Jonny Z Festival merges into Art 180’s Really Big Show

The Jonny Z Festival, celebrating one of Richmond’s most loved people, is about to get big…like REALLY big.

For the last six year, friends of Jonathan “Jonny Z” Zanin and Art 180 have honored their friend the only way Zanin would want to be honored: having a kick-ass block party. This year, the Jonny Z Festival merges with another Art 180 event, the Big Show, to create The Really Big Show. It’s an event that’ll bring together two distinct audiences to share in their common love of art, as well as show off the recent art of Richmond kids.

“We are very excited,” said Michael Guedri, Art 180 program manager and friend of Jonny Z.

Few of us have a legacy big enough to build and sustain an annual event. But we’re not Jonny Z. “He was a local musician, artist, entrepreneur, and just one of those people that brought everybody together,” Guedri said. He described his friend as an “outgoing listener.”

“He would listen intently to everything his best friend or a stranger on the street would say. But he was absolutely a talker as well.”

One of the things Z liked talking about was social justice. One evening in 2007, he was at a fundraising event for Food Not Bombs at New York Deli in Carytown. While crossing the Boulevard Bridge to return to his Southside home, Police believe Zanin fell from the bridge onto train tracks below.

“It was definitely a tough blow when he passed away,” Guedri said. “It made [his friends] realize how connected we all were with this one person.”

Z’s family asked that, in lieu of flowers, people send donations to Art 180, which provides art-related programs to youth living in challenging circumstances. “That’s what put Jonny Z on [Art 180’s] radar,” Guedri said.

Even his employer wanted to contribute to Z’s remembrance. “He was employed part-time at Joe’s Inn at the time of his death, so they were very much invested in honoring his legacy somehow,” Guedri said. “And Art 180 became invested in taking some of the funds that were donated in his memory and having an actual [art project] with young people.” Art 180 organized students to paint a mural honoring Z on the side of Joe’s Inn. Z’s friends created an additional mural nearby. “We realized that, while these murals are really nice” it wasn’t what Jonny would have done. “Jonny would have had a party,” he said. “So we definitely went more toward that route.”

Art 180 organized the first Jonny Z Festival in 2008. That year, and each year since, the festival shut down the 200 block of N. Shields Avenue (outside Joe’s Inn) to host children’s activities, live music, Bizarre Market vendors, WRIR DJs, food trucks, and raffles. “It’s really just a big, very consolidated, condensed block party,” Guedri said. “And that’s really what the festival has been, as much as it celebrated art and music and friendship and community, all these things Jonny loved, what he really loved was having all of his friends–brand new and old–all in one place.”

“This year, I think it’s going to be even bigger than it has been ever.”

Unrelated to the Jonny Z Festival, Art 180 has put on another yearly event. “The Big Show is annual showcase that we have each spring to highlight our spring programs in the community: schools, community centers, and whatnot–where we have local artists partner up with these sites and work on a specific project in a specific medium.”

But Art 180’s new location inspired the nonprofit to combine both events. “We’re at our new space on 114 W. Marshall Street in Jackson Ward, and we’ve really become connected to the neighborhood here,” Guedri said. “We saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between” the separate crowds at The Big Show and the Jonny Z Festival. If Art 180 were to “bring those two together and make one big event, than it could be something really special for the community.”

The Really Big Show will feature the typical Jonny Z Festival staples (Bizarre Market vendors, WRIR DJs, food trucks), as well as activites representing art projects done by local students. “The cool thing about the activities is that they’re going to be run by the youth who are exhibiting work, and each activity will tie specifically to their project.”

For instance, students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School will show off a video game they’ve created; St. Andrew’s School students will lead activities around designing family crests; and Lucille Brown Middle School students will explore improv theater, among many others. There will even be a Jonny Z tent run by friends “to take you through his process of art making,” Guedri said.

The event will be held in Abner Clay Park this Saturday from 1:00 – 5:00 PM.

If people can’t attend this year’s new event, Guedri encourages people to visit Art 180’s new space. “I’m always happy to give someone a tour,” he said.

Now the seventh year that Art 180 and the city has honored his friend’s legacy, Guedri believes Jonny Z still affects people. “When I see his friends motivated to do all these creative endeavors within the community and kind of push themselves out of their comfort zone to just do things, I see a lot of Jonny’s influence on them,” he said. “On us.”

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Nathan Cushing

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

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