Love is Larger Than Life in Washington DC: A City Guide from Lisa Marie Thalhammer
“It’s about love. It’s about freedom. It’s about vibrant color representing diversity. It’s about the subtle ways humans interact with public art and how it changes the energetic vibrations of a place.” Visual artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, who goes by Lisa Marie Studio on the streets, has created over a dozen murals spread across the eight wards of Washington, DC. Her artwork communicates bold, universal values with this call to action: to believe in the strength and power of women as leaders; to respect the color, ability, and diversity of all people; to participate in the healing of our communities; and a demand to, literally, love.
Born and raised in the heartland of the American midwest, Thalhammer moved east to Washington DC in her early twenties with an intent to shake things up through her art. Today, armed with creativity and color, she challenges the systems of power long steeped in patriarchy and racism by infusing rainbows and portraits of empowered women onto the streetscape of our Nation’s Capital, and in doing so, makes socio-political statements with her artwork, meeting each viewer with a high vibration energy.
Thalhammer believes that public space has a significant impact upon cultural psychology, and that murals have the ability to help create a more equitable society. Her most well-known work, the LOVE mural, located in the Shaw neighborhood’s Blagden Alley, perfectly represents how art can transform a public space. “The alleys of DC are microcosms of our country’s history,” she explains. “They are places that hold both grief and celebration. They are places where I have witnessed both violent acts and block parties. Blagden Alley was the hub of the creative scene back when I first moved here. This was before all the trendy restaurants and coffee shops, when rent was cheap and half the block housed an underground skate club and DIY art shows, and concerts were frequent. Music was political. Go-go, hardcore and riot-grrrl all have DC roots. Then, as money began pouring into the urban centers of American cities, the landscape began to change. My artists friends living there could no longer afford rent, so as a response, we made a strategic plan to leave a permanent mark on this place as one of creative expression.”
Together with friends, Thalhammer applied to the city for a Public Art Building Communities grant from the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities, to transform the alley they loved into an outdoor museum featuring local artists. “Within one month of painting the first murals, the amount of coffee sold at the corner cafe doubled. I would overhear people saying that they had never heard of this alley before, and now it was all anyone talked about. We named the project the DC Alley Museum, and Blagden Alley became a landmark tourist destination.”
Now there are over a dozen murals in the alley surrounded by restaurants, all only a half block from the DC Convention Center. Thalhammer painted two murals in this alley based on the themes of love and meditation. The LOVE mural has been photographed thousands of times, traveling throughout the globe via social media platforms with messages of social justice, equality, empowerment and respect for all human diversity. The alley provides a backdrop for selfies galore, pop-up weddings, engagement pics, music videos, fashion shoots, and commercial solidarity with progressive movements.
“DC is the most diverse place I have ever experienced,” she says. “People travel here from all over the world, coming together to engage in dialogue about how to change the world. The activist and creative communities of DC invigorate me, and we work together to build a better future. There is an authenticity and uniqueness to the people here. As Washingtonians, our mission is to make the world a better place.”
In June 2020, Thalhammer participated in the Murals DC 51 project to advocate for Washington DC to become the 51st state of the United States of America. Lisa Marie explains that, “Taxation without representation is real and alive in The District, which is why we are advocating for Statehood. This fight for our voting rights has been a battle for over a century, and somehow, the country just skips over the fact that more than 700k DC residents don’t have a voting voice in Congress. For decades, DC was known as the nation's Chocolate City because it was the first majority-Black urban area in America, so the fact that we are highly taxed but don’t have voting rights is part of the systemic racist structure our country was founded upon. It is time to change this, so we painted 51 murals all over the district to advocate for our right to be represented in Congress and to have the votes of those representatives be counted.”
“The DC Statehood Bill passed in the House on June 26, and we now await a vote in the Senate. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s one non-voting Delegate in Congress, brought the bill to the floor, so I painted a mural of her because she has been advocating and fighting for her people here for almost three decades. She is a strong woman in politics and I respect that a lot. My Free DC mural is a nod of respect to the women activist leaders of the Stand Up For Democracy movement who have also been advocating for Statehood for decades. Additionally, my rainbow 51, DC51, and FREEDOM JUSTICE murals represent the vast diversity of DC’s current-day population, which includes the largest openly LGBTQ population per capita in the country.”
Along the U street corridor, Thalhammer’s Nellie’s Ducky mural can be found at the corner of 9th and U Street, outside of DC’s favorite gay bar. A few blocks down at 16th, you can find her Women in Politics and LOCAL LOVE murals outside the trendy Local 16 lounge. Half a block off the North Capitol Street corridor, you’ll find Boxer Girl and She Persists, two of her female empowerment portraits that are larger than life in so many ways.
Visit DC and find a full list of Lisa Marie Thalhammer’s outdoor murals at www.lisamariestudio.com.