Art on Call – Reflection

When I started this project in the beginning of the semester I didn’t realize how much of a passion project it would become. The more people I spoken to about Art on Call, the more frustrated I got about how no digital resource (or archive!) was available for people to learn more. I was more determined than ever to complete the archive, even if the completion date would be way after the last Digital History class. It was a huge lesson in how public work projects can be lost in time without proper documentation.

There remains no master list for every call box that was renovated, which remained the main speed bump for this project. I found an incomplete map on google M Maps that someone had put together, but mostly the callboxes have been located through trial and error.

Since I vastly underestimated the time spent walking through neighborhoods trying to locate each individual box, I got someone to partner with me on this project for the documentation portion. With their help, we have been able to tackle individual neighborhoods quicker, and therefore locate over 80 boxes during the semester. There are an approximate 150-175 boxes, so hopefully the documentation project will be complete by August of 2018.

The ultimate goal of this project in not just the documentation of these boxes, but also the digital archive that can be a resource to the greater DC community. I have created an open google drive folder that will contain mine and the project partners contact information, any resources I used to locate the call boxes, the master excel sheet of all the information (including pictures of boxes, locations, and descriptions), and also a folder of all original photographs that are named clearly and concisely. It remains public, but non-editable while I work on the project. At the completion I will allow anyone to edit it, so that if Art on Call gets picked back up and I am unaware other people can crowdsource it and maintain a complete master list.

Finally, the last portion of the project will be the uploading of all pictures into WikiCommons, so that the rights of the photographs are clearly in the public domain. This way they can be utilized in other spaces, including Wikipedia pages, blog posts, and publications. My hope is that this archive might inspire other community based nonprofits to work on it again, as there over 1,000 call boxes that have been stripped and primed but only ~150 boxes that have actually been renovated.

One thing I didn’t expect while working on this project was the clear redlining that happened with this project. It’s obvious that the only neighborhoods who could complete their project were ones with wealthy residents who could donate time and money to the project. While it’s a wonderful thing to allow individual communities control over art projects that represent their neighborhoods, it has to be clear that some projects should focus more resources to the communities that need assistance in the implementation of their ideas. These boxes are mostly located directly downtown or in wealthy neighborhoods in NW DC, including Georgetown, Glover Park, Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, and Woodley Park.

After talking to my classmate Lina, she inspired me to dedicate my research seminar into exploring community art revival in DC, particularly the redlining practices of renovated historical space. I’m hopeful that this project will not only end with a resource that people can use, but will also continue to inspire my work in other ways.

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