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Catharsis on the Mall 2020: Innovative Projects Worth Seeing


Since its inception in 2015, the annual Burning Man-like event held on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, known as Catharsis on the Mall, has fostered safe spaces focused on the arts and community healing. The event features workshops, panels, interactive art, as well as an effigy that is set aflame. This past week, it was announced that a panel of community members decided on 39 grantees, made up of 11 individuals and 28 groups/collectives/theme camps. In 2019, there were a total of 25 grantees. 

Criteria for choosing the grantees were intersectionality (how is the work relevant to the mission of the event?), inclusivity (how will people connect to the work?), and interactivity (how will the project provide opportunities to engage with it?). Almost all of this year’s grantees hail from the D.C. area with notable mentions like D.C.-based artists Robin Bell and Maps Glover.

Ursa Lee, curation co-lead of Catharsis on the Mall, told The Outlaw Report that the event is anything but a festival or art gallery. Instead, it is labeled a First Amendment protest and vigil. 

Each year has a theme with this year dedicated to “A Vision of Haven.” With the hopes of creating an educational space for artists and participants, this year’s event hopes to both stimulate the mind and local community.

There will be some theme camps that offer discussions on psychedelics, meditative states, and medical cannabis. 

“It’s tapping into parts that Western medicine might have shunned at some point, and we are recreating the narrative around that,” said Lee.

A women’s collective, known as Sunflower Collective, will curate their “Temple of Nectar” to appeal to passersby to facilitate thought and discussion on the world’s bee population and humans’ relationship with agriculture.

One of the many notable grantees is WAVES, and their project, “An AfroSound Experience.” These first-time grantees at Catharsis on the Mall will bring sound healing to the District. The meditative installation will feature a variety of instruments that will activate the space, while tapping into the rich traditions of Afro-diasporic sound through a series of sound baths. There will also be self-directed healing stations where audiences will participate in breathing exercises, mantras, and activities where they will make and play instruments. 

Another grantee worth a mention is SwapDC, which coordinates eco-conscious clothing swaps throughout the city for participants to offer their gently worn clothes, shoes, books, and records to others in exchange for items from others. The “Swap n Gather” project will last for six hours, making it the organization’s longest swap to date. 

There are several other participants worth learning about for this year’s event, so be sure to find the full list of grantees here or head to the Catharsis on the Mall website for more information on the upcoming event.

Illustration via Sunflower Collective/Catharsis on the Mall

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