Local Artist, Teacher Selected for Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Public Art

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Local Artist, Teacher Selected for Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Public Art

Nekisha Durrett to Design Art for Two Double-height Glass Walls

The DC Public Library has selected artist and DC Public Schools (DCPS) teacher Nekisha Durrett to create a treatment for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s new glass-walled vestibule.

As part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s $211 million modernization, the main entrance of the building at 901 G St NW will create a sense of openness and welcome when it reopens in 2020. New double-height glass walls showcasing two grand, monumental staircases and the public art are replacing the brick walls flanking the vestibule's east and west sides.

“We are proud that the MLK Library will feature a major installation by this important artist, a rising star locally and nationally, whose work has already had such an impact in our Library spaces,” says Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of the DC Public Library.

“I am proud that Ms. Durrett will have the opportunity to share her work with our entire city and thank the Library for selecting a DCPS educator who is doing incredible things for our students,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. “This opportunity is the first of many for DCPS to be a part of the transformed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and I look forward to partnering with the Library to continue to expand learning opportunities to residents across the District.”

A teacher at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Durrett was selected from a pool of 70 artists by a panel of experts with input from a group of community advisors. Durrett has worked with the Library before; creating a graphic novel-inspired installation in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library entryway as part of a public part program in 2013 and a 3-story window graphic for the 2015 UNCENSORED Banned Books Week celebration. In 2017 Durrett created “A Garden Party” a commissioned mural in the West End Library.

Durrett’s artwork will turn thousands of images of protest buttons and King-related ephemera into discrete dots that create a larger image. The work will be a unique visual interpretation of Dr. King’s legacy as it connects to the Library today.

Some of the artwork’s images will come from the DC Public Library’s Special Collections. Other images will be created by Durrett working with local youth at two badge-making workshops at library locations this summer. 

The vestibule art is the second of three permanent public art pieces that will go in the modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Noted artist Xenobia Bailey was selected to design the grand reading room ceiling in 2018. A future call will be issued for art in the plaza in front of the building.

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About Nekisha Durrett
Nekisha Durrett (b. 1976 Washington, DC) lives and works in D.C., is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and is a teacher of photography, art and culture and digital media at Duke Ellington. She has been named one of 40 Under 40 Washingtonians to Watch by Washingtonian magazine, has received multiple project grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and was recently an Artist-in-Residence at the Vermont Studio Center. Her recent public art commissions include Up ‘til Now, a sculpture for the two-person temporary public art project LAYERS + LINES in Dupont Circle, commissioned by Golden Triangle BID, and major installations for the Miami-Dade Transit Depot (Miami, FL), and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Her work is featured in a 2019 short documentary “Black Capital: African Americans in Washington, D.C. | From the Look of Things.”

About the Selection Process
Artists were invited to submit past work samples and propose an artistic approach that would incorporate engagement with local residents in some aspect of the artwork’s creative development. A panel of experts reviewed the highest scoring applicants with additional input provided by a group of community advisors. The expert included Kevin Harrington, Professor Emeritus, Architectural History, Illinois Institute of Technology; Karyn Miller, Curator of Public Space Activation, Golden Triangle BID; José Ruiz, Director, Maryland Institute College of Art MFA in Curatorial Practice; Michelle Joan Wilkinson, Curator, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC); and Kerrie Cotten Williams, Special Collections Manager, DC Public Library.