New Public Art Gives Soul to the 11th Street Bridge Park

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

In a few years, the 11th Street Bridge Park will span the Anacostia River, finally realizing the ambitious vision to bring both sides of Washington, D.C. together through art, landscape architecture, and a shared commitment to equitable development. As the project nears final design and the construction process is set to begin, four new works of public art were commissioned by a team of local residents, landscape architects, and public art curators. According to Scott Kratz, senior vice president, Building Bridges Across the River and director of 11th Street bridge park project, these art works “help embellish the park’s soul and ensure it will be reflective of the community.”

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

Through over a thousand public meetings about the bridge park, the team, which includes landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm OMA, heard that residents want to see public art integrated into the project. “For us, public art is a key strategy for amplifying the voice of the community,” Kratz said.

The team that selected the artworks included a local high school student, an 82-year-old nearby resident, OLIN, OMA, Forecast Public Art, and D.C.-based artist Irfana Jetha Noorani.

OLIN and OMA were also engaged early in the process to ensure the public art works would be “deeply integrated” into the bridge. “We didn’t want to just do plop art,” Kratz said. The design team worked closely with the artists to site the works and will continue to partner with them on design, installation, and maintenance.

The bridge park team only accepted submissions from artists with D.C. area connections. Out of 60 entries, four women artists from the D.C. area were selected. Each artist received a stipend for their submissions and then will receive an additional $15,000 – $50,000 to create and install the work.

Baltimore artist Becky Borlan created Biophilia, a 10-foot wide disc comprised of “overlapping mirrored cut-outs” inspired by the “native and non-native plant life” that grows along the Anacostia River edge. “Despite hundreds of years of human intervention, this wild flora continues to populate the banks of the Anacostia,” Borlan said. “I am fascinated by its resilience and the multitude of forms that these plants embody.” The disc will be installed under the bridge, near the Anacostia side, and be lit at night.

Biophilia by Becky Borlan / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park
Biophilia by Becky Borlan / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park

Mickey Demas and Nicole Bourgea’s mural Our Land will be found at the Navy Yard entrance wall and will reflect the “heritage of those living on and caring for DC’s land,” featuring members of the “native Piscataway Tribe among a field of tobacco plants, which hold historical and spiritual significance for the Tribe, and Ward 8 farmer, JJ Boone, propagating a native Paw Paw tree.”

Bourgea explained that “Our Land is a recognition of the people who have cared and are still caring for the land where the Bridge Park will be constructed.” “It is also a welcome to all communities to enjoy and protect our precious natural resources,” Demas added.

Our Land by Mickey Demas and Nicole Bourgea / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park
Our Land by Mickey Demas and Nicole Bourgea / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park

At the peak of the span, OLIN and OMA designed a Hammock Grove, where visitors can enjoy views of the city and river.

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

There, the actual hammocks will be designed by D.C.-based artists Aliana Grace Bailey, Rhea Beckett, and Syreeta C. “Each hammock and its posts will boast a unique collage design honoring a theme, story, or place relevant to the city’s culture,” the bridge park team writes.

Hammock mock-up by Liz Faust / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park

Syreeta C explained that “current residents already understand the value here. They need not be effaced.” Bailey said: “Our goal is for DC natives to feel seen. While community engagement enriches our process, we want to ensure that priority is also felt through the end product long-term.” “Our approach would preserve and reflect the District’s vibrancy and Black culture as mass development efforts persist,” Beckett added.

Syreeta C / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park
Aliana Grace Bailey / Danielle Finney, courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park
Rhea Beckett / courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park

An additional Small Business Kiosk by The River East Design Center (REDC) will serve as a “multi-functional mobile unit” that supports the park’s comprehensive equitable development plan, which leverages the park development as a tool for local jobs creation, business development, and home ownership, and has resulted in more than $86 million in support to the surrounding community and $3.5 million in direct cash payments during the height of the pandemic.

A prototype of the mobile unit will be tested at the Anacostia River arts festival that the bridge park team organizes annually, Kratz explained. “The kiosk will help build a pipeline of Black entrepreneurs in the creative economy ready to engage when the park opens in early 2025,” the bridge park team notes.

Small Business Kiosk by The River East Design Center (REDC) / Anna McCorvey, courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park
Small Business Kiosk by The River East Design Center (REDC) / Anna McCorvey, courtesy of 11th Street Bridge Park

Earlier this year, the bridge park team announced a $400,000 commission — Anacostia’s Sunrise/Sunset Portals — by D.C.-based artists Martha Jackson Jarvis and Njena Surae Jarvis of Jackson Jarvis Studio, which will be sited near the Anacostia bridge landing. “The notion of energy and rhythm of a capillary wave as it moves across the river brings light, color, and reflection into the landscape and into the Anacostia community,” said Martha Jackson Jarvis.

Anacostia’s Sunrise/Sunset Portals / Jackson Jarvis Studio, OLIN, OMA

Future exhibition spaces are already being planned for the bridge cafe along with performances in the amphitheater, which is located on the landing on the Anacostia side of the bridge. Learn more about the near-final designs of the bridge park.

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