It is with great sadness that the National Building Museum notes the sudden passing last week of John Chisholm, Founder and Executive Director of the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute (Providing Artists with Inspiration in Non-Traditional Settings).
A young, D.C.-based arts and education organization focused on underserved communities, P.A.I.N.T.S. burst into regional and then national awareness as John, in partnership with Brookfield Properties, and then with support from the DowntownDC BID, organized the creation of more than 30 murals on boarded-up storefronts during the social justice protests of June 2020. Museum staff first met John when the BID approached our curatorial team with the idea of preserving some of these artworks as an exhibition on the Museum’s West Lawn. It was a proposal that staff immediately recognized as an opportunity to extend the murals’ impact and add to the urgent national conversation on equity and #BlackLivesMatter.
The result was Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art, which opened on August 28, 2020, to coincide with the 2020 March on Washington. The exhibition featured 18 murals created during the June protests, as well as new murals celebrating the Big Six co-organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, created on-site during the exhibition’s opening weekend. Murals That Matter was available to the public through the end of the year and visited and celebrated by thousands. The exhibition webpage—which includes photos of the murals, video interviews with the artists, and more—will remain a testament to John’s vision and passion.
John, however, didn’t rest, continuing to engage P.A.I.N.T.S. in ongoing creative projects over the following months, such as painting inspiring murals at St. John’s Church, near the White House, and elsewhere in the District. In recent weeks, he had worked with Oxford Properties to secure a vacant retail space in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood as a community gathering place, a space for workshops, and a gallery for the Big Six murals and other artwork. John was tireless, generous, and always positive about the future and the potential for art to create change. His passing is a great loss to the District.
Although he was a member of the Museum’s community for only half a year, John made an enormous impact on all of our lives. We are honored to have known him.