DC Murals: Spectacle and Story grew out of interest in the public murals of Washington, DC, in the 1990s, just as the art was emerging as a grassroots cultural phenomenon and garnering increased interest around the city. As an American cultural historian, as I saw more murals going up, I wanted to know why they were there, who did them, and what they meant. I was also struck by how much the murals reflected—and celebrated—the city’s ethnic and lifestyle diversity– portraying African-American icons and offering artists of color opportunities in the creative workforce. To better understand the art changing the cityscape around me, I recruited a small team of associates and started documenting and researching the murals to gain a better perspective on what had become became known as “a people’s art.”
Our core mission is to make DC’s magnificent public art more accessible and meaningful to all. Public murals are perhaps the first “social media.” Each piece tells a story through its visual message, and each piece also has a story, embodied in its purpose, execution, sponsorship, and community context. To this end, DC Murals offers public programs, tours, and exhibitions—all of which feature the muralists themselves– to share our insights with a wider public. We also archive and digitize our work to ensure that the historical record of our murals will be preserved for future generations.
Today Washington’s public murals number in the hundreds, encompassing portraiture, narrative, and abstract approaches. Street art has joined classical mural design, with colors and evocative pieces dotting all quadrants of the city. Although nothing can substitute for visiting the murals in person, our website offers viewers a panorama and overview of our city’s public art. The images are professionally photographed and edited, and each includes a caption identifying the artist(s), location, and sponsor. Many also include interpretive text, and our goal is to provide this for all the murals on the site. Our sophisticated search tool allows viewers to access the murals through a variety of terms.
We hope that our project and this website will increase your appreciation of DC’s murals—and especially, their meaning and importance to you—neighbor, aspiring artist, city planner, business owner, or philanthropist. Keep tuned to our blog, where we will bring you information from the mural community and announcements of upcoming events. We welcome comments and new information from viewers.
– Perry Frank