NoMa’s collection of modern, glass-and-steel office and apartment buildings can seem quite dull at times. But between May 20 and 30, a group of local and international artists will brighten up the neighborhood by painting murals on buildings throughout the area for a series called POW! WOW! DC.
POW! WOW! is a global art movement that has staged mural festivals in cities like Honolulu, Hong Kong, and Austin, Texas. The May event will be its DC debut. For local artist and organizer Kelly Towles, it’s timely, especially when creative spaces like Union Arts are being replaced by boutique hotels and stores.
“The creative scene has gotten hit by a baseball bat a couple times over the past few years,” Towles says. “We’ve had a loss of galleries. We’ve had a loss of places for artists to create work. I’m hoping that this will help artists to realize there’s so much potential for DC.”
Towles—whose resume includes murals for U Street Music Hall, Toki Underground, DC Brau, and Graffiato—will join 16 other artists and artist groups who are participating in POW! WOW! DC, including locals like Cory Oberndorfer, No Kings Collective, Decoy, and Matt Corrado.
The murals will be painted on or near the building walls of defunct locations like shuttered nightclubs Ibiza and The Crucible. There will also be a mural at 411 New York Avenue, which houses Union Arts. “NoMa has empty lots and abandoned, old bus stations,” says Towles, who isn’t sure how long the murals will stay after the festival ends. “They’re turning it into a revitalized area. To be able to get a chance to adorn these walls is epic.”
Because Towles is busy with securing the festival’s logistics, he hasn’t been keeping tabs on what each artist is making—aside from suggesting that London designer INSA may recreate his interactive work “GIF-IT” where he converted a mural into an animated GIF that could be viewed from space. As long as POW! WOW! DC brings joy, he’s satisfied.
“I just want to make people smile,” says Towles. “When I do a mural, a lot of times it’s just to hopefully give someone a better day. And I hope it’ll be expressed here 17 times over.”
POW! WOW! DC will formally launch Saturday, May 21 at 11 AM in the NoMA Junction lot at 1st and L street, Northeast, with live painting sessions from participating artists, DJ sets, and food trucks.