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The pendulum that is the city’s decisionmaking on a controversial Anacostia art project took its latest swing yesterday, with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department deeming it a fire hazard and ordering its removal by tomorrow. The project, titled “The New Migration” and part of the citywide 5×5 Project, had angered neighbors by displaying old tires and other unsightly flotsam in a vacant storefront window, at a time when the neighborhood is working to overcome its reputation for blight and disrepair. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities announced last month it would remove the exhibit, before changing course a week later and declaring that it would stay. An arts commission spokeswoman hasn’t responded to requests for comment since yesterday.
But how did the fire authorities suddenly discover, amid the controversy surrounding the art project, that it was a fire hazard? According to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, the answer is: Marion Barry.
Barry has been an outspoken critic of the project, calling it “tasteless work” and a “‘so called’ despicable art work” in a letter, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, to Michael Kelly, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which controls the vacant properties in which the art is displayed. Barry stated that the “disaster … could have been avoided if I were consulted,” and essentially granted himself veto power over any projects in his ward, writing, “Any and all projects that are under consideration in Ward 8 must come through my office for advisement, consultation and/or approval.”
When he couldn’t get his way with DHCD or the arts commission, Barry took “more drastic measures to have this unsavory work removed,” he writes in a press release today, instructing his chief of staff to contact FEMS to determine whether it might be a fire hazard. Now he’s taking his victory lap. (An FEMS spokesman did not know whether the agency began the investigation at Barry’s request.)
The full press release is below:
“The artwork is comprised of debris and tires, causing the Ward 8 community to voice it’s frustration and outrage over the artwork being placed in our Ward without consent or approval.
“In my view, it’s an eye sore, and I not only disapprove of it being placed in my Ward, I am outraged that I was never even consulted about the matter.
“I’ve discussed this issue with Michael Kelly, the Director of the DCHD, as well as Lionel Thomas, the Director of the D.C. Arts and Humanities Commission to no avail.
“After closer observations, I took more drastic measures to have this unsavory work removed, and instructed my Chief of Staff to contact the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to determine whether the materials inside the property were a fire hazard.
“As a result, the D.C. Fire and EMS inspector examined the artwork and the properties and determined that the materials were indeed a fire hazard and combustible.
“On Wednesday, October 1, the Fire Inspector issued a notice of violation to DCHD. The agency has until Friday, October 3, 2014 to have the artwork removed.
“As the Ward 8 Councilmember, I am determined to have this eye sore removed once and for all.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery