Arts Desk

Rereleased ArtAround App Maps D.C.’s Public Art

Walking down Calvert Street NW in Adams Morgan, it’s not too hard to spot the neo-Fauvist contortions of Laurenellen McCann’s favorite mural in the District: “A People Without Murals Is a Demuralized People,” perched prominently on the side of the Kogibow Bakery. Hard to miss, definitely. But even harder to identify. Murals, unfortunately, don't tend to come with placards.

“People complaining about the lack of art are a dime a dozen here," says McCann. "It was always just very frustrating because I could see it everywhere, and how would you show that?”

McCann's answer is ArtAround, a website as well as an app for iPhone and Android that she calls an “inside-out museum.” The recently relaunched project is essentially a mapped wiki of public art in the D.C. area. Ambitious users can add works of art and provide additional information about already-posted pieces; for everyone else, it's a handy resource for figure out what's right in front of you. The platform allows users to filter public art by medium, neighborhood, title, artist, and other categories.

ArtAround casts a wide net: It includes public museums, graffiti, civic statues, and everything in between. “The goal isn’t to just raise up one kind of public art over another,” McCann says. “It’s not like the youthful rejection of the old. It’s supposed to cast a wider lens on what we consider public art in the hope that in recognizing how diverse it can be, we can see something about it that we haven’t been able to see before.”

ArtAround has been a work in progress since 2010, but it’s gotten a bit of a makeover since. The big redesign launch came on March 24 along with the kickoff of 5x5, a citywide public art project sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities that brought 25 temporary installations to the District. DCCAH has also helped fund ArtAround to the tune of $25,000 in grant money, McCann says. The site and app have added a filter for the 5x5 works, while the arts commission has promoted ArtAround in turn. “The 5x5 has been a really exciting explosion for ArtAround in terms of use because we hadn’t really been pushing it,” McCann says. “Just a complete amazing uptick in usage and fantastic engagement—the kind of engagement I was dreaming that we’d get back in March of 2010.” Since the March 24 relaunch, McCann says, users have added at least one new art piece or new photos every day.

March 24 was also the date TEDxWDC, an independently organized TEDx event centered on creative entrepreneurship in the District. McCann gave her own talk : “Making (Cyber)Space for Public Art.” “I tried mostly to tell the story of why you would even be mapping public art and how you’d get into it in the first place, but also make some of the connections that might be hard to grasp right away between art and data more palpable for people,” McCann says. “I did talk about ArtAround, but I didn’t want it to be this pitch session because there are a lot of peers out there that are mapping this.”

McCann says the next big development for ArtAround is a timeline feature. “This is going to allow you to scroll back and forth through time to see how this art landscape changes in D.C.," McCann says. "It also allows us to account for expired works.” There’s one artwork McCann is particularly excited to map with this feature: “There’s a statue that I love in Malcolm X part called ‘Serenity’ who no longer has any eyes or face and people draw on her, all sorts of things that you can imagine. It’d be neat to show those decorations [and] also see what she used to look like in her prime when she was installed.”

McCann sees her work as “trying to find the data behind the things we just appreciate” and hopes that it’ll eventually be useful for more comprehensive studies. “As we get more of that information together, I encourage people to mash it up,” McCann says. “Obviously in mashing this with education data or poverty data or bicycling data, you’re only going to get correlative studies, but it’ll also create visualizations of information that we just haven’t been able to play with before and consider.” McCann says she hopes to eventually format the data ArtAround has collected into a comprehensive, downloadable public database.

McCann’s all about access to the information commons. It’s not just a theme running through this project, but also her work at the Sunlight Foundation, where she works as an organizer to “expand and support initiatives in open government and open data.”

While the database continues to grow, McCann is working on her own piece of public art called “Indiana Jones: Alley of Doom,” which is funded by a grant from the local chapter of The Awesome Foundation. Each month, the foundation's D.C. trustees—who include art doyenne Philippa Hughes and iStrategyLabs boss Peter Corbett—provide a one-off $1,000 grant to a project they deem worthy. “I have a 10-foot-diameter zorb, which is an enormous inflatable globe, much like a boulder,” McCann says. “The idea is that you can create this scene, technically from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in any alley and just pop it up as an experience that people can go and live that moment as Indiana Jones running from the boulder. Not necessarily traditional public art, but something I’m going to be doing this summer. The zorb’s actually [going] to be at the Cherry Blast.”

The article originally misattributed the artwork “A People Without Murals Is a Demuralized People” to the artist Juan Pineda. While Pineda has worked to restore the mural, it was created by Carlos Salazar and a group of Latin American immigrants.

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