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Since 2007, the District government has enlisted the help of artists both local and international to beautify the city’s graffitied walls through its MuralsDC initiative. This year’s project targets six walls around the city with help from selected artists including newbies Aaron and Jared Scales of BroCoLoco, a D.C. art collective focused on murals and public art with architectural roots.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to be a part of for a while, and we felt like we were at a certain point in our career to be able to add a mature and well-thought-out design to D.C. landscapes,” says Aaron, the duo’s creative director.
The BroCo wall, located on 15th Street NW between U and V streets, carries a history of black entrepreneurship. The address was once the site of the Dunbar Hotel, which was owned by African Americans and frequented by the rich and powerful during the Black Broadway era. It was razed in 1974 and replaced by an apartment complex for senior citizens. The building is named for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the 19th-century African American poet who lived in LeDroit Park.
“It seems that a lot of the residents had mentioned a desire to indicate that the elderly generation is still a part of the culture, has been a part of D.C.’s history, and will continue to play a vibrant role,” Aaron says. “[The community] feels connected and wants to continue to be a part of shaping the future, just like they’ve shaped the past.”
MuralsDC places a premium on community input in the final design of the installations. As a result, participating artists must submit three proposals to the community, two of which directly reflect the community’s ideas, and one that more closely reflects the artist’s inclinations but is still informed by community feedback.
BroCo’s two neighborhood designs both capture the energy of the current generation with nods to the past, manifested in references to the Dunbar Hotel. The first design features brightly colored, larger-than-life hot air balloons being released from the rooftop of the hotel, which is painted into the bottom right corner.
The second depicts an older black man in the process of crafting a birdhouse. “The craftsman mural focuses on the older generation building and supporting the community in a playful and energetic way,” Aaron says. The birdhouse also pays homage to the old hotel: both have five floors.
The wild card option, BroCo’s self-declared favorite, features another aging African American man. Staying true to the brothers’ aesthetic, the piece features vibrant colors and detailed linework, which brings out the wrinkled smile of the subject.
“When we think of public art, very rarely is it about us or our style. It’s about how can we highlight and exemplify the culture that’s already here in a way that’s easy to understand to audiences who might be visiting and coming into a community,” Scales says. “The public art for us is really part of a public dialogue, a conversation about who a people and a community is.”
Installation of the murals will begin this month and wrap up in September.
Top photo courtesy of MuralsDC; bottom three courtesy of BroCoLoco