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In the triangle formed by the intersections of Champlain and Euclid Streets and Columbia Road NW sits a paved patch of ground that until recently was known by locals as Rat Park. Now, thanks to an eruption of civic-mindedness (in which Washington City Paper participated, to the tune of $500), it has been redesigned and is to be known as Unity Park. It’s easy to be cynical about such things, and when I received notice of a dedication ceremony “featuring multicultural blessings, poetry, music, and dance,” I assumed I was in for some cheap yuks.
But when I showed up last Friday evening, I encountered a diverse crowd of local residents sharing in genuine fellowship, listening respectfully to readings from the Koran, the Bible, and the Rig-Veda, and receiving blessings from representatives of the local Native American, Hispanic, and African communities. Street musician Alphonso J. Braxton reprised the gospel keyboard stylings that regularly entertain lunchtime pedestrians, and the singing and drumming of Nathan Phillips of the Omaha Nation proved popular enough to warrant an encore.
Alas, there was also a poem by Mary Baker Eddy (the Christian Scientists donated the land for the park) and a ghastly performance by Mary-Averett Seelye in a proprietary form called “Kinesis,” which treated the verse of Federico García Lorca and Mahmud Darwish to overwrought recital and simultaneous tormented choreography. As this division might indicate, it was only when fairly contemporary expressions, unchecked by the corrective faculty of tradition, took the stage that things went awry. But the worst was yet to come.
Just before 6 p.m., several children snatched away a blue plastic tarp to reveal Carry the Rainbow on Your Shoulders, a “beautiful sculpture” by concrete craftsman Jerome Meadows. Right-minded though it may be, the thing is a monstrosity. Imagine sandy-colored sub-Kostabi figures, clumsily wrought in three dimensions, depicting a child frolicking on the back of an adult. Imagine the child bearing mosaic rainbows on its sides and a gravelly heart on its chest. Imagine a pose thatassuming that the putative behavioral impact guiding the selection of such an artwork is in fact actualwill inspire reckless piggyback ski-jumping. Imagine a formal ineptitude that suggests that the thing was whittled out of muck by a remote-control bathyscaph. It’s enough to drive one to public drinking, which, come to think of it, was the park’s former purpose. I do predict, however, heavy use for the “granite seat wall” that surrounds the fountain at the base of the sculptureeven by nonwinos. Only when you’re sitting there can you be sure of facing away from the statue.