New DC exhibit highlights protest art created throughout summer

New street art has been borne from a summer of protests in D.C., and the National Building Museum is opening an exhibition to showcase it all.

“Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art” will spring to life on the museum’s west lawn (5th Street NW, between F and G streets) on Friday, Aug. 28 at 9 a.m. to coincide with the March on Washington.

It’s being carried out in conjunction with STEM and arts nonprofit, P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute, and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID).

According to a news release, displaying the murals will be the museum’s way of speaking to the way that art can impact the built environment. It will be a combination of new pieces of art as well as preexisting ones.

The exhibit will run until November.

“Protest murals reflect the intersection of art and politics, a tradition as old as prehistoric cave drawings and as current as Banksy’s graffiti,” said Brent Glass, interim executive director of the museum.

“The National Building Museum welcomes our partners, the DowntownDC BID and P.A.I.N.T.S., in this timely exhibition,” he said.

DowntownDC BID worked with the P.A.I.N.T.S., per the release, to commission dozens of murals for boarded up storefronts in Gallery Place following protests over racial justice that broke out this summer after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

“The public experience of these plywood barriers, now reframed through vibrant art, shifted from ‘stay away’ to ‘come look,'” the release said about the 18 local works it will feature.

“The Gallery Place neighborhood was transformed with artworks that expressed love, unity, and hope; that spoke to racial injustice and societal inequities; and that proclaimed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Six artists will also create murals that celebrate the “Big Six” who helped organize the original March on Washington in 1963, the release said. They will be painted live on Aug. 28 and 29 and added to the exhibit when completed.

The “Big Six” are John Lewis, Chairman, Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee; Whitney Young, National Director, Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, President, Negro American Labor Council; Martin Luther King Jr., President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, Director, Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“It’s not often that the National Building Museum has the opportunity to showcase temporary pieces of the built environment, essentially in real time,” said Cathy Crane Frankel, vice president for exhibitions and collections.

“The emotions these murals convey, and the voices they represent, are important and necessary contributions to the nation’s ongoing conversation about equity and justice. The Museum is honored to have the opportunity to expand their impact.”

People can join in on two days of reflection and activism, the release said, on Aug. 28 and 29 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There, the release said, visitors can see the murals and meet their creators, watch artists at work, register to vote or volunteer at a polling place; partake in family-friendly art activities; and enjoy “Good Trouble” ——themed cuisine from local vendors.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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