There it sat on H Street Saturday. A blank five-sided, free standing structure. Unremarkable until a collection of artists–from West Africa, El Salvador, Gaithersburg and in between–popped open their cans of spray paint and created art.
The work is called a “paintagon,” according to Alex Goldstein of The Fridge, a D.C. based gallery and performance space with an affinity for street art, which also doubles as the artists’ benefactor. Each graffiti artist or a pair of artists is granted one of the sides and tasked with creating an original piece of work in front of thousands of passersby as the day goes along, he said.
Individually, each artist painted in accordance with his or her own style. Some filled their wall with every neon color imaginable, while others chose a more minimalist approach.
Taken together, the “paintagon” was a perfect microcosm of the larger H Street Festival: a diverse collection of people with distinct differences, backgrounds and styles that coalesced to form something very unique. A true melting pot.
“I think H Street has a lot of character,” said Chito Peppler, whose company Runin Out serves as a Going out Guide for the D.C. area. “I think it’s one of the most vibrant, growing streets in D.C.”
The festival’s huge turnout certainly backed up Peppler’s claim. Taking up half a dozen blocks, the H Street Festival had a dizzying combination of visual art, music, food and more. At many points, the street was divided between food and merchandise vendors peddling greek gyros and fine art photography alike.
Amid the tantalizing smell of Jamaican barbecue and funnel cakes, the audience could sometimes catch a glimpse of art being created in front of their eyes. There was a more traditional canvas and easel painter, numerous street level stages for adults and children to dance on and elevated stages featuring bluegrass, hip hop and R&B performers. Not to mention the antics of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, with their stringless guitars and outrageous costumes that could best be described as a mix of the band KISS, Cavemen and Rainbow Astronauts.
The only thing more diverse than the artistic scene at the festival were the attendees themselves. Hailing from all walks of life, there were college kids and stroller-pushers, bike riders and sidewalk sitters, even a proud deaf contingent, all of different races, sizes, backgrounds and walking speeds. H Street managed to tactfully appeal to them all.
“It’s a melting pot of people out here,” said Sean Maxey, a Howard University senior and a two time H Street Festival veteran. He was waiting to meet up with friends and tap one of the many available watering holes. “It’s just great people watching.”
Tess Bucci, an H Street resident, also described H Street as very diverse and multi-ethnic. Bucci, who volunteers with the D.C. Shorts Film Festival at the Atlas Theater on H Street, said the festival is a strong showcase of different artists and does a great job of embodying the community’s personality.
Maxey and Bucci also believed H Street’s wide scope gave the festival an edge over similar competition.
There are other neighborhood melting pots in the D.C. area, like Adams Morgan, but few are as big as H Street.
“On H Street there’s a bunch of new restaurants and because the street is so doggone long, there’s so much to offer here,” Peppler said.