Neighbors to Raise Funds for Mural

Rendering of a possible mural for Thai Orchid's Kitchen. Photo: Maceo Thomas

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Fairlawn area, Thai Orchid's Kitchen has become a neighborhood favorite since opening in 2010. “Since January, we've been meeting there for monthly community dinners,” said Maceo Thomas, a Ward 7 resident. “You can pay one price for an all-you-can-eat experience.” Last month Thomas began a campaign to raise funds to bring a mural to Thai Orchid's wall, the culmination of a process that began a year ago.

Working with MuralsDC

In spring residents submitted a two-page proposal nominating Thai Orchid for the MuralsDC initiative. Murals DC is a partnership with the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and nonprofit organization Words Beats & Life, Inc. The purpose of the project is to limit the amount of illegal graffiti, revitalize community sites, and teach youth about the art of aerosol painting. Usually MuralsDC concentrates on areas that are frequent tagging targets, but residents can nominate a private property as long as the owner permits it.

“We attended a community meeting at the restaurant to discuss the mural last summer,” said Nancee Lyons, a representative from DPW. “There were probably 40-60 people present, with the overwhelming majority appearing to strongly desire or at least be open to the idea of a mural on the wall.” However, not everyone supported the idea of a mural. “There were no more than five or six residents who expressed opposition to the mural but it was unclear as to whether they opposed the mural or just wanted more of a say in the process,” Lyons stated. “Honestly, there appeared to be some other issues going on so perhaps the proposed mural was just the straw that broke the camel's back.” Thomas, who also attended the meeting, agreed that the MuralsDC process was a point of contention, but said it was “more about politics than just a mural.”

The Project Stalls

While it received support from Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, the mural project was at a standstill in the fall. After learning that Mayor Vincent Gray will be making the final decision, Thomas talked to him during MuralDC's event for their Ben's Chili Bowl mural. “When I spoke with [Mayor Gray] at the event he said that his people were handling it.” However, according to Thomas, a small group of residents convinced the mayor to block the project. While Mayor Gray is a Ward 7 resident, Lyons stated, “the Mayor doesn't get involved. This was an anomaly.”

Words Beats & Life's executive director, Mazi Mustafa, gave another reason for the stalled project. “There had been concern about producing a project with government funds,” he said. “As a result DPW chose not to move forward.” Both men agree, however, that Thai Orchid's owner and most of the community want the mural. “So many people were very concerned,” said Thomas. “I saw usually quiet people speak up for the mural.”

The Community's Response

“If the issue was the government, then the solution is to raise funds privately,” Mustafa said. Last month Thomas began. While he and his neighbors plan to raise $500 toward costs, Words Beats & Life set up a page on the Network for Good website. The overall goal is $20,000 with half going toward commissioning the project and the other half toward maintenance. So far donors have raised $1,035. “It's really about engaging the community,” said Mustafa. “It's about asking how you can play a bigger role in making your community better.”