High-Rise Art

Crystal City gets tagged with graffiti in an ongoing effort to bolster the art scene.

Crystal City gets tagged with graffiti in an ongoing effort to bolster the art scene. —Katie Bowles

No Kings Collective's mural in Crystal City.
Photo by Robert Merhaut.

If you’ve been around Crystal Drive in Crystal City lately, you’ve probably noticed what appears to be large-scale graffiti happening on the side of the vacant office building at 1851 S. Bell Street. The vandals may even appear to be flagrantly defying the law by painting during rush hour, farmer’s markets and other high-traffic times. However, you don’t need to call the police—Crystal City is aware of (and partially responsible for) the growing mural. 

Sponsored by the Crystal City Business Improvement District, the mural is being painted by artists from local D.C. group No Kings Collective. Artists Peter Chang and Brandon Hill began priming the wall for color in early April, and even they don’t know what the final product will be. No Kings Collective co-founder Chang says that they usually “start off with a sketch and might make slight changes and improvise here and there.” The wall mural is expected to “evolve and change several times,” according to Business Improvement District President and C.E.O. Angela Fox.

The No Kings Collective mural joins over 30 other works in Crystal City’s “Art Walls” program, established six years ago. Art Walls aims to “turn the whole of Crystal City into a color-infused gallery” by “putting local artists to work all over on a temporary basis,” Fox states.  

The Business Improvement District first conceptualized the idea after visiting Florida’s Wynwood Arts District, a museum and public art-filled neighborhood in Miami. But this empty office building is set to be torn down in the future. So why paint on a condemned building?

“When the building was taken out of service, we hosted Artomatic [an art workshop/networking event] inside,” Fox says. “That project brought more than 1,000 artists and 75,000 visitors [in 2012]. … We are now bringing that creativity to the building’s surfaces. It’s a great way to make fun use of the asset in the interim [before the building is demolished, close to over a year from now according to Fox], and also showcase some amazing creativity by enlivening the outside.”

(June 2014)