Earlier this year, Housing Up moved into our new headquarters, Abrams Hall at The Parks at Walter Reed. In this new space, our staff will continue to develop affordable housing and provide case management, training and resources to the more than 700 homeless and low-income families we serve throughout Washington, DC.
To celebrate our new home and 30th anniversary, we teamed up with Ash Casper, our long-time design partner and Founder & Designer at Ash Co., a design studio in Richmond, to help us turn a blank wall into an inspiring depiction of our Housing Up community within the broader District.
Read more about Ash’s design process, what she hopes people will take away from the mural, and which detail was almost forgotten!
Housing Up: What were your thoughts when approached about this project?
Ash Casper: At first, I was really excited because it’s such an exciting time for Housing Up as the team is growing and just moved into a new office. I’ve been working with Housing Up since I started my design career, so I’ve been honored that they keep coming back to me. Housing Up is such an amazing organization, and it’s cool to be able to creatively contribute to the cause.
Once Christina Peay, Housing Up’s Director of Philanthropy and Communications, saw the blank white wall space in the new office, she reached out to me wondering if there was anyone I’d recommend as a muralist. I’ve actually been painting since I was a little kid, so I mentioned to her that I have mural experience and that I would love to be involved. I was honored to be considered and was looking forward to seeing the space.
Housing Up: What did the design inspiration process look like for you?
Ash Casper: Because I’ve worked with Housing Up for a couple years, the inspiration process for the mural was mostly a combination of the evolution of our work, starting from the beginning of our relationship to where we’ve landed more recently. We just completed Housing Up’s 30th anniversary logo work, and we wanted this celebratory art, including the mural, to feel like it represented the people that Housing Up serves and the staff.
We actually coordinated a night with some of the kids in Housing Up’s programs to draw pictures of their homes. Those drawings are now part of the secondary graphics for the 30th anniversary system we built, so this mural came out of that thought process. We were thinking, “Okay, how do we represent different types of homes and what do those look like?” I wanted to bring in elements of the homes the kids drew; I really liked the cohesive variation that came through and how they expressed that there’s not only one way to show a house. We sent some sketches back and forth and landed on this representation of the city, which not only feels like a moment in time but also tells a story.
Housing Up: There are so many different colors and details in the mural. How did you go about choosing what to include?
Ash Casper: I love painting murals like this because of all the details. They’re almost like little nest eggs – where every time you look at the mural, you find something new. From the perspective of the people who work at Housing Up, I wanted it to be a mural that wouldn’t get old. I wanted it to be a mural where every time you walk past it, you notice details like the alley cat perched on a building, or the variety of fish in the pond.
I also wanted the colors to be representative of the world we live in – there’s not just one color of the sky; there are lots of colors in the sky, and as the sky changes, it changes color. I wanted the piece to feel familiar and inspiring in its execution and be a celebration of life in the city.
We were actually laughing about this when [Housing Up] staff and I were painting together, but my favorite paint color was “Beach Sparkle,” which is the color in the mid-day scene on the middle pillar. The whole process of choosing the colors with the team was really fun. Some other favorites were “Sea Frolic” and “Autumn Gala”.
Housing Up: Which part of the mural holds the most meaning to you?
Ash Casper: I love the sky. I think it’s what really sells the concept and is the most eye-catching when you walk into the room. I’m also really pleased with how we were able to communicate time passing, and conceptually that works on a lot of different levels. As it pertains to Housing Up, it’s cool because they have such a rich history of helping the community, especially amidst celebrating their 30th anniversary. It was great timing for a mural that looks back in a way that feels celebratory and looks forward in a way that feels hopeful.
One funny moment happened after a couple of days of painting; I had totally packed up, put all my paint away, and as I was taking the last picture, I realized I hadn’t put the hands on the clock. At first I was like, “Oh my gosh, I almost missed that!”, but it felt like the perfect final touch. I grabbed my black paint quickly and painted the little hands on there. I laughed that that was the detail I forgot, but it felt like a cherry on top of the mural to tie it all together.
Housing Up: What do you hope Housing Up families, staff, volunteers and other supporters take away from the mural?
Ash Casper: I wanted the mural to feel dynamic enough that it felt like a representation of people’s experiences in the city. I obviously pulled from my own personal feelings toward the city from the time I lived there, so the cat that’s sitting on the building is a stray cat I would see on my commute every other day, and the car is an old Volkswagen Beetle that my fiancé has been working on. But, I hope that people who come to see the mural are able to discover details they can also find value in.
We included the Washington Monument and some of the Housing Up residences in the mural, so I hope that as people find different nest eggs, they’re able to feel connected to the piece in a way that feels familiar and prompts fond memories of the city. I also hope that it lifts people if they’re having a down day, inspires people while they’re eating lunch, or just reminds them of the important work that Housing Up does.
It was also great that some of the Housing Up team members were actually part of the mural painting, so hopefully there’s a sense of accomplishment and connection there. It’s cool that the mural itself celebrates community and it took the efforts of the community to create it. The perfect balance. I hope the team feels a sense of pride and ownership over it and that it continues to be a reminder of the amazing work that Housing Up does.