Letter from Kael Anderson


A component of DC Arts & Humanities Commission’s 5×5 exhibition

By Kael Anderson

Southwest Neighborhood Assembly President

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.

But sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.  You have to be willing to throw a variety of seeds out, knowing they all won’t flourish.  And when curator Lance Fung 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 & downtrodden space in the heart of Southwest.

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

In contrast, this is a fully-immersive public art exhibition. It’s a month-long opportunity to rethink our relationships and our spaces.

I’ve been humbled by the artists whose 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.

And it was great to witness the successful kick-off event organized by the Washington Project for the Arts when strangers came together to paint plants, dance in the mud or simply soak up the creative moments.

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

Here in Southwest, we’ve 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 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’s a community space where the gardeners teach, play, and work with the youth in the neighboring public housing community.  It’s a testament to emerging leaders—Kamilla, Coy, and others—who are making the project successful.

Likewise, Nonuments isn’t about building five art projects and waiting for critical acclaim.

Nonuments is about Reverend Hamilton opening up his church to host a symposium on human trafficking in Southwest.  It’s about Safeway’s contribution to this community, allowing us to break bread together.  It’s about being able to relocate a temporary grove to provide shade for community members who are least able to afford trees.

It’s about inspiring our youth and ourselves to explore our common bonds and common struggles.