When Anita Walsh and Neil Richardson look up at cranes, they see possibilities.
Specifically, they see the word “Possibilities” in 4-foot-tall vinyl letters. That is one of a dozen abstruse words and phrases the two hope to post 100 or more feet above construction sites, where names of developers and construction companies usually appear. Instead of “PN Hoffman” or “Clark Construction,” Walsh and Richardson are offering such recondite morsels as “Draw Crooked Lines,” “Look Under Rocks,” and “Go There.”
By day, Walsh, a Dupont Circle artist, designs training materials for Whole Foods Market; Mount Pleasant resident Richardson is the acting Neighborhood Action director for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. But on the side for the past few years, the two worked on SKINTalks, a project where similar expressions (such as “Opt to Listen” and “Dissolve Fear”) were silk-screened on 30,000 Band-Aids and handed out, mostly at art museums and community events (Artifacts, “Gauze for Concern,” 2/8/02).
Their new concept, Crane Messages in D.C., Walsh explains, is meant to expand on the Band-Aid project. “There’s so many cranes around, the idea of going from this really small, intimate, personal reflection to this crane idea seemed like a nice concept,” she says. “We don’t really see ’em, we don’t really think about ’em, and it’s a really unexpected place to have a message up there.”
Walsh and Richardson’s eventual goal is to post 16 different bilingual signs (one side in English, the other in Chinese or Spanish) across the District on 16 different tower cranes. Their first target is the 140-foot-tall apparatus at the six-story Kalorama Park development, on Columbia Road just west of 18th Street NW. Walsh says the crane’s location near the center of Adams Morgan makes it ideal for the project, citing the community’s diversity: “I just feel like it’s a group to really take it on.”
“This is the ideal crane,” Richardson adds. “This is the crane for us.”
But it’s not as simple to decorate a crane as it is a Band-Aid. Right now, an advertisement for concrete firm Miller & Long, which rents the crane, hangs from the crane’s counterjib. It may be possible to rig another sign to the crane, says Britt Hurlock, project executive for Miller & Long. “Some cases it is; some cases it’s not,” he says. Different crane models can support different types of signage, depending on wind resistance, and Hurlock isn’t certain about the Kalorama Park crane.
What’s for certain is that Walsh and Richardson’s message won’t be up there alone. Not only is Miller & Long not about to give up prime advertising space, but replacing the existing sign just isn’t possible at this point; it is chained, cabled, and bolted in place. “That’s done in the erection phase,” Hurlock explains. Any sign attached now would have to be tied with wire to the trusses above the other sign.
And the logistics may not be the group’s only challenge; general befuddlement is another barrier. Walsh says she’s hoping to find a patron who understands the concept to help make it happen. “We’re looking for somebody who’s a visionary,” she says.
The luxury-rental-development business, however, may be the wrong place to find visionaries. Told about the artists’ plans for the first time at the construction site on Monday, Kalorama Park owner Pete Hiotis displays a look of bemusement when shown the list of phrases. “They want to put those up there?” he says.
To Walsh, inscrutability is the point. “If we give them a phrase that means something, then basically we’re just advertising,” she says intently. “We’re not advertising here—we’re giving permission to think outside the box.”
Walsh says it will be a “big disappointment” if the Kalorama Park crane is unworkable. But she may have found her patron in überdeveloper Douglas Jemal, president of Douglas Development Corp. “It could be very interesting,” Jemal says. “I think it’s colorful. I think it could add some humor to a boring old crane.”
But when Walsh and Richardson gave a presentation at an Adams Morgan community meeting last week, one advisory neighborhood commissioner, Andrea Broaddus, though supportive, was puzzled by the suggested phrases. “Maybe something like, ‘Talk to your neighbor’?” she offered.
Joe Hurst, a 38-year-old Adams Morgan resident passing by the crane one afternoon, is also perplexed by the proposed messages. Asked what he associates with the phrase “Go There,” Hurst thinks for a second. “You know,” he replies, “you’re reaching. Reaching high. I dunno.”
And “Explore Empty Spaces”? Hurst shakes his head: “No feelings on that one.” CP