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Revitalization and the Decline of Public Art in the Nation's Capital

Washington, D.C. is a dichotomous city. This is reflected everywhere you look, including in the public works of art scattered through neighborhoods both old and new; from formal statues and sculptures, to the murals that seem as if they were strewn throughout the city at random. It is available to all, free of charge. But all of this art carries another common thread: it gives more life to the streets, and adds to the vibrant urban fabric that offers the residents of D.C. such a high quality of life.

Picture of DuPont Fountain, Washington, D.C.

There are a multitude statues and sculptures serving as sentinels in the city's longest standing parks, paying homage to the historic foundations of the District. Just follow Massachusetts Avenue from start to finish and you can make a day of visiting obscure figures from America's past, like Samuel Francis DuPont, an Admiral in the US Navy during the Civil War, whose namesake is borne by one of the city's most prominent landmarks.

There are also murals you might find on the sides of buildings. Take a wrong turn in one of D.C.'s historic neighborhoods, and stay on it a little longer than you should, you're bound to come across one. Like the mural featured below, which you can find walking down Champlain Street in Northwest DC. Once a barren wall resulting from the simple architecture of row houses that typify most of DC's neighborhoods, it now brightens the street, a perfect example of a painting adding value to the very character of a neighborhood.

Mural on Champlain St NW, Washington DC

However, with the revitalization of the city, we are losing some significant pieces of art. The Black Family Reunion is being obscured by new development, and the DC Art Yards is being torn down, even as I write this piece. One question that comes to mind when finding this out is what role, if any, should the city play in protecting pieces of art on private property? One of the justifications that land use controls are predicated upon is that they serve to promote the public welfare. Can this be justifiably extended to preserve artwork?

Credit: Images by Chase Keenan. Data linked to sources.