Former WPA Director Kim Ward on Options 2005, Post Secret and Wall Snatchers
I have countless memories of the fun, crazy and challenging moments of working at the WPA. Perhaps the time that encapsulates a smorgasbord of all that is wpaesque, was when we took over the former Staples store on M street in Georgetown and created a 10,000 square foot pop-up gallery. From the fall of 2005 through the spring of 2006, we staged three exhibitions: OPTIONS 2005, Post Secret, and Wall Snatchers. The space became the WPA staff ’ s home away from home. Here are three behind-the-scenes vignettes, one from each show.
The day before the opening of OPTIONS 2005, Susan Noyes, an artist in the show, was driving into the adjoining parking garage to deliver her work when a freak accident occurred. The automatic door to the garage slammed down onto the top of the car crushing her most important piece, which was tied on top. It was damaged beyond repair and after consulting with Paula Crawford, her instructor at George Mason University, she decided to go home and make another piece. She worked through the night and the next day, and brought it in a few minutes before the opening. We hung it on the wall and opened the doors.
Post Secret was the most overwhelming experience in my tenure at the WPA — the 15,000 plus people who came to the show, the media coverage, and the daily poignancy of being with people moved by the cards. Not a day went by without several people leaving the space sobbing from the uncontrollable emotion they felt after viewing the cards. People drove from all over America to stand in line and see the cards, so we kept the exhibition open extra late every night in order to accommodate as many people as possible. My mother was dying of cancer at the same time as the exhibition, and I went to the hospital to be with her in the last week of her life. One night in the hospital while I was sitting next to her as she slept, I glanced up at the television and CNN was covering the Post Secret exhibition. It was surreal.
The final show was Wall Snatchers, curated by Kelly Towles. Kelly selected street and graffiti artists to create work on site. The collective Faile came from Brooklyn to create a very large and ambitious piece, which took them three solid days. They pretty much lived in the space and worked 24/7; so one night I cooked dinner for them at my home. During dinner, they were all talking about how they had never seen any of the monuments on the Washington Mall and it did not look like they would have an opportunity on this trip. We took the back seats out of my van, piled everyone in, and drove to the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Wall. We walked around each one and I told them what I knew about the history of the monuments.