DC street art. Just the thought of it makes me happy. I love art; I love to walk. Give me both and I am one happy lady.
Which is why I didn’t hesitate to sign up for a two-hour walking tour of Murals of our City in the U Street corridor of Washington DC on a lovely spring afternoon.
Murals of Our City
My guide was Ella Schiralli from Adventures for Creative Tourists. First we stop at an alley on U Street. The side of the building was painted a vibrant cobalt blue. It featured the smiling faces of Winnifred and William Lee, founders of Lee’s Flower Shop (a multi-generational family business). Exotic pink and yellow florals bloomed on the bricks. The mural reached to the roof and featured a pink-petal flower on the chimney.
It is one of 85 murals that make up MuralsDC Project, which is under the direction of the D.C. Department of Public Work’s Graffiti Prevention Initiative. “Each mural tells a unique story about its neighborhood. MuralsDC is a visual documentation of Washington, DC’s rich history,” according to the website.
MuralsDC was created in 2007 to replace illegal graffiti with artistic works, revitalize sites within communities in the District of Columbia, and to teach young, aspiring artists the art of aerosol painting. This initiative aims to positively engage District youth by teaching proper professional art techniques, providing supplies, and a legal means to practice and perform their artistic skill in a way that promotes respect for public and private property and community awareness.
MuralsDC turns DC into an outdoor art gallery. While the murals can be seen in 46 different D.C. neighborhoods reaching 88,000 residents, we focused solely on 15 murals located in the U Street neighborhood.
Ella told us that U Street is known as “Black Broadway,” due to its concentration of jazz clubs. In fact, there is a striking white on black mural off U Street which spells out BLACK BROADWAY in block letters. The historical marker explains how “not too long ago black artist, performers, and patrons created this place called Black Broadway, risen from the ground ascending to monumental heights the entire world witnessed in awe! Every day… every night. Black Broadway is sacred and must be preserved forever.”
DC’s Aneiekan Udofia
The muralist which claims the most work on display in this neighborhood is a portrait painter named Aniekan Udofia. He signs all his DC street art with a distinctive flair. The diversity of his work astounded me. He has created towering murals of Duke Ellington, Fredrick Douglas and George Washington. Murals of legendary writers and artists standi guard over D.C. And of course the Hall of Famers mingle on the exterior wall of Ben’s Chili Bowl. I researched his website and learned that he now works for national clients. His murals are located across D.C.
Ben Ali Way
While we didn’t have time to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl, I think we spent at least 10 minutes trying to recognize each famous person on Ben Ali Way. It is located on the right exterior of the restaurant. You will feel hit like a boxer’s punch when you turn the corner. COLOR on Steroids. The lengthy brick wall has been reborn as an outdoor art gallery – basically the Outdoor Black National Portrait Gallery.
From Barack and Michelle Obama to former Mayor Marion Barry, this mural is a who’s who of Black politicians, actors, musicians, singers, newscasters and athletes. And there is still room left on the wall for more famous friends of the city who have yet to be painted. And a quick search of Instagram can bring up photos of celebrities posing with his or her mural painting.
DC Street Art
Ella was quite astute in getting us to speculate on the subjects in the murals. Why a butterfly in so many murals? (Hint: Transformation). Why the blindfolds on the two girls in the mural done by a famous foreign painter off Ben Ali Way? Value diversity.)
I think my favorite mural is All My Hopes & Dreams, located at Cloak & Dagger at 1359 U Street NW. Cita Sadeli (known as CHELOVE) painted it. The mural debuted in April 2019. She is a muralist/designer/art director. Her work “straddles the urban art, illustration and interactive design worlds.”
Further, her work captures youth. The young woman wears pink sunglasses and looms two-stories tall over U Street. She is “navigating life’s obstacle course, with grace and fortitude … with fearless beauty inside and out,” according to missshelove’s Instagram post. All it takes is a can of paint to bring a wall (and neighborhood) to life.
To sum up, like the butterfly, I have drifted from one mural to another, grateful on this spring day to just soak in the creativity.
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe to my weekly email: