A cool mural event on April 11-12 drew a diverse group of onlookers as master and novice graffiti artists practiced their craft on the north side of the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute located at 1351 U Street. Although classic graffiti has largely morphed into highly stylized “street art,” many muralists get their start in unauthorized tagging on vacant walls.
Most people in the District have seen the typographic art, but few know how it is created. The form arose decades ago when hobos riding the rails marked their presence by writing their names in an elaborate type of calligraphy. Later graffiti art developed in New York when taggers used subway trains to carry their messages. Today graffiti is produced using spray paint, often following elaborate designs.
On this day well-known muralist CHELOVE (Cita Cidali) was energetically spraying her moniker–although I couldn’t exactly read it, I felt its energy. Other participants included SMK, DAH, KIER, EON2, JAH, FAME, GRAVE, MURDOK, and MISTA. CHELOV’s brilliantly colored and monumental work often reflects neighborhood context—like her three-story piece at Marie Reed School, which incorporates children and “grandfather of go-go” Chuck Brown. More than 500 people stopped to watch and photograph the event over the course of the weekend.
The project was organized by Cory L. Stowers, a muralist and activist, through his organization ART B.L.O.C, and the Double Down Kings. In addition to giving spectators an opportunity to see graffiti artists at work, the spray-in drew attention to the need for more open walls where artists can practice graffiti art. The city runs a graffiti abatement project whereby unwanted decorations are removed and new murals are painted, currently managed by nonprofit Words, Beats & Life. However well-intended, the program does not work directly with the graffiti community and discourages incorporation of classic graffiti art into its mural program.
As this project illustrates, temporary graffiti art can be located on walls already designated for conventional mural projects. The alley art will be viewable through April 22, when Stowers will begin to prepare the site for creation of his mural dramatizing the life of cultural icon Paul Robeson. Stowers recently received a Public Arts Building Communities grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and the Humanities to create the Robeson tribute. The piece will be the first Augmented Reality interactive mural in the city.
Partners for the graffiti event include community businesses Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, the Universal Capoeira Angola Center, U Street Wine, Chocolate City Rocks, and Art Under Pressure. Artists and fans are encouraged to join the dialog about providing open walls by posting photos of the installation with hash tags #artblocdc and #stylesymposiumdc and leaving their thoughts.