True Colors

Collaboration Between Author And Artist Brings Gift To Passersby
Photograph By
Stephen Lilienthal

Courtney Davis (left) and Chanel Compton.

Before last summer, Courtney Davis’ backyard, adjacent to an alley just off Good Hope looked like any other. But if you know Courtney Davis, you know that there is a lot more zest in her approach to life than her backyard would have suggested. 

Long intent on beautifying the space, she decided to fulfill a long-held dream and commission a mural. She took to Facebook and soon a friend, local storyteller Jessica Smith, connected her to artist Chanel Compton, who could make Davis’ vision a reality. 

Davis: Revealing Her Dream

Davis, a special education administrator in the DC Public School system, has lived in southeast DC for approximately a decade. She is well known to many in Anacostia for her children’s book, A is for Anacostia, that shows youngsters there is plenty to be proud of in Anacostia. Davis also served as coordinator of the first Annual East of the River Book Festival and created the website and manages its event calendar. 

Just as Davis uses writing and books to promote a positive vision of southeast DC, Compton uses art to help to heal and to empower kids and the disenfranchised. 

Compton, the Program Director for the Prince George’s County  had early ambitions to be an artist growing up in Connecticut. “I’ve always been interested in art. I don’t remember wanting to do anything else.” Receiving encouragement from her family to pursue art as a career,  Compton studied art at Rutgers and came to DC to obtain her master’s degree in arts management. Knowing little about the DC arts scene at first, she became “enmeshed” in it by helping to organize the murals commemorating noted Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston that grace the Eatonville Restaurant on 14th Street, NW. 

Compton cites Albus Cavus, a collective of artists dedicated to art projects that invite participation from the community and which promotes community change, as inspiring her work. 

Art, she believes, makes people feel good because they express their thoughts and feelings. Making public art is better in that not only do the creators “leave a visual mark on the world, they are providing a service to enhance a neighborhood or school.” That makes the creators feel very good. Plus, murals can “heal” communities by beautifying it and historical references can impart pride. 

Compton asserts, “I’ve seen this collective art making process can make individuals more confident, more creative, and more thoughtful.” 

Overseeing a mural painted by students at the Perry School, she recalls the effort they put into researching art and murals, then creating the mural at the Father McKenna Center which serves the homeless. The kids had not had this creative type of outlet in school.

The Mural

Davis requested a theme exploring childhood. She was interested in having neighborhood kids participate in the painting, but other summer activities precluded the children from participating. Compton would have welcomed it. “If I work with younger people who may not have artistic experience, I’ll usually do the design first, and they fill in the color.” 

After looking over the space Davis wanted the mural to be placed, and discussing the theme and possible colors, Compton developed a mockup of the mural. Then, she went to work. Within a few days, the mural was installed. It’s large enough for the public to see and it helps to beautify the alley to passersby. 

ANC 8A 04 Commissioner Charles E. Wilson who also serves as President of the River East Emerging Leaders, concurs. He considers the mural a testament to Davis’ imagination and Compton’s artistic ability. “I remember seeing it for the first time and thought it added a unique flavor to the house. It really fits the personality of the homeowner and it adds an open, friendly atmosphere to the backyard.” 

Stephen Lilienthal is a freelance writer. 

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