Originally Published by WAMU 88.5 on 04/14/2020
Written By: Mikaela Lefrak
Music venues, galleries, museums and theaters are shut down across the District, leaving hundreds of local artists with nowhere to present or sell their work during the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, D.C.’s street artists — people who create graffiti, outdoor installations and other forms of public art — face another problem entirely. The city streets that serve as both canvas and venue are, technically, still open. But the people aren’t there, as they remain inside under stay-at-home orders around the region.
We spoke to five artists in D.C. about what it’s like to make highly public work during a citywide shutdown. Many of these artists said they continue to make art in the city, often related to coronavirus, but they’ve had to get creative to find an audience — turning to the internet, creating supplies for essential workers or finding a new canvas.
The Projection Artist Who Transmits Messages Out His Window
Robin Bell was in bed for most of March with what he assumes was COVID-19. “It was rough. I didn’t go to the hospital, but I came pretty close,” he said.
Bell is best known for projecting images and political messages onto D.C. buildings, many in protest of the Trump Administration. Now he only projects onto an Adams Morgan apartment building across the street from his bedroom window or the Subway across from his Mount Pleasant studio. So far he’s done: “TRUMP VIRUS,” “DO WHAT YOU CAN AND STAY HOME” and “WHERE ARE THE TESTS.”
He tweets about his new projections — he’s always had a big social media following — but now he feels nervous about his tweets attracting crowds to the pieces, as they have in the past.
While he can still find an audience for his new projections online, he can’t find an income. Bell typically pays his bills by collaborating with musicians and other artists, but most of his contract work has dried up. To save money, he’s moving out of his apartment and into his studio.
“The income that we have is gone, and D.C. is an expensive place to be,” he said. “But it’s more important for us than ever to make art.”
The Muralist Who Self-Isolates At Construction Sites
When Cita Sadeli started painting a seven-story mural on the new Hotel Zena in Thomas Circle, her biggest concern was getting pedestrians out of her way so she could set up a crane on the sidewalk.
That was in early March. After about a week, the bustling urban landscape had transformed into a ghost town. Sadeli, who signs her work as Miss Chelove, watched from her solitary platform as office workers dragged desk chairs down the sidewalks and loaded computer monitors into car trunks.
She kept working as the city shut down. She was technically part of the hotel’s construction crew and therefore an essential worker.
Occasionally she’d see people looking up at her from the steps of a large church on Thomas Circle where they’d go to exercise or sunbathe. “At times,” she wrote on Instagram, ” I wondered if all this was really happening. Things still seemed so normal, and quite beautiful from way up there.”
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