In mid-June, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser revealed a massive painting of the words Black Lives Matter on 16th Street. A few days later, activists modified the mural so that the message read “Black Lives Matter = Defund the Police.” D.C was not the only city where public art played an important role in the protests against police violence this summer and revealed some of the conflicts within cities; in Philadelphia, activists painted “I Will Breathe” near a houseless encampment, and in California, a white couple were charged for defacing a Black Lives Matter mural. In its newest exhibit, the National Building Museum will highlight the importance of public art in these recent protest movements.
The exhibit, “Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art,” will focus on the relationship between art and the built environment and the “nation’s urgent need for dialogue and reflection.” The exhibit will consist of two parts. The Gallery Place Murals feature artwork that was painted on boarded-up storefronts in June 2020. These paintings were commissioned by the DowntownDC BID and the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute, which both worked with the National Building Museum to make these artworks part of the exhibit.
The second half of the exhibit, “The Big Six,” will consist of new murals commissioned by the museum. These murals will commemorate six figures who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington: John Lewis, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, President, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins. Artists will be creating these murals on August 28 and 29, and visitors are invited to come watch the painting, meet the muralists, and participate in related activities.
All the artwork will be installed on the museum’s west lawn, 5th Street NW, between F and G streets, through late November. The National Building Museum plans to hold a follow up conversation in September on the role of public art.