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One of the most recognizable (or, at least, colorful) markers of Adams Morgan might not be around much longer. The new board of directors of the Potter’s House—-a half-century-old progressive bookstore, gallery, and cafe on Columbia Road NW—-plans to paint over the rainbow-hued candle mural that’s occupied the wall above its entrance since 2010.
Artist Karla “Karlisima” Rodas-Israel, who works out of her home studio just two blocks from the Potter’s House, funded the mural with a 2009 grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The mural, titled “The Light of the World,” was meant to denote the venue’s history of providing what Karlisima calls a “safe haven” through racial reconciliation discussion groups and services for the homeless and hungry. Founded by the Church of the Saviour, a network of local Christian churches, the Potter’s House has promoted itself as a spiritual space—-its name comes from a Bible passage about God’s omnipotence—-but a thoroughly nondenominational one.
After closing for renovations late last year, the Potter’s House will reopen this fall under new management led by the Eighth Day Faith Community, which represents a multitude of Christian denominations. Last winter, the new board decided to scrap the mural as part of the venue makeover. In an email to an Adams Morgan community listserv on Tuesday, one of the new Potter’s House leaders, Tim Kumfer, wrote that they’d gone through an “extensive discernment process” to gather community perspectives on the space. “One concern that came up repeatedly was how the interpretation of the mural as ‘religious’ might discourage people from checking us out—-people who would otherwise really enjoy what we have to offer,” he wrote.
Karlisima, who claims Mama Ayesha’s presidents mural among her body of work, has launched a Twitter account to raise awareness about the threat to her mural. She’s also collected about 300 signatures on a paper petition to save it, and has started surveying neighbors on the street—-executing her own discernment process, you might say—-about the potential religious implications of the candle iconography. “It’s a symbol of safety; it’s welcoming,” she says. “Even people without religion light candles.”
Photo by Christina Cauterucci