National Mall to Get a Facelift

Jim Swift

Years after the National Mall was torn up and blocked off to re-grow grass as part of the stimulus package, the bulldozers are back to clear a ten by six acre parcel, located adjacent to the reflection pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War Two Memorial. The parcel of land will be used as a “canvas” for Cuban-born American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, who is using sand and dirt to create a “facescape” or face landscape on the park land.
 
Rodriguez-Gerada took pictures of 18-25 year old men on the mall this summer, and plans to blend different attributes from the photos into a composite. The artist tells CBS that the inspiration for “Out of Many, One” — a melting-pot themed landscape — came from his time as an immigrant child in New Jersey.
 
“We were exiled from Cuba, moved to New Jersey, and grew up with all my Italian, Polish, and Irish friends. That mix, that amazing part of the melting pot, really formed me,” he says.
 
According to D.C. television station WJLA, the project is “expected to take 2,000 tons of sand and 800 tons of soil and be on view during October.”  
 
Rodriguez-Gerada told the Washington Post: “It kind of has a Zen garden feeling as people walk through it and think, ‘Am I by the eye?’ ‘Is this the nostril?’ … It’s a different way of trying to find where you are.”
 
The two best options to view the exhibit come at a high cost or by chance. The best view of the mall, of course, is granted to certain passengers flying in and out of Washington’s Reagan National Airport. There is one working observation point that reopened recently — the Washington Monument, which was closed for years to accommodate repairs to damage caused by an earthquake. The trip to the top is popular among tourists and residents alike, and competition for tickets can be stiff.
 
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, which is responsible for commissioning the temporary art installation, says on its webpage that the installation “will not only be an interactive walk-through experience for visitors but will also be viewable from the newly reopened Washington Monument and from space.”  
 
When asked whether the plot was re-seeded with funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — as other swaths of the National Mall were — a spokesperson for the Park Service’s press department responded  “I do not know” and referred our call to the permitting department. 
 
Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, a non-profit that frequently partners with the Park Service on preserving the mall, told Roll Call’s Hannah Hess that “This particular piece of land needs to be re-seeded.” Hess reported, “At the end of October, the materials will be tilled back into the soil to leave the grounds in better condition than when the project began.”
 
According to the National Portrait Gallery’s website: “The work will come together in large part due to a group of in-kind donors, including Clark Construction, Chaney Enterprises, The Bulldog Group, Alvin Hatcher Group and Topcon, with consulting assistance from Terry Stancill."