Art Installation Enlivens Good Hope & MLK

Students from Ketcham Elementary School laud new art installation.

While waiting at the foot of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE for a bus to take them cross-town to the National Air and Space Museum, a group of 3rd grade students from Ketcham Elementary School marveled at a new public art installation.

“It looks exquisite,” said nine-year-old Heaven Nelson, taking in Journey Anacostia. “That’s a vocabulary word this week.”

Edging to one-up his classmate, eight-year-old Maurice Welch enthusiastically said, “It’s a colorful boat; a design masterpiece.”

Public art is supposed to inspire, or “dialogue,” in standard parlance. And if a recent survey of residents’ reactions is representative, this work by Wilfredo Valladares is really doing that across generations of Anacostians.

“I like it,” says community activist William Alston-El, a presence in the neighborhood since 1967, standing underneath 15-foot decaying Frederick Douglass poster across the street. “It’s well done. It represents the history of who was on this land before it was a modern neighborhood.”

Before conceiving of a concept Valladares listened. “I remembered how proudly people spoke about Anacostia during the community meetings I attended,” he said. Known throughout the Washington region both as a teacher and artist, Valladares was able to take a different approach with Journey Anacostia by meeting with residents prior to submitting a proposal.

“In essence, their voices lead me to learn more about the history and culture of Anacostia. The Anacostia River was an inspiration for the sculpture not only because of its natural beauty, but the fact that historically it has witnessed the transition of the community and continues to inspire future generations. In the process I looked at architecture and traditional art forms from African American and American Indian culture.”

After a year’s work, the sculpture, which is composed of copper, CORTEN steel and stained glass with approximated dimensions of 16’ h x14’w x 76’d, now defines the long vacant corner and has achieved its stated purpose of making people talk.

“It takes time and hard work to make artwork and the only hope that you have as an artist is that people will have the same endurance,” Valladeres says. “I think if people invest time to observe the work, most likely they will establish a conversation or walk away with something.”

Complimenting the sculpture, area youth, in a program run by the United Planning Organization, helped define the perimeter of the space with an original mural.

Valladeres envisions this synergy continuing. “I would love to see initiatives geared to creating programming that will incorporate the sculpture, space and history of the neighborhood -- perhaps storytelling or integrating activities with schools.”

Timeline for Good Hope & MLK

“The long term vision for that corner is to have new development with residences or offices above ground floor retail,” says Michael Kelly, Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The agency’s office overlooks the art installation.

In order for that to happen, Kelly says, two dynamics must come together: DHCD must assemble enough of the adjacent properties to make the site feasible for redevelopment, and the market for residential, office, and retail space must be great enough to attract private financing for new development.

Kelly is not tone deaf, recognizing, “The people who pass this corner every day can't wait that long, which is why we got together with the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities to activate the space in the short term. Journey Anacostia will be a permanent asset for Ward 8, but it will only be located at this site temporarily.”

For now the sculpture is projected to grace the corner for three to five years, until the property can be redeveloped, at which point it be will relocated within Ward 8.

A dedication of Journey Anacostia is planned for Saturday, June 22, at 10 a.m. For more information, contact the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities 202-724-5613or