News & Politics

What’s the Deal With All These Semi-Hidden Neon “HOPE” Signs?

Local artist Craig Kraft explains what he's up to.

Light sculptor Craig Kraft bending neon tubes in his studio. Photograph by Jeremy Reaves.

You can find massive, colorful neon structures by local light sculptor Craig Kraft glowing outside of Shaw Library and Downtown Silver Spring, but his newest project is a bit more unassuming. High on the side of his Anacostia studio hangs a neon sign with a scrawled, one-word message: “HOPE”. There’s a chance you’ll miss the positive message as you’re walking by, and that’s by design. “You have to be in a certain spot on the sidewalk to see it during the day, but at night it becomes easier to spot,” Kraft says. “That’s the beauty of neon.” 

Kraft’s “HOPE” sign on the side of his Anacostia studio. Photograph courtesy of Craig Kraft.

Earlier this year, Kraft started a fundraiser that promises to bring more of these hidden “HOPE” signs to the streets of Anacostia, where he’s lived and worked for the past 11 years. The idea for the project–which he calls “Finding Hope”–came to him a few years ago. He heard about a long-forgotten neon advertisement that was discovered behind a brick facade in Brooklyn and saw potential in an obscured message written in light. “I thought what a great phenomenon it is to come across something by surprise,” says Kraft. “I think a message can have more impact that way.”

When considering what missive he wanted people to come across, he quickly settled on the aspirational word “hope.” “It’s a word that is used in artwork quite a lot, but I think it’s so ubiquitous that it can lose its effect,” says Kraft. “I thought that putting it in these unexpected spots could reinvigorate it in some way.”

A “HOPE” sign on the front of the Project Create building in Anacostia. Photograph courtesy of Craig Kraft.

He brought his first “HOPE” sign–which is designed to mimic his own handwriting–to a tucked-away spot in the National Arboretum. “We put it inside a part of the abandoned brick factory there that’s off limits, and it had a nice visual effect,” he says. However, he quickly realized that a restricted, low-traffic area might not be the best place to share his message. Instead, he’s brought “HOPE” to two more-visible spots in the past year: his studio and the Project Create community arts center on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

A rendering of Kraft’s planned “HOPE” sign for the Bridge Project near Anacostia’s metro stop. Photograph courtesy of Craig Kraft.

Kraft is currently working on two more “HOPE” projects for groups in Anacostia: one for the BHG Washington Treatment Center, which provides rehabilitation services, and one for an ongoing Bridge Project near the Anacostia metro station. He’s received support from the Anacostia Business Improvement District and other local groups to continue his work, but installation equipment and materials can come with a hefty price tag: Each installation costs about $4,500, which is what led him to start his fundraising efforts. 

Kraft sees his chosen medium as essential to his message. To him, neon is not only attention-grabbing, it’s also a “call to action”: “When people come across it, they’re first going to wonder, Who put that up? But then they’ll hopefully go beyond that and actively engage with their own hope.”

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow