Over the past 20 years the popularization of public murals has changed the landscape of major cities and rural neighborhoods on a global scale. To the East is a retrospective exhibition curated by Cory Lee Stowers, Executive Director of DC Murals, that dives into the roots and purpose of the movement. The exhibition presents 40 photographs that feature the work of the artists who created the earliest documented murals on the east side of Washington, DC.
To the East draws from the extensive archive of DC Murals, as well as recently uncovered materials from the Anacostia Community Museum and DC Public Library archives. Personal stories from DC-based artists Roderick Turner, Alex Mattison Jr., Cheryl Foster, Al Carter, Richard Ward, Rik Freeman, James Greggs, and more—who all played a critical role in bringing large-scale public murals into Wards 7 and 8 during the 1970s-90s—highlights the group of creative culture workers who sought to use their gifts of artistry to uplift their community. Although many of these murals have been lost over the years, some of them have endured with the support of their respective communities.
IMAGE: Roderick Turner, Excellence, 1989
Alex Mattison Jr., For My People, 1986
Detail of Alfred Smith, The Dignity of Work, 1986
To the East is accompanied by a book of the same name by Stowers and Kimberly Springle that presents one of the first distinct timelines to the origins of the contemporary public mural movement in the US. Set against the backdrop of early 1900s DC and the formation of the Howard University Art Department, the story follows art and culture scholars Alain LeRoy Locke and James V. Herring who shaped Black identity in the arts from the 1920s-50s. During the following decades, heightened by the arrival of pioneering mural painter and activist Jeff Donaldson at Howard in 1970, Black figurative art began spilling out of galleries and community art workshops onto the streets of urban America in the form of public murals. To the East reveals important context to the purpose and practice of mural making in Washington, DC, and beyond.
The Phillips Collection’s workshop and gallery at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) provides a space to view, discuss, make, and exhibit art. Our programs are co-created with our partners and participants to encourage authentic community dialogue, community planning, and community action. Our work is about making friends, sustaining relationships, and bringing joy.