75 RVA nonprofits come together for Arts & Culture Xpo

From the Richmond Symphony to Gallery5, many of the region’s arts and culture nonprofits will be under one roof to make money and make your acquaintance.

The Barbershop Harmony Society is a national organization that “perpetuates and celebrates harmony in the barbershop style.” Among its member choruses is the The Virginians Barbershop Chorus, which has evangelized the musical style here in Richmond as a performing nonprofit for 62 years.

The Virginians will be just one of 75 Richmond-based nonprofits that will amass inside the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Saturday as part of the Arts & Culture Xpo, a showcase of the area’s arts and culture nonprofits.

“It’s unusual for any city to have most of its arts and cultural organizations collaborate in this fashion. To all agree to be in one place at one time,” said John Bryan, founding president of CultureWorks, the organization behind Saturday’s event that will distribute $70,000 to the nonprofits. “It’s an opportunity for persons to discover organizations they don’t know, see organizations they do know, [and] meet and engage with them all on one day and under one roof without schlepping all over town or all over the internet.”

CultureWorks held the first Xpo in 20111 at the Science Museum of Virginia. “We had no idea whether anyone would come,” Bryan said. “It was not a Bob Dylan concert. It wasn’t a VCU Final Four. It was simply a trade organization showing the arts and cultural organizations.” The Science Museum would report that the event helped bring in the biggest crowd in the museum’s history.

The Arts & Culture Xpo outgrew the Science Museum and began holding the annual event at the Convention Center, where it attracted 5,000 people last year.

One of the appeals of the event to local nonprofits is that they get to interact with people throughout the day. “They love the fact that strangers, all day long, walk up to their booths and say, ‘I’m not really familiar with you. Tell me about you,'” Bryan said. In addition to letting attendees know about its mission, organizations also accept donations and conduct sales throughout the event.

The Xpo also promotes relationships between nonprofits. “They greatly enjoy the camraderie with one another,” Bryan said. “They get to know organizations that they had not partnered with in the past.” Take for instance the James River Ringers, which promotes handbell ringing, and the James River Writers, which promotes local writers and readers. “There would be no reason for them to know each other, but they have had booths next to [one another],” Bryan said.

In its three years, CultureWorks has used the event to hand out $175,000 to the area’s nonprofits. In past years, attendees were give fake $1 bills (“Xpo bucks”) that they gave to organizations of their choice. At the end of the event, CultureWorks reimbursed organizations with real money.

This year, CultureWorks has changed how it distributes money. “We’re giving the organizations financial incentives to basically follow directions,” Bryan said. Organizations receive a certain amount of money for completing simple tasks: loading in and out of the Convention Center on time, filling out proper registration forms by a certain date, publicizing the event on social media, etc. “Every organization that does [them] adds more money added to its tally.” Organizations can earn up to $700 for completing these tasks.

CultureWorks has also asked that each organization announce or unveil something–an event, a project–at the Xpo, which will have the dual benefit of creating buzz and awarding organizations more money.

Attendees will also vote for the people’s choice for best booth, which earns the winning organization $1,000. An eight-member panel will also provide two $1,000 prizes to organizations.

In addition to booths, some organizations–The Virginians barbershop quartet, the James River Ringers, the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, and others–will give a performance on one of two stages inside the Convention Center. Performances run every 15 minutes from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.

From modest expectations to now needing the space of the Convention Center, the Arts & Culture Xpo has come far in just a few years. CultureWork’s president John Bryan, who will retire in September, believes the Xpo can grow even larger, one that “shines internationally” like SXSW in Austin and Art Basel in Miami. “Those possibilities are out there,” he said. But added “we’re a long, long way from that.”

The Arts & Culture Xpo takes place on Saturday, June 28th from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.

photo courtesy of Artspace Richmond

  1. Originally called the Cultsha Xpo. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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