City-wide program spruces up abandoned call boxes

A recent initiative to transform abandoned police and fire call boxes on campus into works of art is bringing creativity to the mundane.

The University has two call box projects in the works. One, located at 21st and H streets, contains a collage of different pieces of art on campus, and the other, at 20th and G streets, will feature a sculpture of actress Ingrid Bergman. The boxes were transformed through a city-wide program led by Cultural Tourism D.C. called Art on Call.

“I was a student and walked around campus always wondering why those were just standing there,” said Ryan Evans, a presidential administrative fellow who spearheaded the on-campus initiative.

Beginning in 2000, Kathryn Smith, the founder of Cultural Tourism D.C., and her husband, Sam Smith, created the Art on Call program which surveyed call boxes and identified more than 1100 boxes in need of refurbishment. The District Department of Transportation, which controls the rights to the boxes, stripped, primed and prepared about 700 boxes starting in 2002.

Through Art on Call, 12 neighborhood organizations are currently refurbishing call boxes within the District, including the two boxes on campus. The voluntary associations propose and implement the designs. Each region develops its own distinct identity by selecting a theme or color palette for its boxes.

The University reached out to local residents through FRIENDS, a neighborhood group of more than 450 citizens focused on open communication between GW and the Foggy Bottom West End Community. The University recruited local artists for the project through the group in coordination with the Foggy Bottom Association.

Lenore Miller, the director of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, and senior Ryder Haske – The Hatchet’s former multimedia editor – created the collage piece after hearing about the program last summer. Calder Brannock, a 2006 GW graduate, cast the sculpture as a commemoration of Bergman’s performance at Lisner Auditorium in 1946. Bergman’s appearance was especially notable due to her protest of the segregation laws that prevented blacks from attending.

“[The project] incorporates history, and at the same time it’s art right outside the historic Lisner Auditorium,” Evans said.

Once the molds are completed, the sculpture will be cast in metal. Brannock, who painted the murals in the Marvin Center and on the side of the Foggy Bottom Grocery, will receive a commission for his work.

To receive grants, which were funded by Cultural Tourism D.C. and the Commission on the Arts and Humanities, applicants had to submit designs for approval. The grants cover artist fees, supplies and installation.

Evans said he would like to work on a box at the corner of 20th and E streets, near the Elliott School of International Affairs, if the grants are ever offered again. Local residents Ken and Jackie Durham of Miriam’s Kitchen have also expressed interest in restoring another box located near United Church.

Elsewhere in the District, 81 completed boxes decorate the sidewalks of Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Mount Pleasant, Sheridan-Kalorama, Tenleytown and Woodley Park.

“Technically, the program is closed,” project associate of Heritage Programs Carmen Harris said. Cultural Tourism D.C. finished their involvement with the project Oct. 1, but Harris said communities are still installing the art.

“They kind of always looked just old and worn and were just like a testament to the old times, you know,” said Evans. “Now that we’re finally putting art into them, it takes something that at one point was an eye sore and makes it part of our community.”

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