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D.C.’s second annual By the People arts festival is here! The citywide arts celebration is filling all four quadrants in D.C. with a mixture of international, national and local art. From art barges in the middle of the Potomac to Smithsonian takeovers, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

The festival officially kicked off June 15 (and goes until June 23), but we wanted to give you some backstory behind all the amazing art pieces popping up around D.C., so we did a little digital correspondence with local artist Martha Jackson Jarvis. Read all about her penchant for natural materials, her favorite place in the city and her thoughts on D.C.’s art scene.

How did you get involved with By the People? What are you creating for the festival?
I was invited by a curator and connected with festival curator Jessica Stafford Davis after a visit to my studio. I’ve created an installation entitled “Adaptation” that constructs and deconstructs the process of my work into a visual narrative revealing time, space and history as a cumulative construct. It’s enriched by the theme of “we the people.”

Why D.C.?
Washington, D.C. is central to the country and central to world politics. It is also HOME.

What is your favorite place in the city?
My garden.

Do you approach your public art differently than your (for lack of a better word) private art?
All art is public… It moves across time, telling the story of human existence.

What would be your dream/holy grail public art piece? Where would it be?
My holy grail public art project would be to create in a natural environment with time and resources to artistically address environmental issues and discover indigenous materials, artifacts and human resources relevant to that place on earth. Where? Somewhere in the mountains where ancient stones live.

What draws you to natural materials?
I have always been drawn to natural materials. There is an energy that each material radiates, a force that impacts our environment. I am interested in bringing disparate energies together to discover unknown possibilities.

This line in your artist statement really struck me: “I consider each work an intricate part of one unified body of work and continuous narrative.” What is that narrative? Has it always been the same narrative?
I started working in ceramics/clay as a material and, in the firing, things would sometimes break. I began breaking things into fragments and recreating from the chards. Also, ancient mosaics I had studied only in reproduction until I received a grant to visit and study mosaics in Italy.

My continuous narrative is always changing, developing and growing – interrogating something new, exploring. Yet, there is a common thread that weaves its way through my work.

If you could change anything about the D.C. art community, what would you change?
Washington’s arts community should have a major granting agency like Philadelphia’s Pew Trust that awards $50,000 to deserving artists in their community. It could also benefit from more spaces for artists to live and work in.


Part of the BYT Art Census 2019 series