It was seven years ago when artist Kelly Towles had the idea to bring a local chapter of the worldwide POW! WOW! collective, an international mural festival that started in Hawaii in 2010, to Washington, D.C.
“I’m an artist full-time and the only way to do my job, which is the best job on earth, is to get support from my community by commissions, paintings or murals,” Towles says. “This was a way for me to give back.”
Known today as D.C. Walls, the 10-day event, which takes place from September 7 to September 17, will see 20 local, national and international artists painting larger-than-life murals throughout the NoMa neighborhood in downtown D.C.
“It’s all volunteers and we help beautiful the community,” Towles says. “The goal is to make D.C. a brighter and more vibrant place while sharing art and creativity from around the world.”
Things kick off on September 9 with a celebration at Alethia Tanner Park, which will have vendors, food trucks, DJs and more.
“All of the artists will be painting, it’s going to be a beautiful day, and in the evening, a digital artist from Los Angeles — Jason Kim — will be showing some of his work on the screen,” Towles says.
NPR is the sponsor of this year’s festival, which is presented in partnership with the NoMa Business Improvement District, and local restaurants provide food and water to the volunteer artists.
Over the lifetime of the festival, the artists have done more than 100 murals in the neighborhood.
“Since the artists are volunteering, they get creative freedom,” Towles says. “Though no sex, violence or politics — it has to beautify the community and the murals have to be for everyone. They present a sketch and whoever owns the walls gets to approve the sketch.”
Artists are chosen by Towles — 10 local and 10 international — and he looks for those who he feels will be best for the community.
The festival also includes artist-led walking tours, a party and the fan-favorite Secret Walls battle, which will be held on September 14.
“Secret Walls is an art battle where teams of two or four will go to Dock 5 and paint huge walls,” Towles says. “It’s awesome. The artists have a blank canvas and they can only use black, and they’re not allowed to sketch on the wall beforehand.”
After 90 minutes, the audience gets to choose the winner.
“It is one of the most fun 90 minutes ever,” Towles says. “There will be music and an art show going on during the event, so it’s really a fun time and the audience can check out some of the artists’ other work.”
In conjunction with the festival, Archipelago will release a limited edition Tiki mug designed by Towles.
“It’s open to the public 24/7, so anytime someone feels like popping by, there’s probably going to be an artist down there painting,” Towles says about the festival. “A map on our website will show where all the murals will be located, and during the walking tours, we will talk about the art and artists.”
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