When is a Port-a-Potty more than a Port-a-Potty? When it's art, of course.
"Found Sound," a public art project using portable toilets as sound-art listening booths, opens tomorrow at various locations in Northwest Washington. The project features eight sound-art installations -- including five in Port-a-Potties near Goethe-Institut and Numark Gallery downtown, 1515 Arts in Logan Circle, Conner Contemporary Art in Dupont Circle and City Bikes in Adams Morgan. Three installations are indoors at 1515 Arts, Conner and Fusebox.
"They're a little fancier than the beat-up ones you see at a construction site," says "Found Sound" organizer Welmoed Laanstra, adding that she chose Port-a-Potties for their mobility and adaptability, and "not because they're taboo." The booths are wired into nearby buildings and will also have "Found Sound" posters and artist information on them to help them stand out.
Featured sound-art creations include painter Robin Rose's "Miasma," incorporating a 1968 recording he made of sounds in a Florida swamp; a Harry Shearer piece inspired by Hurricane Katrina; and Joseph Grigely's "I like it that you can't hear me pee," described by Laanstra as an "anti-sound piece" because it consists of, well, silence.
"I'm a big believer in public art," says Laanstra, a 43-year-old Dutch native and independent curator. "Art should be more on the streets and accessible."
Laanstra is still seeking donations to cover the project's $17,000 budget. She has rented new Port-a-Potties, which arrived yesterday, and is modifying the interiors to include sound equipment, acoustic carpeting and seat covers that reinforce the concept that the units should not be used for their original purpose.
"I don't want any accidents," Laanstra says.
Laanstra hopes "Found Sound" will inspire the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities -- which made a $3,000 grant to "Found Sound" -- to pursue higher-caliber public art than last year's citywide, commission-run PandaMania sculpture project. "Maybe ['Found Sound'] will wisen the perspective," she says. "Maybe they will pick up the baton."
Jose Dominguez, the commission's grants and legislative manager, says it has no plans for another multi-site public art installation: "Since the pandas, it's tough to top that," he says.
Dominguez points out that the commission has kept its public art involvement alive with initiatives such as a NASA co-sponsored installation of William Wegman portraits of dogs in space suits at the Gallery Place Metro station, as well as commission grants to individuals such as Laanstra.
"We thought it was fun and progressive," Dominguez says of "Found Sound." "We like supporting it."
The gay arts organization One in Ten launches the 15th annual Reel Affirmations film festival tonight at the Lincoln Theatre with the romantic comedy "Adam and Steve." The festival continues for nine days with 126 films scheduled at the Lincoln, D.C. Jewish Community Center, Goethe-Institut and Landmark's E Street Cinema.
The festival includes a full-length feature, "OpenCam," an erotic thriller shot in Washington by a local filmmaker with a mostly local cast and crew. "OpenCam," named for a fictional gay Web site integral to the plot, is a festival rarity, says One in Ten programs manager Joe Bilancio, explaining that Washington-made gay films are usually shorts.
The festival has a local shorts program again this year, with four films. Two are experimental, fictional tales, while two are documentaries: "The Fabulous Price Is Right," about four men's odyssey to Television City in hopes of getting on the game show "The Price Is Right," and "Day of Silence," about a gay issues awareness project at an Arlington high school. (Bilancio points out that the local shorts program, a freebie, is best appreciated if you don't apply the term "local filmmaker" to everyone: "A couple of them are just local people who make films," if you catch his drift.)
Robert Gaston, 37, worked in film and television production in Los Angeles -- including an extended stint as a "King of the Hill" writers' assistant -- before moving to Washington nearly a year ago to make "OpenCam," his debut as a screenwriter and director.
"D.C. is a great place to make a movie," Gaston says. "There's a lot of untapped talent here." Reel Affirmations will be the film's world premiere, after which it's booked for Chicago's gay film festival next month.
Gaston adds that he hopes to see Washington grow as a home for gay films: "I would love to see more people dive in and just make their projects."
Found Sound, tomorrow through Nov. 5. Free. Hours vary by location. For venue information, go to www.foundsounddc.com.
Reel Affirmations, tonight through Oct. 22. For schedule, venue and ticket information, call 800-494-TIXS or go to www.reelaffirmations.org.
"OpenCam," with Amir Darvish, left, and Andreau Thomas, will premiere at the Reel Affirmations festival.