The ‘M’-Word

These past several weeks, as we followed Words, Beats & Life’s progress across the District, we’ve been absorbed in the process of creating murals and conversing about their value. The public discussions, and our subsequent blog posts, were mainly concerned with the product — good vs. bad graffiti, commissioned vs. criminalized work. The place, however, is an added and equally significant factor. In our ongoing research for Red Line D.C., we look to connect scenes of illegal graffiti and graffiti-inspired murals with the space they reside: metro.

As we explore how open-air art plays out in the community and among commuters, metro history and news about the neighboring Metropolitan-Branch Trail build context to the red line’s story. Besides helping to layer the experience of producing and consuming public art, the metro system is, itself, a vital sign of community engagement. You might remember our past interview with Michael Henderson, a local resident who felt that planned, public artwork is needed for a good quality of life. Well, Professor Zachary Schrag, author of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, says the same about public transit:

A good transportation system doesn’t simply move people from one place to another — it also shapes the places it serves. (Washington Post 2006)

From afar, it might seem public art and transit have little in common, but communal elements are evident in both: shared space and mixed experience; concentrated efforts to consolidate opinions. Schrag’s expectations of D.C.’s public transportation have been repeatedly raised about its public art with recurring points about quality, inclusiveness and community input. For the making of Red Line D.C., documenting metro graffiti means getting the whole picture, the aesthetics as well as the environment. In our rapidly transitioning city, both are subject to change. And on the red line, what we see is just as important as where we’re seeing it.


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