New Art Exhibition Brightens Shaw Neighborhood

Ben Koconis | 10/7/2009, 9:21 p.m.

Artists, art enthusiasts, politicians and passersby surrounded the streets near the Washington Convention Center in Northwest Tue., Sept. 29, for the grand opening of €Windows into D.C.,€ a new art installation that brightens 14 of the massive structure€s windows.

The temporary exhibit, on display until March 2010, is composed of mixed media created by 14 local artists commissioned by the District to give Ward 2 a colorful make-over.

€This thing is really funky,€ said Steven Bracey, a 24-year-old art lover. €I love anything that is expressive.€

Artists spent weeks reviewing digital prints, designing collages and painting murals that have attracted the public to the glass canvases since its unveiling.

Bracey said that he works near the Convention Center. But, this is the first time that he has really stopped to look at the building.

€I€ve been around here for four years and I€ve never seen anything like it€ I think people are really taking notice.€
Others agree.

Ashley Goldstein, 19, who lives in Northwest, said that art has the ability to motivate and inspire those who see it.

€Art inspires everyone; this has brought a lot of color to our city,€ she said.

Each of the artists who are featured has a unique connection to the District and many of them have included elements of the Shaw neighborhood into their work.
Liani Foster, a local artist, talks with an art enthusiast, at the opening of "Windows into D.C.," a new art installation that illuminates 14 exterior windows of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Photos by Ben Koconis
Liani Foster, 62, of Northwest said that he has lived and created artwork in the District for the past 41 years. To him, the Shaw neighborhood is €full of light.€

Foster€s latest work, a composition of mixed media created from plastics can be viewed between 7th and 9th Streets, on M Street in Northwest as part of the new exhibition.

The artist described his work as a €marriage of technology€ I try to do things that you will not find anywhere.€

Foster said that he worked on his centerpiece for the exhibition for more than eight months. He was directly influenced by his trips to Brazil. The travel buff said that he gets his inspiration and direction from his trips to other countries.

For instance, he said that the Brazilian festival, €Carnaval€ really helped him with the color choices for his most recent work.

Fellow artist, Tim Conlon, a muralist who lives in Petworth in Northwest, decided to depict Shaw as a €Scrabble€ board game. The massive acrylic painting can be viewed on M Street. When asked about his approach, Conlon, 34, laughed.

€Each of the words on the board are representations of something in the neighborhood€ my girlfriend and I came up with these words while playing a game of €Scrabble.€€

Conlon, best known for his graffiti art, said that he faced a few challenges while working on the project. The artist confessed that the €Scrabble€ board was not really his cup of tea.

€This isn€t really my typical style of painting, I am used to working with spray paint,€ which was not allowed inside the Convention Center. €It was somewhat difficult to paint with a brush, behind the glass, in reverse,€ he said.

Professional artists weren€t the only ones to receive rave reviews.

Students who attend The New Community for Children after school program in Northwest also received accolades from onlookers.

The program, established in 1988 by a small group from the New Community Church, set out to provide inner city children with an opportunity to bolster their academic skills. But, they also wanted to provide students with a creative outlet.

Samantha Christian, a teacher at the school, said that students in the ninth, fourth and third grades devoted a solid week to work on their contribution to €Windows into D.C.€ The finished product: a cityscape. First, the students outlined their design with a Sharpie marker and then they used acrylic paint to finish their masterpiece.

€It is a representation of what the children thought their neighborhood looked like,€ Christian said.

Ruth Chan, the school€s executive director, said that the mural depicts students€ interpretations of their respective neighborhoods.

€Many of these children come from under privileged areas, which are represented in their work,€ Chan said.

€Every one of the buildings in this mural has significance€ the kids brainstormed [regarding] their neighborhoods to come up with different ideas,€ she said. The student€s mural can be viewed at the entrance to the Mt. Vernon Square Metro Station in Northwest.
This cityscape mural was created by third, fourth and ninth grade students, from The New Community for Children's after school program. The painting is located at the entrance of the Mt. Vernon Square Metro Station and is part of a new art installation called "Windows into D.C.," which lines several of the windows at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Photos by Ben Koconis
Convention Center€s Windows Provide New Focal Point into the District
Several of the city€s politicians showed up for the opening, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who declared, €We are the No. 1 art city in the world.€

Fenty acknowledged the professional artists, but he also praised the District€s future artists, during the event.

€All of the artists here are important, but one group of artists is the most important,€ he said, referring to the students from The New Community for Children.

Councilmember Jack Evans of (D-Ward 2) who attended the grand opening told the crowd for years the District tried to breathe life into the Shaw neighborhood. When Mayor Fenty got into office, he said, €Let€s get it done,€ Evans recalled.