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Earlier this week on Labor Day, five minutes before 5, a plastic ball fight broke out at the beach in Washington, D.C. No saltwater here, no sand. This was an art installation at the National Building Museum featuring an ocean of 750,000 translucent balls. You could wade in or jump into this giant ball pit. People brought their kids. They took selfies. It was a hit. Now, sadly, summer's done, and so's the beach. The exhibit's now closed, but what of the plastic balls? Well, they'll find a new life in a different part of the city. NPR's Mallory Yu reports.
BRAULIO AGNESE: You guys ready? Let's go.
MALLORY YU, BYLINE: As the very last beachgoers left the museum, a group of volunteers met at the loading dock. There, they found a stack of large cardboard boxes, each filled to the brim with plastic balls.
AGNESE: They're big, but they're not that heavy.
YU: And those boxes, one for each volunteer, all went for a ride on the D.C. Metro right as a Labor Day baseball game let out. The train car was packed with people and balls.
Oh, my God (laughter).
More than a few riders had questions, and volunteers like Ashley Wetzel were happy to answer.
Ok, so are these...
ASHLEY WETZEL: These are the beach balls.
YU: From the...
WETZEL: Yeah, the Building Museum.
YU: Oh, my gosh.
YU: Do you have a plan for yours?
WETZEL: They're going to this Dupont Underground.
AGNESE: So Dupont Underground is an effort to revitalize a long-abandoned space.
YU: Braulio Agnese is managing director for Dupont Underground. It's both an organization and a place, a long, curving tunnel with high ceilings located below D.C.'s Dupont neighborhood. The space was once a trolley station, and now there are plans to turn it into a creative arts institution. Part of that transformation - those plastic balls from the beach.
AGNESE: To do something on a grand scale - 750,000 plastic balls - I think this is a chance to create something really interesting that engages our space.
YU: Agnese still doesn't know exactly how the balls will factor in. He's been more concerned with moving them there. The first wave, so to speak, went on the Metro to get people talking. The second wave included more volunteers, more boxes and moving trucks.
CATHY FRANKEL: I'm amazed. They said the other day, we think we can get them out in two days. I'm like, I don't think you can do that.
YU: Cathy Frankel oversaw the installation of the beach, then happily watched it become a full-blown deconstruction zone. She says the idea to give the balls to Dupont Underground came about earlier this summer when she was talking about the beach with Braulio Agnese.
FRANKEL: Pretty quickly, we got into, oh, we've got all these balls, and we don't know what to do with them.
AGNESE: And I said, we'll take them.
YU: At first, Frankel was cautious.
FRANKEL: I showed them the volume. I'm like, are you sure you want this many? Are you sure you can take them? We want them all, so here we are.
YU: The day after the beach exhibit closed, about a dozen people worked to box up the last of the balls. One of them, Kelly Paras, wields a snow shovel for her task.
KELLY PARAS: It's a little bit more strenuous (laughter) than I would've imagined. It's a lot of, like, bending over to get the balls.
YU: So how long does it actually take to move 750,000 plastic balls across the nation's capital? Braulio Agnese says, with the help of over 100 volunteers and four moving trucks, it took 25 hours. Mallory Yu, NPR News, Washington.
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