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Street Art for u: U Street

The most striking aspect of the area just a step outside of the U Street metro stop is the street art. No, not street art meaning random lines of spray paint that neighbors call public works about, but real art that shouldn’t be brought down by the word “street” in its description. 

But what is someone saying when they refer to something as street art? Most basically art that is on the street, or maybe something separate from and implicitly beneath art which has been carefully selected and curated. But it’s because the art on U-Street hasn’t been curated that it is so special.

Art on U Street includes beautifully and independently crafted displays of effervescent angel’s wings, the clear image of a small child’s eyes, and illustrations of icons that juxtapose the brick alleyways on which they’re painted. 

Whether the independently crafted images or commissioned giants like Bill Cosby on the side of Ben’s Chilli Bowl, this art belongs to the people who live there, and the people who pass by to regard it. It’s the people’s art, and it makes for a vibrant cultural center all along the U Street corridor.

To understand anything as a piece of art, its context must also be understood. The purpose of U Street’s art could be simple artistic expression, politics, or something entirely different. But on U Street, the context and meaning aren’t given on a placard, but rather are left it up to interpretation, allowing the viewer to guess the context and gain a better understanding for the area as a whole.

The integrity of art comes from how much it engages the viewer, whether they glance at a piece quickly or become enthralled, and any visitor to U Street is sure to be engaged by the urban artwork there.



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