I was asked to submit my remarks from the opening of the DC Arts and Humanities’ “Nonuments” exhibition to the Southwester.

As president of our neighborhood assembly I receive many requests for support. We get involved in any number of of prevailing issues, whether it’s a new soccer stadium or redevelopment of our public housing communities, but I never thought I’d get involved in a peep show, some baked potatoes, asteroids, piles of dirt, or stained shrubs.

Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. You have to be willing to throw a variety of seeds out, knowing they won’t all flourish. And when a certain curator conveyed his “Nonuments” concept to me, I quickly saw the possibilities. For it wasn’t about dropping some art in Southwest; it’s about developing our community and transforming a vacant and downtrodden space in the heart of Southwest.

There is a long tradition of art being sequestered in hermetically-sealed buildings that are located away from residents and charge admission. Some of these institutions are trying to open up by providing opportunities for more to see the work…virtually.

In contrast, “Nonuments” is a fully-immersive public art exhibition. It is a month-long opportunity to rethink our relationships and our spaces.

I’ve been humbled by the artists who have been at the site for the past couple weeks. Rather than fabricating their art off-site where they could get it done much faster, they’ve been out engaging with any and all Southwesters who come by – probably meeting more Southwesters than many of us do in a year.

It was great to witness the successful kick-off event a few weeks ago, where strangers came together to paint plants, dance in the mud, or just soak up the creative moments.

I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri. I still proudly call it home and my father still lives in our house. But as has been reported in the news over the past month, it has become the epicenter of protests emanating from our socioeconomic divides and misunderstandings, and from limited opportunities for growth and development.

Here in Southwest, we have been working on projects to help unify our community, such as our community garden a couple blocks from here. We didn’t go to the trouble of planning, fundraising for, and building it so that some individuals could drop some seeds in the ground and hope to reap them a few months later. Rather, the garden is about what we plant and what we grow each week. It is a community space where the gardeners teach, play, and work with the youth in the neighboring public housing community. It is a testament to emerging leaders—Kamilla, Coy, and others—who are making the project successful.

Likewise, this project isn’t about building five art projects and waiting for critical acclaim. This project is about Reverend Hamilton opening up his church to host a symposium in Southwest on human trafficking. It is about Safeway’s contribution to this community, allowing us to break bread together. It is about being able to relocate this temporary grove to provide shade for community members who are least able to afford trees.

This project is about inspiring our youth and ourselves to explore our common bonds and common struggles.

By: Kael Anderson

SWNA President

“Nonuments” is one of the 5 x 5 projects sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. It opened officially on Sept. 6 in the field adjacent to CVS on 4th St. SW. The curator is Lance M. Fung.

(photo caption: “Migration” by Cameron Hockenson is a “nonument” for a home threatened yet resilient in the face of displacement and climate change. The smaller structure on the right is called “Bird Condos.” These nests are much like neighborhoods now on the move, embracing, adapting, or resisting forces of gentrification now sweeping the city, and the world. Photo by Perry Klein.)
(photo caption: SWNA President Kael Anderson speaking at the “Nonuments” dedication at 4th St. SW on Sept. 6. Photo by Perry Klein.)
(photo caption: Artist Marianna Peragallo [middle right] with Southwest residents, including Portrait Garden subject [far right]. Photo by Kael Anderson.)

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