art that residents are looking for in their community.