A CREDIT LINE WAS INADVERTENTLY OMITTED FROM A PHOTOGRAPH OF A MURAL IN THE SEPT. 24 DISTRICT WEEKLY. THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS TAKEN BY WENDY BELCHER. (Published 10/1/87)
In a city dotted with freshly dug 50-foot-deep foundations and 20-story cranes, there is a face of urban renewal that helps beautify and bind neighborhoods.
With the help of scores of teen-agers, several mural projects created by public and private programs have given dozens of buildings and scarred walls artistic face lifts.
The programs enlisted groups of enthusiastic teens as sanctioned and well-intentioned graffiti artists and have produced murals in areas ranging from 57th Street NE to Adams-Morgan in Northwest.
These mural programs have served to introduce youths to artistic expression as well as a responsible work ethic, according to program organizers. But they also reflect a tendency toward public art in a city packed with art collections.
"There's a rapport you establish with the public while you're doing the mural," said Mame Cohalan, a muralist who coordinated the D.C. Summer Mural Program, now in its sixth year. "And there's also the rapport between the artists and the teen-agers, which gets the artist out of the studio and the kids into their neighborhood in a unique way."
ARTSDC, a nonprofit employment service for young people starting careers in the arts and humanities, conducted the D.C. Summer Mural Program, which was carried out by participants in the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program. Supervised by professional artists hired through the D.C. Commission on the Arts, three teams of eight to 12 youths chose locations, then designed and created murals.
"It's a special mode of approaching a city like Washington that has neighborhoods which are not readily exposed to art," said Cohalan, "The idea was to take so-called inner-city youth into their own neighborhoods, so the sites were selected very consciously to highlight the 'second city' of Washington, not the monumental city."
Al Carter, assisted by Romeo Taylor, supervised the creation of a mural at Martha's Table, a soup kitchen at 14th and W streets NW, while Al Smith worked with youths to place one at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street SE. A third mural, overseen by Frank Smith, is scheduled to be hung at the Anthony Bowen YMCA at 13th and W streets NW.
Partners for Global Justice chose to use a summer work camp for high school students from around the country to create a mural at La Morada shelter at 14th and Irving streets NW.
"The mural provided a vehicle through which the kids could collaborate, and through which they could spend some meaningful time at the shelter, to interact with the shelter residents and the neighborhood," said the Rev. Penny Penrose, executive director of Partners for Global Justice, a group committed to helping women and minorities become more politically aware.
As part of its summer arts program, the Latin American Youth Center sponsored the creation of a mural titled "Wall of Dignity" at 2830 Georgia Avenue NW. Nicaraguan artist Jorge Somaribba created the painting in tribute to Afro-American heritage, with the assistance of eight Latin American teens from the center's summer arts program.
"Past murals focused on Latin America and their cultures, but we also try to bring together the Latino and black communities," said Lori Kaplan, executive director of the center, which has done murals for the past five summers.
The summer program of Signs for the Times Cultural Center created a mural at the East River Park Shopping Center in Northeast to pay tribute to outstanding black Americans. Eleven students participating in the mural program's sixth year were instructed by Alexander Mattison Jr. and paid for their work on the project. The mural, the sixth the center has sponsored, depicts opera singer Marian Anderson, writer Langston Hughes, athlete Althea Gibson, actor Paul Robeson and artist Jacob Lawrence.
Such hand-painted visual landmarks have been around Washington for years. In 1979, Roi Barnard, owner of Salon Roi, commissioned artist John Bailey to paint Marilyn Monroe on the bare third-story wall of the building his business has occupied for 18 years.
"It used to be that dull concrete you see all around," said Barnard, who uses Monroe memorabilia as "a kind of a theme" for his salon. The building overlooks Connecticut Avenue south of Calvert Street, above the Taft Bridge. "I just knew it was a good spot for something like that."