“It’s a great way to show the history, the culture of the city,” says Chris Geldart, director of the District’s Department of Public Works, which oversees MuralsDC. “It brings an energy to the city.”
Started in 2007 as an anti-graffiti effort in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, MuralsDC has created 89 murals by 50 artists in 48 neighborhoods — covering every ward in the city. Our walk starts on 14th Street NW, about a half-block south of Irving, with two recent additions. “You Are Welcome” (3020 14th St.) is a vibrant portrait of smiling faces and flowers, a valentine to this bustling and diverse area by Cita Sadeli, an artist also known as Miss Chelove. A few yards away is Nessar Jahanbin’s “E=MC2” (3018 14th St.), a delightfully subversive work showing Albert Einstein wielding a can of spray paint, his formula for the theory of special relativity written as graffiti.
“Having Einstein be a tagger is just brilliant,” murals project coordinator Nancee Lyons said, referring to one of her favorite works.
Heading south on 14th, you’ll encounter a mural on the Rita Bright Community Center (2500 14th St.) that celebrates its youth offerings and the historic architecture of nearby Meridian Hill Park. (The 2009 work, by G. Byron Peck, is currently partly obscured by construction). A Black Lives Matter montage was painted recently on the wall of a construction site a few blocks south, between W and V streets, just as you get your first glimpse of the late Buck Hill (1925 14th St.), the saxophone-playing “wailin’ mailman” painted by Joe Pagac and formally dedicated last summer. Stretching 70 feet tall, the mural celebrates the jazz musician and postal worker, bringing a cool vibe to an intersection now anchored by a city office building but once known as Black Broadway. Possible detour: Before reaching U, duck west on Florida, then south on 15th Street to U, where two works by the prolific D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia — including his renowned gagged George Washington (1502 U St.)— grace the intersection.
Our walk continues east on U Street for six blocks, past a host of famous and recent murals celebrating African American icons such as Paul Robeson (1351 U St.), Prince and the Obamas (1213 U St.), and Duke Ellington. (1200 U St.) Be sure peek into the alleys and over your shoulder so you don’t miss the tucked-away works. One example is the portrait of William P. and Winnifred Lee (1026 U St.), painted on a side wall of Lee’s Flower Shop.
“There’s so much history with regard to black businesses along the U Street corridor. Lee’s and Ben’s Chili Bowl are the two that have stood the test of time,” Lyons said. “It hits the point home, that it is about celebrating D.C.’s history. A lot of people have been here for generations.”
When U Street meets Ninth, turn south and stroll down two blocks of tree-lined, multicolored rowhouses. Turn east on S and head for Udofia's portrait — his second — of D.C. native Marvin Gaye (710 S St.). The swirl of psychedelic purples and greens dominates the corner of Seventh and S streets. One block north, on T, across from the Howard Theater and the Right Proper brewpub — a perfect spot for a walking tour timeout — you’ll find an alley (637 T St.) featuring three separate murals. Here, the art celebrates the neighborhood’s musical roots, including a nod to go-go and to some of the city’s great jazz artists.
From here, follow Florida Avenue west back toward U (passing a slew of restaurants, coffee and ice cream shops). Turn north at Vermont, where a brick wall offers some mini murals. Don’t miss the puppy paintings on the wall of Wet Dog Tavern (2100 Vermont Ave.) before heading west on V for the final mural of this tour: Alberto Clerencia’s “Kindred” (1210 V St.). Like the mural of Buck Hill, the work stretches many stories high, depicting two young women of different races, in soothing grays and greens, with a horizontal bar across their eyes. It’s as if Clerencia is saying that we’re connected by our shared humanity — not by how we’re seen, but by who we are — and that’s a message especially powerful in these isolated times.
Visit muralsdcproject.com for a locator map featuring many of these murals and others throughout the city.