I guarantee this high school senior's a better driver than you.
Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
The muralists behind No Kings Collective made a vibrant mark on Washington, and now their work is coming to downtown Silver Spring.
No Kings co-founders Peter Chang and Brandon Hill have curated a special team of internationally renowned artists to bring light and color to the area’s $10 million revitalization. “Silver Spring Walls” is expected to be completed in November.
The project culminates with “Re-Imagining the Holidays,” a large celebration that will give the public an opportunity to interact with the completed murals and the newly redeveloped area.
The creators of No Kings Collective join guest host Sasha-Ann Simons to talk about the process.
Produced by Victoria Chamberlin
- Peter Chang Co-Founder, No Kings Collective; @nokingsdc
- Brandon Hill Co-Founder, No Kings Collective
SASHA-ANN SIMONSYou're tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Before we begin today's show I want to take a moment to remember former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, who passed away today at the age of 79. The democratic governor, who served from 1986 to 1990, was known as the transportation governor and pushed through a 10 year $10 billion transportation initiative during his first year in office, a massive undertaking that Virginians are still benefitting from today. Governor Baliles had been battling cancer. Our thoughts are with his family.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSOn today's show we're talking about the latest news from the arts community in our region. First up, you've seen the murals around D.C., a striking black and white postcard to the city on 14th Street that reads, "No place like Home," the graphic stripes on the facade of "Song Bird Records" in Adams Morgan, or the often Instagrammed "Washington Mural" across from the Howard Theater on U Street. The muralists behind No Kings Collective made a vibrant mark on Washington.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSAnd now their work is coming to downtown Silver Spring. No Kings cofounders Peter Chang and Brandon Hill have curated a team of internationally renowned artists to bring light and color to the area's $10 million revitalization project. "Silver Spring Walls" is expected to be completed in November, and it culminates with an event called "Re-Imagining the Holidays," a large celebration that gives the public an opportunity to interact with the art. Joining me now to discuss are the men behind the projects themselves, cofounders of No Kings Collective, Peter Chang and Brandon Hill. Welcome to the show, guys.
PETER CHANGThanks for having us, Sasha.
HILLWhat's going on?
SIMONSPeter, I want to start with you. Let's take it back to the beginning and tell us what is No Kings Collective?
CHANGNo Kings Collective is me and Brandon, but, you know, originally we had started with four partners. And, you know, in our first years we failed miserably and couldn't figure out how to make money with art. And, you know, I went back to Brandon and the guys and said, hey, you know, we should try this art thing again. You know, maybe we'll get somewhere with it this time. And Brandon was the only that kind of really, you know, stood by my side because, you know, we've been friends since college, and, you know, this is about 10 years ago.
CHANGWe've been friends for about 14-15 years now. And the rest of the guys just, you know, they stayed behind. And Brandon and I kept, you know, trudging along. And, you know, everywhere we went, every gallery, every opportunity that we sought out, all we were faced with was the answer or the word, "No." So it was, no, you know, maybe you'll be real artists someday. No, we don't have an opportunity for you guys. "No," you know.
SIMONSWhat was the biggest concern? Why the pushback?
CHANGJust, you know, the art industry and the art world is just a very nebulous territory to navigate. And we didn't know anything really and, you know, back then we were walking around with, you know, our resumes and our portfolios on CD. You know, so it was a very different time.
CHANGVery different. So, you know, when people ask us about our name No Kings it's because we're the king of no's, because everyone kept saying no to us.
HILLA couple hundred of them.
SIMONSOh, wow. Okay.
CHANGA couple thousand no's probably.
HILLAnd it's like, the art world is littered with a lot of king makers and so as an emerging artist you spend a lot of time talking to a lot of people trying to get on, which isn't unique to art. It's like, you know, it's art. It's music. It's theater. I'm sure, you know, there's a parallel with everything, but, you know, we're pretty ambitious and always. But, you know in the early days. I mean should I tell them about the dagger? We were moving a project in the early days where we were making paintings from break dancing.
SIMONSI mean, your website says you've been hustling since 2009.
HILLYeah, the absolute reason why I know Peter is we linked up in Maryland through some mutual friends. So Peter is a big break-dancer. His background is break dance. All his family and friends, you know, his crew and, you know, I was coming from the art side. And I think, you know, we were in a studio one day and saw, you know, a book on Yves Kline, you know, dragging women by their hair at the Guggenheim. And while immaturely laughing at how, you know -- and this is 21 year old Brandon or 20 year old Brandon how stupid that was.
HILLSomeone was like, yeah, we should do this with break dancing. And so we literally met up the next day at Maryland and started to make this collection of work. And then we just kept making the work. And to fast forward a little bit, you know, we kind of shopped it for two years. Two or three years we were just shopping it like almost like you were trying to push a mix tape. And so we'd hop on the Chinatown bus. Go to anywhere we could get within eight hours. You know, from, I don't know Boston to South Carolina, you know, everything in between.
HILLAnd we were just going into galleries saying like, look, you know, this is who I am. This is our work. You know, we built the collection with no studio, no art materials using Oops paint from Home Depot. You know, just being as resourceful as possible. You know, we knew nothing about copyright. We were tracking, you know, WALA, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, like just trying to do what we could to get this project up.
HILLBut in the meantime we had just built up so much skills while still hearing the word "No." You know, learning how to logistically move a project of 40 pieces, you know, with no one really kind of interested in what we were doing. And then, you know, so back to what Peter said. You know, like the No Kings, that name came from just hearing it so many times and kind of -- we were just like, I'm just going to own this name now, you know?
HILLAnd instead of dealing with the king makers high tide rises all ships so we're just going to go elevate ourselves and our friends.
SIMONSSo let's fast forward then to the latest project, which is called "Silver Spring Walls." It's bringing large scale public art to a massive redevelopment project in downtown Silver Spring. How did No Kings get involved with this, Peter?
CHANGYou know, we got reached out to by someone at the Peterson Companies about, you know, curating a big block of, you know, wall space. So, you know, working with them. You know, we kind of went through a list of about 50 artists. And it was kind of -- we narrowed it down based on, you know, people's availability. You know, obviously there were budgeting constraints, things like that. Working with Peterson Companies and Foulger-Pratt who are the two primary, you know, developers over there, you know, it was a really awesome experience because, you know, for me it's personal. You know, I grew up in Silver Spring. My dad used to work for the Post Office literally blocks from that area.
CHANGI remember what the place used to be like before that whole development happened, you know, many many years ago. And for me to just kind of be working with Peterson and Foulger-Pratt to put up, you know, these awesome murals with, you know, our peers from who do what we do is really really cool.
SIMONSIt's like you've come full circle almost. So you mentioned those other artists that you're collaborating with and sort of how you selected the artists, but who are they? Tell us who they are.
CHANGJames Balu, lives in Germany right now, actually also from the area. He grew up around Wheaton. That was just by chance. And then 1010 who is from Germany. A lot of the selection process, again, from committee and many peoples' opinions coming in from Peterson Companies and Foulger-Pratt, I think they narrowed it down to those two just based on, you know, their style and their skill and how long they've been doing what they've been doing.
SIMONSNow, guys, the murals around D.C. are instantly recognizable and very Instagrammable if that's a word. How has social media changed the art scene since you and Brandon got started?
CHANGI think it's completely revolutionized it. You know, we've been doing this way before Instagram and, you know, we've been there since the beginning of Instagram and we've noticed how much of a spike it's had, and the amount of opportunity that it's given artists, you know, since its inception. So, you know, I know a lot of artists kind of cringe at that word, instagrammable. You know, I'm sure it's in every ...
SIMONSBut that's a things, though. I mean, you can't go and have a meal without thinking of like, oh, the Instagram photo, and opportunity with this, you know, and it's just the first thought on our minds these days.
HILLIt's a love hate for me.
SIMONSIt's a love hate for you. Yeah.
CHANGLove hate because, you know, half of me cringes, because I'm just like, you know, you should be there or, you know, you should -- a lot of people don't credit the work and it just kind of floats around. And, you know, that's annoying, but, you know, ultimately I think Instagram being, you know, a byproduct of the internet. The internet has just completely changed the art game. And it's, you know, once again it's offering so much opportunity for artists worldwide. Again, back in the day when artists didn't have opportunities and they could only show through such a narrow, you know, option for business, i.e. galleries or certain museums, etcetera.
CHANGNow, you know, we have tons of friend who are making a really good living just selling on internet platforms just directly through their Instagram, their own shops. You know, obviously Etsy, Ebay, and all these different e-market places, you know, e-commerce places for art have allowed so many so many artists to be able to make a great living just doing what they do and just completely cutting out the middle man.
HILLAnd a lot -- I'd say even allowed you to consume, you know, because it's like completely decentralized. You know, you can really be appreciative of an artist in another city whose work you may still never see, because you never go to Kansas City. And just be a huge fan of an artist and buy direct, you know, if they release a print. So, you know, for me to love hate is like it's completely decentralized how art works, which is a very -- at one point a very linear process of how you get to artists. First you don't. You actually just buy from a gallery. They're going to create a wall between you and the artist, and if they have like art management.
HILLBut now you have people that really don't even ever even penetrate that world. They're just really communicating directly with people. You know, internationally, nationally, locally. And so to get that even amount of marketing love whether you're you the artist or -- and you can compete directly essentially with a Coca Cola billboard is nuts, like I don't even know anything close to that.
SIMONSAnd your Nationals Park mural has been all over my Instagram feed since the World Series started. How does that make you guys feel?
HILLGreat. So I mean, so I'm going to address the Nationals piece with the love hate Instagram thing.
HILLWe'll see. So love hate for me is like -- Insta is like -- the vanity side of Insta is like, you know, I love murals. I love public art. I love art installations. But, you know, there's some stuff that is purely just emulating work. It's emulating work and then imitating some other thing, you know, for the sake of the Gram. And so then sometimes you have people interacting with work in so far as how it makes them look pretty, you know, which is a strange thing. Did I paint a step and repeat, you know?
HILLBut I think the difference is when we are tasked with an interesting challenge of how to do something that's interactive and you start with that as your starting point then you kind of start to create elements that, you know, kids can play with or adults can be playful with. And so I think the love hate is like, you know, really starts with just the initial intention of how you created the work. You know, was it something meant to very purposely be, you know, for families and passersby or is this an extension of like your more deeper personal work that, you know, you're trying to put up to the world. And then there's in between.
SIMONSAnd as we talked earlier about the different artists involved in this collaborative Silver Spring project, I want to clarify that Peterson Company and Foulger-Pratt are the developers behind the Silver Spring revitalization project. We'll continue this conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with artist Peter Chang and Brandon Hill of No Kings Collective about their mural work around the Washington region. Brandon, you were commissioned by Whitman-Walker Health to create the popular "Work It Gurl" mural for "The Lot at The Liz." But that was part of another planned redevelopment project. And the mural is now gone. So tell me how do you as artists handle the lack of permanence for some of your work?
HILLI am A-Okay with it.
HILLYeah. I'm A-Okay.
SIMONSI thought that would be tough, because you put so much work into it.
HILLWhen I was younger it would hurt my feelings, but like nowadays I don't care at all. Like in a weird way it kind of creates a lot of opportunity for artists that are either -- let's say you're apprehensive about -- you know, like murals are different, right? Like your regular art, if you're a studio practicing artist, you make your work in your shop in your basement and the world can see it when you decide it's ready to see it, right, so like, you know, based on your eclecticism or maybe you're shy, you don't put it in the world. When you start a public art, it's already public. You know, so like if you're apprehensive it's just you have that and it's just built up emotions and feelings, right?
HILLSo, you know, if you have a place that's impermanent you can be as playful as possible, you know, with very little consequence. And then let's say on the later side you're very confident of what you have. If I have a piece in Paris, France and it's permanent and I never go back to Paris and never see it again, to me there's very little difference between a permanent piece in a place I'll never go back and a piece that's local that got demolished that I still have good documentation from.
HILLSo I think what's really interesting is, you know, something about to be demolished opens up a lot of doors. It bypasses a lot permits. It kind of -- even if there's pushback there's a shelf life and so you get to be a lot more playful in a smaller condensed amount of time. So with Whitman-Walker, for example, with me and Peter, you know, the fact that that building was going to be demolished, we were really able to chop it up with the Whitman-Walker staff, the Fivesquare staff and really start to say like, okay, like what kind of cool things can we accomplish before this building is demolished? And we got to really play.
CHANGThey actually asked us for just a 20 foot by 10 foot tall wall, you know, right at the corner. And then when we found out that they were demolishing the building we were the ones that actually pitched them and said, hey, can we just paint the whole building? And they came back, and I think the only question they had for us was, who's paying for it? And, you know, we got our resources together and some other people, you know, Office of Planning kicked in and threw in some money and we were able to do that project pretty low. And for us it was more of just like a portfolio builder and for us to be able to just go wild. And do something so big. You know, I think to this day technically by square footage it is still the largest mural in D.C.
HILLYeah, I mean, it was a whole city block between Riggs and R Street.
CHANGAnd the two parking lots.
HILLI mean you saw it on 14 Street.
SIMONSIt was huge.
HILLWe painted everything. We just kept going.
SIMONSYeah. Now there was a time when murals and street art in general was seen as a public nuisance rather than an investment in the community, so what do you led to the cultural shift around street art?
CHANGInstagram. That's it. Hands down. You know, the internet. But, you know, I also wouldn't agree with that completely, because there have been plenty of awesome murals in D.C., you know, going all the way back to like the 80s and 90s, you know, that had been on community centers and, you know, YMCAs and different rec centers, etcetera. You know, OG muralist in D.C. Byron Peck, he's got murals all over the city. We'd go around the city and look at his work and be inspired by it. He's been -- he's a little bit older gentleman. He might yell at me for calling him older.
HILLHe did the Wizard of Oz piece over in Dupont, you know, like on the graffiti side.
CHANGHe's got stuff up from way back in the day.
SIMONSWell, now you're bringing your art magic to Silver Spring. And I want to bring Madeline, whose been waiting so patiently on the line. She's also from Silver Spring. Hi, Madeline, you're on the air.
MADELINEGood afternoon. Thanks for having me. Guys, I just want to say thank you. I live in downtown Silver Spring. I've lived here for I think about 15 years. And when we first moved in to downtown Silver Spring is when like the rejuvenation was kind of just getting started. And there was a lot of new development and it was very beige. And seeing the work that's happening, like it's fun to go the grocery store and to go to the library and see the new work every day. See the progress on the murals. How something bright and exciting and invigorating is something to talk about, something that's interesting to look at. So I'm really just here to say, thanks.
CHANGMadeline, you're welcome.
SIMONSAwesome, thanks for your call, Madeline. Margaret emails, how much money do I need to raise to have them come to Wheaton and create a mural? What's your response to that?
CHANGYou know ...
CHANGYeah. It's business, right? I think this is topic that a lot of artists actually don't talk about, right? The money, the negotiating between, you know, companies and artists and things like that. It's always like this weird gray area. And we actually try to talk to as many artists as possible. So for us -- every art is priced differently, right, and every scenario is different. You know, every time we go to a wall, you know, whether it's indoors outdoors, you know, are you painting in winter? Is the wall messed up? Do you have to do any type of prep work to it? Is it hard to access by ladder? Do you have to use a scaffold? Do you have to use a lift? So there's so many considerations to paining a mural, right? And it's almost borderline construction work. I say this a lot, but muralists a lot of times are just glorified construction workers.
HILLIt's probably more similar to that.
SIMONSI never thought of you as that.
HILLI mean, A, I normally look semi like homeless just because you have paint on.
SIMONSNo you don't.
HILLI swear to God.
SIMONSDon't say that.
HILLI mean, this is like one of my clean days. No, no, seriously, right, you know, like I got funny stories, which you may not want to put in the air. You know, people offering us sandwiches on the street.
HILLI'm serious. No, seriously, like, I mean, Insta-world may tie us closer to the creative community in terms of, you know, like pretty things, openings, that kinds of stuff. But my day to day -- our day to day is at Sherwin Williams, Home Depot, ordering lifts from Herc Reynolds, you know. We're talking to our insurance provider that ensure construction equipment. Like a lot of our solutions a lot of the things we have to work out, permitting, that's all kind of leaning a little bit away from art gallery and a little bit more to construction.
CHANGConstruction, yeah. Everyone we deal with is like, you know, developers, architects. And even if it is like a cool brand, you know, you're still talking to a scaffolding company. You're still having to figure out weight loads.
HILLPolice. I mean, because there's consequences in -- or public art that requires equipment, there's consequences, right? Like you could fall.
HILLOut of a lift. You know what I mean?
SIMONSIt can be dangerous.
HILLYes. So I mean, we carry certification, you know, for swing stage or lifts. So that danger part, you know, like I'm checking the weather every day. So I would say like my daily life is maybe more close to that.
HILLWho I know, who those people deal with? We're the only ones they deal with like this. So when we're asking the questions, they don't really care about the art ramification, because that part really doesn't matter. You know, it doesn't matter if it's a mural or just flat wall painting. They're just answering, hey, that's dangerous. Don't be that close to a powerline.
CHANGBut to answer the emails question ...
SIMONSYes, back to Margaret's email, which is how can she get you to Wheaton?
CHANGWe will charge, you know, again depending going back to the restrictions on the walls, the complexity of the design. There's so many different things. You know, we're somewhere between $30 and $45 a square foot.
CHANGYou know, it's not cheap, because ...
HILLBut give us a shout out.
CHANGPaint is not cheap. Equipment is not cheap. You know, our time is not cheap. You know, no artist time should be.
SIMONSOf course. Yeah. Another email I'm interested to hear your response to this one, are any females being commissioned to do murals? Seventy-five percent of art schools students are female. Kate writes to us. Any thoughts on that?
CHANGYeah. Actually, you know, we have -- it's funny to say. Kate is also the name of one of our painters on our team. And she's amazing. You know, she's curating a show that's coming up. And, you know, we put a lot of support behind her.
HILLCalled "Tiny Show."
CHANGYeah, "Tiny Show" November 15, so plug in ...
HILLKate Compana (sp?).
CHANGYeah, Kate Compana. But anyways, I don't think females are represented as much in the art, you know, as any other industry. I mean, just female representation in general. I know that's a big topic. We try to push as much equality in all our shows as much as possible. You know, all our exhibits that we host, you know, any opportunity that we get, you know, we try to have as much female inclusivity as possible just because we think it's very important. You know, there are a lot of amazing female muralist in the world right now.
CHANGYeah, a lot. So I think within the mural community that has been I think great. You know, a lot of men support women.
HILLI mean, even in D.C. like Zita she's got the piece that just went up right at the corner of 14th and U.
CHANGZita, Rose Jaffe ...
HILLShe's amazing. Rose Jaffe, she just did the RBG, Ruth Bader Ginsburg on U Street also. I mean, there's some monster female talent. I don't even know if it actually directly correlates to the statistic. She just ...
SIMONSThe 75 percent.
HILLBecause I don't even know if like ...
SIMONSWell, we'd have to verify that, but I think her point was just ...
HILLWell, regardless of whether it's true or not there's not like -- I know a good half of the people that are doing murals that didn't go to art school myself and Peter included. So I don't even know if that.
CHANGI also know that, you know, within the higher institutions galleries and museums and things like that the representation of females is I think less than 10 percent. You probably have to verify that, but I know it's a small number.
SIMONSThere's not very many.
CHANGYeah. There's not a lot.
SIMONSQuickly, events are part of your business model. You guys have had a successful temporary gallery called "Umbrella" last spring in the 14th Street corridor. Can you tell us about upcoming events planned to celebrate the new murals?
CHANGYeah. So actually to back track, the events are not a part of the business model at all. A lot of times when people come to our events they think, oh, my God. You guys are like, you know, you guys have thousands of people here. You have all these artists, etcetera. But, you know, 9 times out of 10 in the past 10 years when we do huge art shows, you know, we'll lose money. Events are a monster.
HILLOr break even.
CHANGYeah, or break even.
HILLThey're unpredictable, you know.
CHANGYou know, Umbrella we were given I think it was like -- I think we spent about $35 may $40,000 on that entire thing. You know, Madison Investment was an incredible partner.
HILLJust getting a lot of sponsors.
CHANGYeah, we had to get a lot of sponsors, you know, on board to help out. And I think at the end of it I think we made like $4,000. And that's crazy to think, right, because out of all the curators that we had, you know, we asked all of them and we got a report at the end of it and I think we sold about $111,000 worth of art work and we didn't take a dime of that. We don't take a commission.
HILLBecause we didn't take any commission, but that's, you know, the accumulative sales.
CHANGThe reason why we do these big art shows is because when Brandon and I first started we weren't doing murals. We didn't just into it and say, hey, we're doing murals. We both kind of wanted to show our own artwork. And since we didn't have a segue into galleries or any other places or institutions of art, we said to ourselves, hey, you know, there's all these white box retail spaces popping up all over D.C. Why don't we just talk to a developer or a broker and just put up all our art work and just try to sell it. And if you really think about what an art gallery is, you know, it's just white walls, some good lighting, wine and cheese, and great marketing, right?
CHANGSo we were like, if we just get our friends along with this. You know, as Brandon said earlier high tides raises all ships, we can just kind of sell our own work and kind of create this platform for ourselves. And that kind of is what propelled us to do bigger shows. And then when we did the bigger shows we put up these murals inside those shows.
HILLAnd then paint over them two days later.
CHANGYeah. Again, going back to temporary.
HILLThat's why I don't care.
SIMONSGot you. Now it makes sense.
CHANGYeah. And then brands or restaurants or other developers would then hire us to do their murals. And one thing led after another and it just kind of snowballed. So going back to like, you know, doing the events we just do them because it's kind of like a core -- something out at our core that, you know, we really believe in.
HILLIt's the core. It's like the core.
CHANGIt's the core. And it gives us the chance to give opportunities for other artists.
SIMONSAnd it can't hurt with expanding you with your audience too, right?
HILLNo, I mean, this is probably more pop-ups back in the day. I mean, I'll break down some like quick quickie math. You know, like on TV when you see an art gallery and it's people looking inside and it's like well to do. And people are drinking wine and champagne. Best case scenario you're looking at 100 people maybe, right, best case, it's probably closer to 60, you know what I mean?
HILLIf I were to draw a pie chart and explain an average art exhibition -- I've been in a lot, right? Seventy percent of that crowd is there for the free wine and cheese. It's like an elevated bar crawl, you know? And they would probably describe themselves as patrons, right, and I'm okay with it. It doesn't hurt me one way or the other. I would say 10 percent is, you know, like gallery staff. You know, another 10 percent is your friends and family. I would say five percent are actually collectors. And another five percent, they were just were walking past and saw something going on inside and said, let me walk inside.
HILLGood chunk of people at your exhibition just happen to be in the right place at the right time walking past.
SIMONSWell, we're certainly looking forward to your installation in downtown Silver Spring.
CHANGThat's right. So the event that we're doing is a culmination of the murals. It's November 16th. And we're going to do a live mural battle called "Secret Walls." So we've teamed up with them. And we're going to set that up. It's from 6:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. And it's free, open to the public.
SIMONSWhat's the date again?
CHANGAt 6:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. And there's going to be a bunch of other art activations. It will be a good time. Good music.
SIMONSAwesome. Thank you so much guys, Peter Chang and Brandon Hill, cofounders of No Kings Collective. Thanks for joining us.
SIMONSWe'll be back after a short break. Stay with us.
Most Recent Shows
Implementing the "Blueprint for Maryland's Future" will cost billions of dollars. Where will the money come from?
As the world warms, where do students, teachers, scientists and activists see room for hope? It's the fifth and final installment of the Kojo climate change series.
The Oxon Hill native and award-winning author was named the seventh National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress.