RVA Street Art Festival set to begin next week

The city is about to encounter another festival aimed at showcasing the talents of local and national muralists. What do Venice and Shepard Fairey have to do with the latest art event and what the city’s flood wall might look like?

  • Who: Over a dozen local and national artists, along with food and drink vendors.
  • What: Artists will paint custom murals and designs
  • When: Thursday, April 12 – Sunday, April 15th
  • Where: Shockoe Flood Wall Power Plant
  • Why: To create a street art “gallery” along the city’s James River Power Plant Building and Floodwall.

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The origin of the upcoming RVA Street Art Festival might surprise you. “It started when I was in Venice in 2009,” said Jon Baliles, one of the principal organizers of the event.

Baliles happened to visit Venice at the same time Shepard Fairey, a modern artist most famous for designing then-Senator Obama’s “HOPE” poster, painted amid the Venetian public. “I stood there and watched him work,” said Baliles. Over two days he watched the famed artist paint to raise money to restore Venetian buildings. “It was a great way to get a well-known artist to create public art.” Baliles thought about Richmond attempting something similar and let the idea simmer.

It wasn’t until April 2011, Baliles, who works at the city’s Department of Planning and Development Review, approached local artist Ed Trask about the idea. Well-known around town for his commissioned murals, the two had met during last year’s national Keep America Beautiful: The Great American Clean Up event. For that event, Trask painted a 100-foot mural below the I-95 overpass on Boulevard. Baliles said it was “just natural” to approach Trask about collaborating on a project for the city similar to what Baliles saw back in Venice.

“It was an amazing prospect,” said Trask, reflecting on his response to Baliles. “Anything that brought more public art out is a win for me.” Baliles and Trask began their search for a location.

After exploring and considering several sites, a roughly 250-foot stretch of wall—the city’s flood wall—caught the attention of both men. Baliles said that the stretch of bare wall leading from downtown to a former power plant on Brown’s Island can “turn into a huge art gallery.”

While some may see the mural art as encouraging others to deliberately blight property around the city, Trask believes the opposite. “You’re taking the illegality out of it,” he said about the event. He even sees it becoming a “graffiti deterrent.” Jon Baliles also thinks the murals will be nothing like the various graffiti eyesores scrawled across numerous parts of the city. “When people see the art,” said Baliles, “it’s the farthest thing from graffiti.”

The nearly 250-foot-long wall will allow ample room for muralists to paint. One of the artists invited to participate will be Richmond’s Mickael Broth. “Ed [Trask] and I work together occasionally,” said Broth, who said it’s always good to be involved in public art projects. “Beyond enjoying painting large scale works, it’s great to create work that engages the community and adds to the visual landscape of the city. Whether people realize it or not, public art is an incredibly important part of a vibrant community.”

While he doesn’t have a specific plan for his mural yet, Broth said that it will reference the old power plant building and the James River. He is also hopeful that the event will inspire the public to further embrace the arts. “Strong public art is vital to establishing a reputation as a creative hub. Hopefully this will encourage VCU and the city’s government and large corporations to show their support of more projects like this in the future.”

Baliles said that the US Army Corps of Engineers, which built and owns the flood wall, and the Department of Public Utilities, which manages it, have all “been great” in working with organizers to make the event happen.1 Cordish Company in Baltimore, which owns the Power Plant Building, has also been a very enthusiatic supporter of the project. Baliles thinks this support is indicative of the changing mindset of Richmond in how it embraces art. “The city has come a long way in the last three years,” said Baliles. “It’s a huge change.” “The sense of revitalization in a project like this is really exciting,” said Trask. “It’s crazy what public art will do.”

Both Baliles and Trask believe that the event will serve as a “catalyst” for other public art movements in the city and will inspire others to take on novel and unconventional projects. Not only for the sake of art, but to further distinguish Richmond from the rest of the country.

The RVA Street Art Festival will run April 13th – April 15th and will also feature local breweries, food, and music. There will be an artist Q/A at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday, April 12th. A list of participating artists can be viewed here.

This event, while unrelated, nicely complements the G40 Summit currently underway across the city.

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  1. Venture Richmond, Altria, HandsOn Greater Richmond, Troutman Sanders, Rutherfoord, and Art 180 are the principal backers and financiers of the event. 

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Nathan Cushing

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

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Liberty666 on said:

    There seems to be abundant robotic iconography coated in a standard color palette. Sterile is a word that comes to mind. Chris Milk is promising.

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