Remembering John Chisholm: A Message from Kenyattah Robinson

Friday February 26, 2021

I remain saddened and in disbelief over the loss of John Chisholm, who left us suddenly and unexpectedly two weeks ago. John’s name may be unfamiliar, but his work has become ubiquitous. He was the creative force behind significant recent activism through public art most notably at Black Lives Matter Plaza and on the windows of commercial buildings throughout downtown, including nearby 655 New York Avenue.

Less than a month before he died, John and I partnered on “Voices for Change: Representation, Progress & Hope,” a large scale public mural at 5th & K Streets NW. I discuss the mural’s genesis – and John’s role in it – in this never-released video. If the project was a movie set, then Mount Vernon Triangle was the scene, artists Shawn PerkinsLevi Robinson and Dez Zambrano were the talent, and John was the director who brought it all together. Because every great team is led by a great coach, and every great orchestra by a great conductor.

Beyond that, John was a creative force of nature who was passionate about art and its ability to convey the story of both our time and pivotal moments in our history. He dedicated his life to using the power of art to afford opportunities to those in his network. As he articulates at the 1 minute 12 second mark of this story that aired on CBS Evening News about our mural: “It’s not so much important that you just do something. But it’s finding a way to contribute your talents toward the betterment of the community.” FOX 5 DC, the New York Times and WJLA News 7 also covered the project.

In addition to his passion, John was also creative in coming up with unique and innovative ideas. Phone calls that started with a quick question would often last an entire hour. But conversations would be filled with rich ideas about leveraging art as a vehicle to connect youth with employment, or to spur place-based economic development. It’s only fitting that when John and I last communicated, it was about the acquisition of a 16,000 square foot space to showcase some of last summer’s protest art and to provide education, training and job opportunities to at-risk youths and seniors in DC. The message in his text: “This is what we need to do in MVT…”

Rest easy, John. You left us far too soon. But the memory and impact of your work will live on forever.