During a time of budget constraints, and severe strain on local arts groups, the District has managed to pull together $500,000 for a major public arts festival to coincide with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival this spring. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has now announced the names of the 25 artists who will realize various projects around the city.
If everything goes according to plan, a project by artists Deborah Stratman and Steven Badgett will use a “monumental floating platform” in the Tidal Basin to broadcast historic sound recordings (all powered by solar energy). The Berlin-based “KUNSTrePUBLIK,” an artist collective, will create “mobile fountains.” Artist Monica Canilao, from Oakland, will “transform three abandoned houses” into a “a cacophony of color, texture, light and movement.” Wilmer Wilson IV, a student at Howard University, has been selected to create a performance piece about Henry “Box” Brown, a 19th century slave who escaped to freedom by having himself mailed to Philadelphia in 1849. Other projects include a moving museum, sound sculpture, a scavenger hunt and video projected on buildings.
Five curators, including one from the District, have selected the 25 artists, whose projects are meant to enliven public space during the crush of the annual Spring tourist season. The curators include Washington’s own Laura Roulet and arts professionals from New York, San Francisco and Culver City, CA, and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom. With $100,000 to spend, each curator has elaborated different goals. But there are common themes, including making people aware of the unseen boundaries in the District, and enticing visitors to explore “liminal” areas and unsung neighborhoods off the National Mall. Another common theme is the environment and bio-diversity. The all-out effort is in part a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1912 arrival of the original Cherry Trees from Japan.
Even as the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities saw its budget shrink from $5 million last year to $3.9 million this year, the city found money in its capital projects budget to pay for the festival. That’s led to some grumbling among local artists and arts groups, who are outnumbered by artists from outside the District among those chosen. But the short descriptions of the projects planned suggest a more ambitious and adventurous approach to public art than has been the case in past efforts by the District.