First it was donkeys and elephants. Then it was pandas, piggybanks and life-size statues of Mickey Mouse. Honestly: what is it with this city? D.C. clearly has a thing for painted objects.
Or, more specifically, D.C. has a thing for public art, and the latest craze in community beautification is Art On Call, a program (spearheaded by Cultural Tourism D.C.) to refurbish - and, in some cases, redecorate - a chunk of the roughly 1,500 dilapidated antique fire and police call boxes dotting Washington. This past Sunday, Dupont Circle unveiled 22 of these restored relics with a community art show and large public celebration.
Don’t feel out of the loop if “call box” doesn’t sound familiar. Formerly the proverbial “blue lights” of major cities (much like those found on AU’s campus), D.C.‘s cast-iron call boxes were put out of service in the late ‘60s when dialing “911” became the universal way to report an emergency. Many were destroyed or vandalized, and recently city officials proposed their complete removal.
Luckily, D.C. culturophiles know a good public art opportunity when they see one. Under the guidance of Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit coalition of over 140 cultural groups throughout Washington, 20 D.C. neighborhoods (including Brookland, Mt. Pleasant and Tenleytown) launched their own versions of Art On Call call box refurbishment programs in the last three years, according to the organization’s project manager Brendan Meyer.
The program provides matching grants of $250 per call box to participating neighborhoods, Cultural Tourism D.C. Director of Communications Laura Brower said. Although Meyer said each community is encouraged to pick a theme, from there, the neighborhoods call the shots, choosing artists and developing fundraising plans.
“It’s very community-based, very organic,” Brower said, explaining that Dupont Circle residents independently raised over $30,000 to refurbish their neighborhood’s 22 call boxes.
Some are architects. Some are photographers. Some are teachers. However, all the local artists featured on Dupont Circle’s 22 newly refurbished call boxes are dedicated to involving the public in their work.
Call box 10, 25th and N streets, NW
An architect by trade, Parker’s visually stunning photographic collages piece together different photos of the same location from different hours, days and sometimes even months, presenting ordinary places and situations in entirely original ways.
“I like to take the traditional vanishing point and throw it out the door,” Parker said. “I don’t care if someone walks by, if it’s rainy, if it’s snowy. That’s how your eyes see it.”
Parker said he used point and shoot and disposable cameras that “anyone” could pick up at the store. His Art On Call box features a collage of Dupont chess players.
Call box 16, 21st and R streets, NW
Jassel’s involvement in the program earned her vibrant, playful painting of chess players in Dupont Circle a spot on posters pushing Cultural Tourism D.C.‘s “Take Metrobus or Metrorail to see D.C. Beyond the Monuments!” campaign. A D.C. area resident who divides her time between teaching art and making it herself, Jassel said public art has become a big deal in D.C.
“Before ‘Party Animals,’ you didn’t see much public art in D.C.,” Jassel said, referencing the summer 2002 display of 200 painted donkeys and elephants around Washington. “That was the catalyst.”
Eric B. Ricks
Call box 22, Corcoran and 15th Streets, NW
Ricks, a local artist and photographer, said he wanted to convey Dupont Circle’s diversity through his Art On Call contribution, a simple black and white photograph of a violinist sitting at the base of the Dupont Circle fountain.
“That’s what I love most,” Ricks said. “All kinds [are here] ... from a homeless person to a banker.”
Ricks said he enjoys both color and black and white photography, and hand-prints many of his pieces.