Tag Archives: RVA

Holy Moley Murals

The Richmond art scene has been blowing up for years. Now, in epic proportion, artists here have begun to reveal this transformation in the public realm.

Rather than start with the newest, most epic murals (skip to the end if you want!), I want to put this Richmond mural passion in some context. Like all great American stories, it starts with Coca-Cola. This advertisement is located on the side of Globehopper at Main and 21st. I believe paintings like this became common starting in the mid-1800s along with the rise of the modern brand:

On the same wall, the Globehopper mural stands in vivid contrast:

I think this mural is Trask at his best and, in all honesty, I think I could end the story here. But alas that would not do justice to what is happening. These newest murals (the next two and the last one on this post) are apparently a part of the G40 Art Summit, a sort of obscure event that has come to energize the Richmond art scene for the month of April.

Writes Art Whino, “By inviting 13 of the top mural artists from around the globe to unleash their creativity to 20 large scale walls in a 10 block radius, it will surely become amazing artistic destination point for years to come.” As I drove west on Main St. I was soon greeted by one of these murals: the most epic (and hopeful) turtle I have ever seen. It’s being painted on the back wall of famed nightclub Have a Nice Day which means I’m surprised and impressed. And you may be amazed:

Somewhat more fittingly, Have a Nice Day is also adding a somewhat demonic-looking mural of a man whipping a lion (?) to their exterior wall facing Main. I can’t pass final judgement at this point because it’s not finished, but I do know this: There are epic murals in Richmond:

A little farther down Main, there is a mural that seems to have been commissioned by Offender Aid and Restoration of Richmond. While not the most epic, it is the most clear narrative portrayed in the murals I’ve seen lately and I appreciate OAR’s embracing the mural format in their latest outreach:

I also couldn’t help but include a snapshot of the graffiti located just a few blocks away from the mural above. While I’m not sure where “graffiti” becomes “mural,” I am sure it’s probably for a dumb reason so here’s my sample:

Finally, this mural is the last one I catalogued on my drive down Main St. and in some ways this one is the reason why I’m writing this post because it is the first I saw of the newest crop. It is, I believe, an elephant holding a hamburger that’s been shot with a few arrows … feast your eyes:

Here’s another view:

The only thing I can say at the end of a post like this is “holy. moley. murals.” What I love most about murals is that they take an everyday walk down a street and turn it into a free stroll through an art gallery. If you don’t like art, you might not like these murals, but you have to at least admit they are better than a blank wall. Creativity like this gives a city, and individual buildings, significance and character.

And the crazy thing is these are just the beginning … for examples of more epic murals check out this article by RVA News of other murals being painted around town this week. While I selected one street, they selected the entire arts district from Manchester to Broad St. I couldn’t be more pleased that my favorite city just got that much cooler.

And a little more bizarre.

A is for Adaptive Reuse

There is nothing more creative than adaptive reuse. In a world of earth movers and concrete slabs, redeveloping old buildings has become more rare than starting from scratch. Adaptive reuse forces creative builders to work in an existing space and create something that honors the history of the space while also recreates a new use for old bricks.

My favorite current adaptive reuse project in Richmond is the Live/Work Lofts at Beckstoffer’s Mill. I like this project because it’s compact (one city block), extremely well-done (down to the brick sidewalks), and it’s in the middle of a neighborhood. The old wood mill has been reimagined and resurrected for twenty-first century use. Yay for creativity and hard work in Church Hill.

This is a part of my, Cataloguing Richmond series on my RVA page.

A Vantage

This week I have been teaching my high school students about imagination, appreciation, curiosity and innovation. The joys of alternative education 🙂 During this time, I’ve made some (albeit naive) teacher observations and formulated some theories to help myself improve and better understand what I’m doing. The most valuable lesson so far is this: The classroom is a vantage. From this vantage, we see the world for its order and structure. As Mufasa took Simba to the mountaintop, so do we teachers take our students to the classroom to make sense of the world in which they live.

From the vantage of Pride Rock, Mufasa shared with Simba the details of his kingdom: Places to go and places to avoid. At the same time, he is also sharing the weight of the responsibility of the kingdom (which I see as knowledge, adulthood, and the unknown future).  In this moment, he is imparting an understanding of life from the mountaintop because that is where the chaos of life begins to make sense. That is the place of perspective. Without the context of perspective we will hardly understand the significance of the information we retain.

One important point is that a mountaintop is positioned far away from life on the ground below. That’s not a bad thing! I think the “ivory tower” critique of education sometimes directs us to teach a more “realistic” education. But this is a mistake. Instead of making our education realistic, we believe that education must be detached from reality in order to prepare students for the abstract and unpredictable future. Is the future reality? No. We can only speculate how our students will use the information we teach them and we must give them the ability to make connections on their own. The ability to imagine the future and prepare for its challenges.

This capacity for imagination is becoming a subject of discussion as a skill that can (and should) be taught. In a PBS Newshour production, “Conversation: Imagination in Education,” Jeffrey Brown interviewed the director of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education, Scott Noppe-Brandon. Brown asked, “What would [imagination in education] look like? What would be an example of putting imagination into the skill set and into the curriculum?” To this question, Mr. Noppe-Brandon responded,

“It’s taking issues like, ‘How do you get kids to notice deeply? How do you get them to attend to details and information in front of them? How do you get them to notice patterns and make connections and be reflective and tolerate ambiguity? Elements like that that combined over time start to build that cognitive capacity for imaginative thinking.” Imagine how differently we would teach if we believed this … the excitement in our voices as we say, “Look out over this world of information and conquer it with your mind.”

In my attempt to teach this concept to my students, I landed on the following formula:

Imagination + Creativity + Knowledge + Appreciation + Hard Work = Innovation.

Hopefully, my students will begin to value the ideas in their minds, appreciate the ideas of others and make connections between the two and reality. Reality is  not always the sort of place where people develop the capacity for creativity and imagination. That’s why we have the classroom. The classroom is a vantage. Every other hour of the day is enough reality for now.

Weekend Graphic: The Lady and the Car (1950)

On May 31, 1950, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a cartoon titled “They’ll Do It Every Time.” I guess the “bad driver” trope was the 1950s alternative to the “captive wife.” It’s pretty self explanatory:

Weekend Graphic: Why are freeways built in cities? (1951)

On Nov. 2, 1951, Citizens for Traffic Relief ran a political ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch titled “Why Are Freeways Built in Cities?” This ad was purchased in anticipation of the second public referendum related to the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (which failed). It reads,

This as was especially interesting to me as a child of Texas. Looking back 60 years it’s amazing that it seemed like a good idea to pattern Richmond’s regional development after a city like Houston.

“When Everybody Has a Car”

On Monday Nov. 14 1965, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an article in the opinion section. It reads,

In the 1950s and 60s, members of the automobile hegemony often made grand statements. I’m amazed that even in 1965 this one sounded like a bad idea.

On Plans and the Future

On November 3, 1951, Robert LeRoy Shepherd wrote an opinion article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch titled “Freedom, Independence, Taxes and the Freeway.” I found this article 60 years after it was written and was struck by the candor of his voice and the content of his message: Plans for the future must respond to reality.

At the time it was written, the city was in the midst of a highway battle over the plans for the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (what is now a section of I-95). As was common practice at the time, Richmond politicians contracted large firms to develop plans for this expressway without significant input from the residents of the city. As a result, the thought of destroying the city for a highway divided citizens and outraged residents. Many conceded that the city fathers had already decided what would be best for Richmond, but fought to make their voices heard during the second public referendum of the highway plan.

Uncertainty filled the minds of Richmonders who were unsure whether their city would be completely transformed by this idea proffered by huge national planning firms and local politicians. The highway plan would result in the destruction of large sections of the city and would forever change the way people move throughout the region. On a more philosophical level, the plans for the highway also seemed to fundamentally question the legitimacy of the physical structure city. After 210 years of individuals shaping the built environment, an outside idea was being presented as more legitimate. At this moment of crisis in the battle for Richmond’s future, Shepherd wrote a philosophical piece that questioned the idea of a highway in Richmond and made a simple, yet compelling argument for democracy in the midst of the American highway era.

At this point in time, the Richmond Times-Dispatch was not new to articles and ads related to the expressway.  Leading up to the referendum on November there were dozens of references to the highway including political ads, cartoons, editorials, news articles, and opinion submissions. Many of these references simply recycled the same ideas and arguments for or against the highway plan. In these arguments it was too expensive or it was the ultimate solution to traffic, either not the will of the people or a well-developed plan vetted by studies and experts.

Amidst the banal arguments, Shepherd’s article called Richmonders to think critically about the process of planning a highway in the 50s. He was not enamored by the professional firms that planned the highway or their ideas for the future of Richmond. Instead, he writes, “Inflexible plans result in a fixation of mind. Steering them becomes an obsession kindred to a driver’s headlong dash above or over a freeway.” To Shepherd, politicians in Richmond were  trying to make the plan fit an unwilling populace. To Shepherd, the future was not so easy to predict.

While many framed the highways as American progress, Shepherd framed the highway plan as megalomania. He compares the politics to Alexander the Great, Caesar, Hitler, Hirohito, and the British Empire. The one thing in common was the concept of invasion and empire, but more philosophically the empires were imposed and forced on unprepared societies. The empires constantly developed their ability to transform the life of citizens in order to complete the assimilation of diverse societies. The highway was no exception. Plans for the city of Richmond were meticulously developed before being presented to the people of Richmond and expected to impress and amaze. The highway was an idea from the outside that was forced upon cities in America and unwilling to change or shift to fit the will of the people.

To Shepherd, these plans did not make sense in context because they weren’t democratic. “Taxes and plans?” writes Shepherd, “Yes.” In some instances it is wise to plan for the future and prepare for potential changes and developments, “But [while] some lead to the freedom of men, others lead to a fixation of mind and bondage just a binding as chains.” Today we are living the legacy of these plans and I believe we finally beginning to understand the captivity of which Shepherd spoke. While the highway seemed like an opportunity for growth, it has become a fundamental aspect of American life. What was once vehemently opposed has now become part of routine commutes and shopping trips.

Many people look at cities without any sort of historic lens or context, but a deeper understanding of the politics of a place will give us a better understanding of the place itself. As we continually struggle to recover our buried past we will likely find similar instances where democracy failed and voices were silenced. Uncovering these voices will further illuminate our nation’s past and present and allow us to begin to right our future.