Last week, we moved the balls from the National Building Museum's "Beach" exhibit here...
Dupont Underground is an empty space (now inhabited by 750,000 plastic balls) and an idea. It is 75,000 square feet of disused streetcar tunnels and platforms extending 10 city blocks under Dupont Circle and its commercial corridor along Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC. An organization was formed in the early Oughts to reactivate the tunnels. With only volunteers, and a negligible budget, they were able to convince the city to grant them a five year lease on the tunnels in late 2014.
Within the Dupont Underground organization, there have been wildly varying ideas of how the space can best be used, but the clearest most consistent concept has been as an alternative space for contemporary arts. Washington has many venues for arts, but they tend to be conservative. Washington DC, for all its importance as a world capital, has a culture gap. The District is not known as a place that generates new thinking in art, architecture, or design. Nor is it considered a receptive destination for art that challenges the status quo.
Since Spring of 2015, Archotus has been advising Dupont Underground on its future as an arts institution. Mostly this has been confined to creating a curatorial agenda to use for fundraising, and tweaking the long-term spatial concept, but over the summer the National Building Museum gave us the opportunity to make something happen now. NBM donated the 750,000 balls from their Beach installation to the Dupont Underground, with the idea in mind that the balls would be repurposed for an international competition to design a site-specific installation within the DU. Dupont Underground would be responsible for moving the balls out of the Building Museum and into the Underground.
With no budget, and limited staff, we called on our network of friends and supporters and enlisted what amounted to a massive ant-line of volunteers to pack the balls, move them across town, and into the DU. The numbers are thus: 750,000 3” balls packed in 1600 24x24x24” cardboard boxes. The effort was so large -and videogenic- that we attracted way more press coverage than we imagined. Local and national TV affiliates, NPR, the architecture press, and the dailies were all present as we packed up the Beach and hustled it across town. Remarkably, the boxes occupy a very small part of the overall Dupont Underground tunnel system. It is a bit evocative of this:
Now the fun begins. Archotus is now creating the competition that will repurpose the balls. The publicity boost Dupont Underground received from moving the Beach balls has given us a leg up on fundraising for the next phase. The competition should go live over the winter, with a spring goal for the installation and opening. Keep your eyes on this space!