For artist Amy Wike, the charged conversation surrounding the nation’s capital is a generative subject for her exploration of language, perception and identity.
In June, CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery brought Amy Wike’s interactive exhibition, In a Word, to D.C.’s Truxton Circle community for seven weeks. Visitors were invited to square their assumptions about D.C. with their immediate, local experience and to contribute to a second art piece.
In a Word develops and highlights how the words we use create a location’s character and history, every bit as much as its natural features or architecture. Wike was curious to see how the charged words we use about our nation’s capital both reflect and shape our national identity. In response to her survey, the artist received many abstract descriptions of D.C. that fell into the categories of “history” or “government.”
Twenty-two people submitted the word “history,” “historic,” or “historical,” and Wike saw a number of “museums” and “monuments” as well. Words that seemed to refer to government included “power,” “powerful,” “political,” “politics,” and “capital.” When Wike asked, “D.C.?”, 13 responded with “corrupt.”
Wike made sure that these preconceptions of D.C. literally enveloped visitors entering the Mobile Art Gallery/installation. She wrote them on the walls and into the knitted Morse code translations hanging over guests’ heads. But was this imagined D.C. the same place that guests at the installation were currently inhabiting? To find out, Wike left a note above a drop box inviting guests to leave their one-word impressions of Truxton Circle.
The local impressions of Truxton Circle, D.C. that Wike collected are warmer and more positive than the abstract and sometimes negative impressions of Washington, D.C. that she gathered from across the country.
By mid-July, the artist, who picked up the new submissions weekly, had collected about 200 responses. The most frequent response she received was “diverse,” with “changing” and “vibrant” as close runners-up. A number of submissions about the neighborhood stated, simply, “home.”
CulturalDC’s executive director Tanya Hilton says Truxton Circle locals were thrilled to have Amy Wike’s work installed in the Mobile Art Gallery. From the beginning of June to the end of July, they could walk onto a lot that had been vacant for decades and “into an art experience.” In a Word, which Hilton calls “striking” and “immersive,” encouraged the community to see their neighborhood identity as vital and important, and pushed back against status-quo assumptions about D.C. as a whole.
Ongoing work includes reaching out to community groups, civic associations, schools, and religious and arts organizations, attending local Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings, and connecting with the local performers and food vendors. Hilton says one of the most dramatic challenges of CulturalDC’s mission to bring art to all D.C. neighborhoods involves physically moving the Mobile Art Gallery, which weighs over 20,000 pounds.
The heavy lifting seems well worth it. Community Kick-Offs, Hilton reports, draw in hundreds of community members to celebrate their neighborhood and the new art inside the gallery. Free artist workshops allow participants to engage in more intimate learning experiences.
“Our proudest moments,” reflects the executive director, “are always when we see neighborhoods engaging with art they would not have had the opportunity to view without our Mobile Art Gallery, which has had over 43,000 visitors in the first sixth months.”
According to Hilton, neighborhood feedback for CulturalDC usually includes requests to have the gallery remain for a longer period of time. Nevertheless, CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery has recently left the Truxton Circle community, continuing its mission to bring new local art to other D.C. neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Amy Wike knits the Truxton Circle words into her second art piece incrementally each week. Once it’s finished, fans can find the Truxton Circle-inspired project on her website. To experience more of Wike’s art off-line in the D.C. area, visit This is a Map at the Torpedo Factory Art Center through September 2018 or look for her group art piece, Reimagining the Four Freedoms, scheduled to appear at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in 2019.