Editorial Note: This post was updated on September 24th, 2021.
Blame it on the social media culture or the powerhouse marketing tool of interactive experiences, but public art is having a moment—and we aren’t complaining. A drive around Northern Virginia’s many cities will reveal a plethora of creative murals that have both art aficionados and the general public pausing to reflect (and to snap photos for their Instagram feeds, of course). You just have to know where to look.
Art isn’t just for gallery walls and private collections—art is meant to be shared with the world. “Public art really promotes and encourages engagement in a nonthreatening way,” says Janet Starke, executive director of Virginia Commission for the Arts, a state agency that supports the arts through funding from the Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Public art serves as an aesthetic enhancement to a community,” Starke continues. “It’s a wonderful opportunity because you have such a melting pot in Northern Virginia, and these pieces give the community the opportunity to show the collective representation of that melting pot.” With that in mind, we went on a hunt to find creative, public murals in the region that are a destination in and of themselves.
Location: Synetic Theater: 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington
Artist: Jay Shogo
Commissioned by: The Crystal City BID, in partnership with JBG Smith, Arlington County and Synetic Theater
Inspiration: “I considered several positive color combinations that I thought coordinated with the building,” Shogo says. “I chose pink and mint because I felt their vibrancy, energy, and character—which are symbolic of Crystal City—would be transmitted directly to visitors.”
Location: Bike Works: 104 William St., Fredericksburg
Mural: “Fredericksburg Est. 1728”
Artist: Mirinda Reynolds
Commissioned by: Fredericksburg City Council and the Fredericksburg Arts Commission
Inspiration: “The city wanted a collaboration between the owner of the building and the history of the city,” Reynolds says. “The renter of the building sells bikes, which had not been invented in 1728. So I thought, ‘Let’s have [the person in the mural] physically looking into the city from another viewpoint, one of a modern person on a bike, looking back in time.’ It worked out.”
Location: Town Streets Division Auxiliary Shop: 204 Liberty St. SW, Leesburg
Mural: “Discover the Charm”
Artist: Sagetopia, a Loudoun County-based graphic design agency
Approved by: The Leesburg Commission on Public Art
Inspiration: “‘Discover the Charm’ is the pathline for the town,” says Sung Hee Kim, Sagetopia’s creative director, who worked with her team to make the mural. “The town of Leesburg has so much to offer. We painted the town story. It has all the activities, all the landmarks, and the other fun things you can do in Leesburg. It is a town billboard.”
Location: KH Art & Framing: 4745 Lee Hwy., Arlington
Mural: “Change Begins Inside”
Artist: David de la Mano
Approved by: The Lee Highway Alliance, in partnership with Spain Arts & Culture and Arlington Arts
Inspiration: “I am interested in the polysrmic nature of the works,” says de la Mano. “In this mural, there are two great possibilities for reading, from what happens to the outside in and vice versa. From the outside, it speaks of the daily personal conflicts that we all have to some extent, of our internal struggles and of the contradictions that we have to face permanently. From the inside out, it represents the strengths of collective ventures, how the multiplication of efforts can achieve great achievements.”
Location: fibre space: 1319 Prince St., Alexandria
Mural: “The fibre girl Mural”
Artists: Laura Spofford and Matt McMullen
Commissioned by: fibre space owner Danielle Romanetti
Inspiration: The woman depicted in the painting, known as fibre girl, was designed by Spofford, a graphic designer. “Danielle approached me when she was in the process of opening her business and asked me to design a logo and then a cartoony, pinup piece that could be used for promotions,” Spofford says. “I came up with the fibre space logo with the rocket ship and developed fibre girl as an accent piece.” Fibre girl was incorporated into the store’s mural, painted by artist Matt McMullen, who says, “As you’re driving down Prince Street, it’s the first thing you see. For Old Town, it’s pretty unusual to have a painting on the side of a wall that big, but the impact of having it there, is that you can’t help but feel energized by it.”
Location: Array at West Alex: 4550 King St., Alexandria
Mural: “The Event”
Artist: David Smedley
Commissioned by: Weingarten Realty and Abramson Properties
Inspiration: “I call this work ‘quilt painting,’” Smedley says. “I’m dealing with that shape of isosceles triangles and the squares. It’s the same kind of thing as the patterns that I find on the quilts my great-grandmother made. I’m black, I come from the African American experience. Quilting has been a part of my family and the African American tradition, and I wanted to throw that in there, a very subtle [nod to] the cultural continuum.”
This post originally appeared in our May 2020 print issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.