2020 Mural Collaboration at St. John’s Church Wins Prestigious Award


For Immediate Release: March 3, 2022
Contact: Braulio Agnese, braulio@downtowndc.org

Murals on a historic church, painted during 2020’s summer of protests, named “best civic engagement” collaboration by 2021 Faith & Form/ID International Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Created at the heart of the nation’s capital, across Lafayette Square from the White House, a 2020 artistic collaboration between historic St. John’s Church, the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), and a local artists’ network has earned a top international honor from the Partners for Sacred Places and Interfaith Design, a knowledge community of the American Institute of Architects.

On September 5, 2020, the unique partnership resulted in vivid murals of love and peace on the ground-level plywood boards that covered the church’s doors and windows, painted by artists involved in the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute collective. At the time, John Chisholm, the arts group’s visionary leader, called the project part of a “Mural March” of similar artworks across downtown D.C., part of a months-long collaboration with the BID and various property owners.

The all-day communal effort at St. John’s was named by a committee for the 2021 Faith & Form/Interfaith Design International Awards for Religious Architecture and Art as the winner of the Faith Community Civic Engagement/Visual Arts, Performing Arts and Other Creative Collaborations category.

Throughout summer 2020, boards protected the priceless stained-glass windows of the 1816 church from the protests and unrest that were taking place in the streets near the White House. The U.S. was reeling from the police murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and a contentious presidential election was looming. St. John’s became an unwitting player in the drama after then–President Donald Trump hoisted a Bible on the grounds of St. John’s for a photo op seen around the world.

Adorning the plywood with positive messages was “the chance to shine a light of love, hope, empowerment and encouragement at a time and a place where it was needed,” said the Rev. Rob Fisher, St. John’s rector. “We flipped the function of our windows: Instead of having the beautiful light going inward through stained glass, we sent light and art flowing outward, and it has been a blessing to literally thousands upon thousands who have been to this corner of Black Lives Matter Plaza.” The church sits at the southern end of a two-block stretch of 16th Street NW where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had city employees paint the social justice slogan in large yellow letters on the four-lane road.

“It is fitting and right that one of the final acts of our partnership with P.A.I.N.T.S. included the iconic St. John’s Church, a place of deep U.S. and local history,” said Gerren Price, Acting President and CEO of the DowntownDC BID. “We are honored that this collaboration has been recognized as a significant moment that united faith, arts, and activism.”

The event was largely the vision of Chisholm, a business consultant who formed the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute in 2016 to nurture entrepreneurship for local artists and to provide STEM and arts-based training for underserved communities. Among their many activities, P.A.I.N.T.S. artists had already partnered with the BID to enliven plywood-covered storefronts across downtown with symbols of unity and reclamation. Chisholm’s sudden death in February 2021 left all who knew him reeling. Although the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute no longer exists, the artists he mentored and inspired came together to create a new nonprofit called the Hue2 Foundation. Before his passing, Chisholm had negotiated for spacious new environs for his group in downtown D.C. and spent his last hours of life there. Hue2 is determined to continue realizing Chisholm’s vision.

The St. John’s murals project will be recognized at Interfaith Design’s reception at the American Institute of Architects’ Annual Conference in Chicago. It will also be noted in the May issue of Sacred Places / Faith & Form Magazine.

Noted one of the award jurors: “At a time of racial strife, instead of ‘circling the wagons’ this church and its collaborators reached out to the community at the scale of the city and the nation. They changed the narrative and made something very positive out of a very negative act. … the work here is historic. It brings multiple voices to this place.”


About DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID)

The DowntownDC BID was founded in 1997 and is a private non-profit organization that provides capital improvements, resources and research that keep the BID area clean, safe, economically and environmentally strong and accessible. The BID is a catalyst, facilitator and thought leader in diversifying the economy, promoting public/private partnerships and enhancing the DowntownDC experience for all. This special district, where property owners have agreed to tax themselves to fund services, encompasses a 138-block area of approximately 520 properties from Massachusetts Avenue on the north to Constitution Avenue on the south, and from Louisiana Avenue on the east to 16th Street on the west. For more information, visit www.downtowndc.org or follow us on Twitter @downtowndcbid.