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Anacostia residents bombarded their neighborhood email list, flooded Councilmember Marion Barry‘s phone line, and called 311 to complain of a 5×5 Project art installation that they say is insensitive to their neighborhood.
And now, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities—-the government agency that runs the biennial 5×5 citywide public art project—-says it will remove the installation from Good Hope Road SE. The commission is currently looking for a new site for the project.
As I previously wrote, the project, “The New Migration” by Abigail DeVille, is spread across two vacant buildings on the busy street and features the debris and heirlooms DeVille collected on a journey from D.C. to Jacksonville. DeVille’s reverse journey echoes the “great migration” of millions of African Americans fleeing the south in the Jim Crow era. Now, DeVille says, another migration is occurring as black Americans are forced to leave their longtime homes in the name of redevelopment and gentrification.
But some Anacostia residents say the last thing their community—which has just started to get some redevelopment—needs is art that highlights its blighted buildings. The city, they say, should be putting money into improving the community; the 5×5 project made one vacant building look like a bunch of trash, at least to some neighbors, who say putting this particular project in Anacostia feels insensitive and tone-deaf.
“The intention of the project is to challenge and engage audiences through art but never to offend,” the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities says in a statement this morning. “The community reaction has been that the work is not suited to the location. As good stewards of the public trust, DCCAH has determined to remove the installation from its current location on Good Hope Road, SE.”
The statement then went on to explain the meaning of the project in greater detail:
The New Migration installation in storefronts on Good Hope Road is one part of the artist’s concept to expand on the theme of The Great Migration. A pivotal, but largely overlooked event in American history, The Great Migration was the exodus of over 6 million African-American citizens fleeing the terror of Jim Crow South in search of social and economic freedom in the far corners of the United States. The materials used in the art installation are accumulated objects and heirlooms from Washington, DC, to Jacksonville, Florida; a trip that navigated one of the most popular routes of The Great Migration, The Seaboard Air Line Railway. A processional, featuring wearable art, music and District residents on Saturday, September 6, marched from Frederick Douglass House to the Anacostia Arts Center.
Photo by Perry Stein