Friday, July 31, 2009

Fir to the Cafritz Mansion. Maintenance Was Required.

As Gretchen and I were leaving DC Thursday morning, the traffic report on WAMU indicated a massive fire near Nebraska Avenue and Foxhall Road that was holding up traffic. It was suggested that traffic crossing Chain Bridge Road heading up Arizona find alternative routes. As I have come to learn, the fire destroyed the home of a local arts patron, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. While I have not read any information on the cause of the fire, what has been reported is that low water pressure contributed to the total destruction of the property.

As an aside, in some ways, there are two strange ironies. The DC Art Bank just purchased two of my works. One of them is a collection of fire hydrants photographed in Ward 6; each hydrant is in service requesting maintenance. So, the city is purchasing art work that reflects a problem the city has recognized and is at present getting lots of negative press regarding how it is handling the problem. The other irony, they chose not to review the Ward 3 battery of hydrants I have photographed; Ward 3 is where the Cafritz home is located.

This tragedy for Ms. Cafritz and for the DC art community will remain a black eye for WASA, which has been working diligently over the last two years to locate, repair or replace 2500 of the 10,000 broken hydrants within Washington, DC. Of course, to label their process as diligent is gleaned only from their website and the math. They had given themselves 5 years to get 2500 replaced, and were ahead of schedule last time their website reported (i.e. much more than 1000 hydrants are claimed to have been repaired or replaced in the last 2 years).

However, what WASA reports on their website and the truth of the matter might be different. It certainly doesn't help that Ms. Cafritz's neighbor, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, is quoted in The Washington Post about complaints to the city regarding low water pressure. Regardless, as I have travelled parts of the city documenting broken hydrants, I see the signs change from "Out of Order," to "In Service," or disappear all together. So, I have to believe that something is being done, and that this is a very unfortunate circumstance for WASA. I have also seen "Out of Order" signs return to what I presumed were repaired hydrants. And, in parts of Ward 6, some "Out of Order" signs have "In Service Signs" placed on top of them, which is conspicuous at best, and a great sign of incompetence (on a potentially criminal level) at worst.

Whatever the case of WASA's handling of the situation, the destruction to Ms. Cafritz's home is a tragedy on many levels. For the DC art community, where art appreciation and art collection seem anemic, it strikes at the Achilles heel.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Asked to get the word out: ACC Solo Deadline

Deadline approaching: only one week left to apply for 2010 Solos at the Arlington Arts Center!

The Arlington Arts Center invites you to apply for the 2010 Solos exhibitions. We are looking for contemporary artists based in the Mid-Atlantic region to submit proposals for an exhibition of their work in any and all media.

The panel includes Anne Surak, independent curator (formerly of Project 4 Gallery, Washington, DC), and Henry L. Thaggert, collector and curator.

Submissions are due August 1st. To download a prospectus, visit

Contact with any questions.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Maintenance Required: recent work at Glenview Mansion

For the better part of the last year I have been walking and driving around Washington, DC documenting broken fire hydrants, and documenting my journey and observations. On display at the Glenview Mansion - through July 28 - are 14 recorded tours in parts of Wards 2, 3, and 6, composites of broken hydrants, and a few sculptural renderings of hydrants.

The work has been brewing in the back of my head since May 1, 2007, when The Georgetown Library and Eastern Market were heavily damaged by fire. In each instance, nearby fire hydrants were either broken or had low water pressure. Little was done to address this issue, until early fall when a large fire in Mount Pleasant summoned a four alarm fire that raged for hours because of inadequate water pressure from several nearby hydrants. That fire destroyed an apartment complex, damaged a few nearby buildings, and was too close for comfort for the DC Ward One Council member who lived near the fire. Within days legislation was enacted to find and replace the broken hydrants within the district.

Soon hydrants were labeled with "out of order, maintenance required" collars, or "in order, maintenance scheduled." Early on, the former seemed to be everywhere. The latter seems a recent edition in the posted signage, seemingly appearing on the scene late last year or early this year.

In the last two years, the city has moved relatively swiftly to replace or repair close to 1/5th of the districts 10,000 fire hydrants. I have to give them kudos. Yet, I still see these labeled fire hydrants throughout the city. So, I thought I would document them.

The walks and drives are also reflections of this city I have lived in for almost five years, yet I still feel like a stranger within it. Coming to DC in 2004, I associated it with monuments and government. Five years later I know that it is much more than all of that, and that there are far more things to see and do, but I know the millions who flock here annually only experience the well known. For instance, no one comes here for The Building Museum, but thousands flock to the (reminiscently Fascist) World War Two Memorial, or traipse through the overblown FDR memorial. Lots of things get missed in the whirlwind tours... kind of like fire hydrants in the landscape. You don't notice them until you need them. Sometimes when you need them, they are out of order.