Twenty years ago, Perry Frank began documenting D.C.’s murals, compiling background on the artists’ intent and the history surrounding murals in D.C. One of the first contemporary murals in D.C., according to Frank’s work, was at Howard University, modeled after the Wall of Respect in Chicago in 1968. Depicting people who were seen as African American heroes during the Civil Rights Movement, the artwork began the tradition of artists expressing their community values through murals.
“It says something about the need people have to express themselves, to document the places where they are, to make the neighborhoods their own,” says Frank, who is the founding director of DC Murals: Spectacle and Story, an ongoing project to document that history of public art in D.C.
Now, Frank is hoping to take her project to the next level, with D.C.’s first coffee table book using her research about the murals.
To accomplish this, DC Murals hopes to raise $25,000 to cover printing and production costs for the book. The group began crowdsourcing to raise the money, coming up with less than $500 as of Wednesday.
Murals are meant to celebrate the public spaces they are created in by representing the community, muralist Corey Stowers says. He adds that even in things like graffiti, the work should tie into the local community.
“Some of these murals define the communities that they are in,” he says. “When they’re destroyed, when the spaces are redeveloped, that identity is also wiped out as well.”
Stowers, who is a senior project associate and community liaison for DC Murals, adds that murals in D.C. could also be considered a tool for gentrification when the art caters to a high-end aesthetic rather than the style of the existing neighborhood. He cited a mural of geometric shapes on 7th Street and Florida Avenue that he said doesn’t fit in with the community.
Perry and Stowers agree that D.C. could do more to preserve murals in the city. The group works to preserve the memory of destroyed murals with its research and the eventual coffee table book. They mention the trend of murals disappearing from buildings through construction in ways that they feel could have been prevented. One example is a now-gone mural by Bryon Peck of Frederick Douglass, which was almost entirely covered up by a new building in 2002.
Groups funding murals could create longer lasting artwork by having the artwork painted on removable panels, Stowers says. Murals on the panels are not as common because they can be double or triple the price, adding up to around $50,000 compared to the average price of around $10,000.