Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art

AUGUST 28, 2020–DECEMBER 31, 2020

The National Building Museum, in partnership with the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), is pleased to present Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art. Located on the Museum’s West Lawn (5th Street NW, between F and G streets), the exhibition features D.C. street art created earlier this summer in response to social justice protests in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. The murals speak to the impact that art can have on the built environment as well as the nation’s urgent need for dialogue and reflection.

To coincide with 2020 March on Washington events, Murals That Matter opened on August 28, 2020. The exhibition comprises both existing and newly created artwork that will be on display through late November.

  • Gallery Place Murals: In June 2020, amid an unprecedented global pandemic, protesters took to the streets of Washington, D.C., in response to the murder of George Floyd—and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others who came before. To capture the historic moment, the DowntownDC BID worked with the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute to commission dozens of murals for boarded-up storefronts. (The organization’s acronym stands for “Providing Artists with Inspiration in Non-Traditional Settings.”) The public experience of these plywood barriers, now reframed through vibrant art, shifted from “stay away” to “come look.” The Gallery Place neighborhood was transformed with artworks that expressed love, unity, and hope; that spoke to racial injustice and societal inequities; and that proclaimed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Murals That Matter displays 18 of those murals.
  • The Big Six: In a celebration of the life and legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis, a towering figure of the Civil Rights movement, six artists have created murals commemorating the members of the “Big Six” who organized the original March on Washington in 1963: John Lewis, Chairman, Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee; Whitney Young, National Director, Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, President, Negro American Labor Council; Martin Luther King Jr., President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, Director, Congress of Racial Equality; Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. These murals, painted live on August 28 and 29, are now part of the exhibition.


WJLA  •  WUSA  •  Architect Magazine  •  •  The Architect’s Newspaper  •  Lailah’s Learning Corner

Top photo: Gallery Place Mural in progress. Image courtesy DowntownDC BID.



Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art is made possible with support from HumanitiesDC and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.