Aside from Solas Nua, NoMa’s art scene reveals itself in stand-alone pieces spread around the neighborhood, many of them in the lobbies of office buildings. The NoMa Business Improvement District successfully put together a series of displays in storefronts a year ago, and the current art on display seeks to build on that experiment.
The lobby of 1100 First St. NE is decorated with two striking columns made of boxes of varying shapes and colors. In addition, the ground floor of 1200 First St. NE, the building that houses the headquarters of D.C. Public Schools, features three large doughnut-shaped pieces of art built by Tom Ashcraft, a professor at George Mason University.
Ashcraft said he built the pieces more than a decade ago out of plywood and mosaic, each with a theme in mind. For example, one of them is called “Mesopotamia” because he created it around the time of the first Gulf War and because his artwork resembles the wheel, which was invented in that region of the world.
However, Ashcraft said he hopes people will have their own reactions to the works and the space that they are being displayed in — an open, windowed lobby across from a new Harris Teeter grocery store.
Ashcraft’s work ended up in NoMa through a partnership with Hemphill Fine Arts, a gallery that he has worked with over the years, but he has a long-term connection to NoMa separate from his artwork.
“Thirty years ago, I lived on North Capitol and New York Avenue, and it was not like it is now,” Ashcraft said. “It was just rough and marginalized — it wasn’t at all on the gentrification landscape, and it was just an older part of D.C. that people drove through to get downtown. It’s been pretty fabulous to watch the transformation.”
That transformation is far from complete, but the artistic presence in NoMa illustrates how far the neighborhood has come since its days as Swampoodle.