Wallpaper for your neighborhood

A mural in DC by Jason Woodside

It’s no secret that the muralism model pioneered by Tony Goldman’s Goldman Properties is being imitated across the country. It seems that every city has a property developer eager to give artists paint and walls (and sometimes an additional fee) in exchange for murals that are easy on the eyes and attractive to the crowd that will pay $10 for a latte. In Washington, DC and the surrounding cities, that developer is property behemoth JBG. They finance the JBG Mural Project.

JBG has commissioned about 30 murals for their properties, including some by internationally-recognized names like Jason Woodside and Reka. Of course, I like to see talented artists get paid, and I like to see new public art. Still… public art projects led by developers and marketing agencies rather than non-profits, governments, or professional curators give me pause. Public space belongs to all of us, not just one property owner intent in installing billboards for their neighborhoods.

The JBG Mural Project was brought to my attention thanks to this article in The Washington Post. It’s definitely worth a read, as one of the most balanced and well informed articled I’ve read from the mainstream media about property developers embracing muralism. One quote in particular sums up my views on the JBG Mural Project and many initiatives like it:

“When you put something large-scale in the public domain, I think the most exciting potential is the discourse associated with that work . . . as opposed to being just another Urban Outfitters billboard,” said Elizaveta Meksin, an artist and associate professor of visual art at Columbia University in New York. “There are so many interesting artists who work in the public domain and do installations that have a message and have some sort of a critical approach or message. And, obviously, we are not seeing this company support that kind of work.”

Photo from Jason Woodside