Georgetown Transformers More than a Selfie
By October 27, 2021 6 4438•
This weekend of Halloween will bring more than the usual amount of onlookers checking out the famed Exorcist Steps, officially a D.C. landmark, at 36th and Prospect Streets NW. A few doors to the west stand the latest additions to Georgetown’s Instagramable nature — and not so official.
Guarding the home of Georgetown University Professor Newton Howard at 3614 Prospect St. NW are statues of the iconic transformers, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. They have been serving as a popular selfie backdrop. Yet, according to Howard, a leading expert on artificial intelligence, they’re much more — the structures are an integration between human and machine.
“If you put in a structure, you articulate it,” said Howard, who went on to describe the transformers as a symbol of peace, prosperity, happiness and acceptance of humanity in a meaningful way by showing their gentle and flawed nature. Furthermore, Howard said he sees the structures as representing the struggle of transforming into something better.
“Transformation takes part in every part of our life and our very existence is a product of it,” Howard added. The two figures are environmentally friendly and were constructed of used motorcycle parts.
Howard’s placement of the sculptures have prompted a debate about outdoor sculpture at city sidewalks.
Longtime Prospect Street homeowner Christi Cline comments echo many: “They’re fun. I like them. Kids love them — and love to see the cars Professor Howard parks on the street.”
However, the Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously rejected Howard’s request for a permit to keep the sculptures atop his brick plant boxes in front of his house. So did the Old Georgetown Board.
In addition, a few neighbors like Luke Russert, who lives next door, find the statues an annoyance — whether as an object or something that attracts those wanting a tourist photo. “What’s to stop someone from putting up a statue of Joseph Stalin and saying, ‘Well, this is provocative, it’s art, it speaks to me,’ ” Russert told the media. “They are a nuisance, they are an eyesore and they detract from the spirit of the neighborhood.”
Howard agreed the transformers’ neighborhood presence has had its share of backlash. Initially, the reaction was the threat of lawsuits and fine, but over time he has seen more accepting attitudes. He reported positive feedback from onlookers and on social media for the statues and feel that they have become a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.
Currently, Howard is in a holding pattern with the city over permits that will allow the statues to remain on the property. He told The Georgetowner that he has kept himself occupied lately with other matters pertaining to visiting and looking after refugees from Afghanistan.
“This process has been very confusing from the start and the bombardment of the permit issue has come at a bad time,” he said.
Two weeks ago, he added signs in front of the movie-inspired sculptures that read, in part, “Art is Speech is Liberty.”