An Update on “Protest Benches” at 14th and Oak Streets, NW


You can see the original post and more photos of the benches here. The person behind the benches sends an email of explanation:

“Dear PoP,
I see you posted some photos on your blog about an art project I recently installed at 14th, Oak and Ogden Streets. Contrary to your commentary “I’ve always known there were benches here but I never noticed the writing on them before,” benches have not been a part of the park for the past 2.5-3 years but had been a part of the park for decades before that. I installed these benches early August.

Thank you,
Sarah Tooley


For the installation Public Dialogues in Public Places, former neighborhood resident and artist Sarah Tooley interviewed 60 community members who live near or own a small business adjacent to the park at the intersections of 14th, Oak and Ogden Streets in Northwest, Washington, DC. She asked about their feelings and thoughts on their relationship to the park and community safety.

With the help of a Small Projects Grant from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities she worked with a group of volunteers to paint and transcribe selected texts from the interviews onto the slats of seven brightly painted wooden benches. She met with the D.C Department of Parks and Recreation to create a Donation Agreement to allow for the public installation of the benches until renovation of the park begins.

Through the physical manifestation of the text painted on the benches privately expressed opinions are launches into the public realm. The differing views and experiences expressed lay side by side to confront and co-exists with the assumptions, stereotypes and lived realities of the people who choose to spend time in the park, who steer clear of it, or those who have felt pushed out.”

21 Comment

  • I live at the far end of Oak, near Holmeade, and would like to offer an update of my own: starting within days of these benches going in, nightly disturbances have taken place in this “park”, including visits from the police and shouting matches that I can hear a full block away. So glad that people can once again “relax and enjoy themselves” at that corner.

  • I repeat that the city needs to trim the half dead tree branch that is casting a shadow and blocking the only streetlight shining into the park. Too bad the tree folks only drive around during the day.

    “…until renovation of the park begins.” This can’t be too soon; the impressive new fenced dog park on 17th and S would fit perfectly here. Same size lot. Lots of dogs in the area. Increased sidewalk traffic. Community participation/involvement through meeting ones neighbors. Best of all, closed at night.

    I don’t even own a dog and would love to see this built! Jim Graham?

  • Damn, if that is (was?) not sketchy park nothing is (was). But then again, they got all the chairs they need from the local porches, all in view of the nice police cam, and the big house, or not.

    Awesome photo. Similar attempts at such literature elsewhere in the city I’m sure. Nice work, I wonder if it was a lone artist or a collaboration?

  • I think we can all say that Sarah Toley is a jerk for foisting this obnoxious behavior onto the community. Without those benches, there are people who wouldn’t spend the night in jail because they had the benches to commit crimes on. Way to go d***weed.

  • “transcribe selected texts”

    “Through the physical manifestation of the text painted on the benches”

    “expressed opinions are launches into the public realm.”

    “lay side by side to confront and co-exists with the assumptions, stereotypes and lived realities”

    Who the hell wrote this crap?! BARF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • That park is now ‘3500 turf’ – as in 3500 14th St [cavalier apt’s] drug crew. Saw a bunch of dudes there last night dismembering an obviously stolen bicycle – stripped of it’s parts the frame is now hanging from the DDOT sign that explains how many hundreds of thousands of DC & Fed tax $$ are being spent to improve 14th st.

  • “the frame is now hanging from the DDOT sign that explains how many hundreds of thousands of DC & Fed tax $$ are being spent to improve 14th st.”


  • As long as 3500 Cavalier is open, the park will be a boil on the butt of Columbia Heights. Ain’t no park bench gonna fix that.

  • 3500 Cavalier needs to be demolished. That building is just plain horrible.

  • (continued) Never should that many Section 8 people be living together.

    Want to improve 14th street? Knock that building down.

  • As someone who lives in CH right down the street from this park, I am very glad the benches are gone. It was always VERY SKETCH when I would go by after dark and there were lots of folks sitting out there. Putting up a lot of lights would be an improvement. That way if there is anything illegal going on, the criminals will be more easily recognizable on the crime cameras. If they are all innocent, hard working family folks then they should have nothing to worry about.

    Either that or bulldoze the damn park. Its and eyesore and a menace.

    Also, I want to take this opportunity to say congratulations to POP for his decision/ability to blog full time. Prince, you are my favorite neighborhood blogger and I am glad you found a way to make it work full time. Good luck to you and I look forward to hearing even more of your unique voice in the future.

  • “transcribe selected texts” …. Good job on providing only one point of view, Sara. I don’t know if you live near that area, or if you ever walked through that park at night, Sara. If you did, and you would’ve know that your art project is reflective of ignorance, not reality.

  • Can’t believe the city takes the benches out, then for the sake of “art” allows them to be reinstalled. Anybody knows that those benches should be ripped out, as should the whole park. As development creeps North on 14th street this park stands out as a shitbox where criminals, homeless and the like gather to remind all of us who live close by (myself included) that there is still along way to go from here. I am so sick and tired of our tax dollars funding this sort of insolence.

    Also the blue drug house directly across from Social has to be raided. Its time us hardworking, tolerant people become less tolerant and start demanding action by 14th and Oak.

  • That blue drug house is indeed a problem. I also agree that lighting in that whole area is poor. The branches on the trees block all light into that park. And those benches look like the $19.95 made in China variety you find at Wal-Mart. I doubt they last the winter.

  • “Because the neighborhood is gentrifying”
    Everyone knows that bench protest art is the indigenous city dweller’s first line of defense against gentrification…

  • I’m sorry the people who hang around that park need help, not some freshmen year art school project!

  • I certainly enjoyed the ice cream truck that camped next to the park blasting it’s tiring melody until 10:00 pm tonight. The people on the benches were having a delightful time.

  • As someone who lives in “that blue drug house,” I’d like to contribute some facts to this discussion: The problem NOT the blue house, it is the yellow corner house, which is the new headquarters of the 3500 crew since they were evicted, along with 15% of the rest of the tenantry, from the ersatz “Cavalier” apartment building, now re-Christened “The Hubbard.” The corner yellow house has no stoop to speak of, and thus they utilize the nearest (mine, and the furniture store across the street) and no amount of 9-1-1 calling makes any difference. Prove me wrong, hand-wringers.

    As far as the benches, I live right next to that park, and can see it from my back windows. Young men have been hanging out there EVERY NIGHT, playing music from cars and getting into fist fights, LONG BEFORE those benches went in. They own the park at night regardless, at the very least, the benches make the park usable by us “law-abiding citizens” during the day. I think they are a net positive.

  • another reminder to completely ignore the comments on this blog. you people are nuts. the benches represent the thoughts of 60 residents. most of whom don’t blog about their park or their neighborhood. try listening to them for once before regurgitating your usual bullsh*t. there needs to be MORE public art in this city. and no. those hideous + misleading colombian hearts don’t count.

  • thanks sarah for trying to shed a little light on yr project and better inform these racist assholes, thanks bfd for the only sensible comment so far. it’s really incredible (ironic, pathetic?) to me that all so many of you who’ve posted are fixated on the supposed “threat” to your safety posed by the benches (or, more, generally, young black people congregating), and yet, you’re totally insensitive to how people like YOURSELVES threaten longtime community residents with your fucking self-centered objectivism and real-estate meddling. you seem to have the attitude that, because you can afford to buy and renovate a home in a “developing” neighborhood, you automatically have the right to make decisions about who can live around you, who can use public space, who is “dangerous”, etc ..

    washington is not a fucking suburban homeowner’s association and there are SO many more factors at play in why people live where they do, why they do what they do, and why they are who they are, than you all seem to acknowledge. it’s as if ya’ll have absolutely no sense of the existence of the city outside of your own delusional prejudices. if you want to reside in a paradise where everyone does exactly what you want all of the time and the entire landscape is purged of so-called “undesirables”, you should take up on-line role playing games and build an imaginary castle full of imaginary servants and royal decor. the rest of us will continue trying to develop actual relationships and community and accountability.

    as bfd said and so few of you acknowleged, these benches WERE A COMMUNITY PROJECT, not the abstract political statement of somebody with no connection to the neighborhood, not an evil plot to fill your precious block with drug-dealers, not a divine intervention to spur your incessant whining. please get it through your head that there are other people in washington with needs JUST AS IMPORTANT as yours, and desires JUST AS IMPORTANT as yours, and with a much more established connection to the historical and cultural momentum of their hometown.

  • Great job to the community of 14th & Oak and to the community artist Sarah who lived in that community when this was designed and approved. In alot ways this dialogue is what makes art like this so powerful. We’re not in NAZI Germany where freedom of ideas and speech are controlled. Again thanks to Sarah and the community!

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