The Arts District levels up in time for the race

The Downtown Neighborhood Association is preparing for the Big Bike Race™—an altered schedule, a party vibe, and a new website that’ll help both locals and tourists navigate their way around.

First Fridays has to have been one of the smartest moves made by a neighborhood in this city in order to up its own profile and attract both businesses and visitors. Over the past decade, Richmonders have seen the Broad Street corridor between Belvidere and, say, 8th or 9th Streets grow from seedy to chic. Galleries and businesses (namely creative ones) were the first wave–making an Artwalk worth your while–and then came a surge of restaurants, hotels, venues, and retail boutiques.

For the last three years, the Downtown Neighborhood Association has run the event, which has become a symbol of a neighborhood that is strategically and passionately invested in itself. Meghan Barbato, Director of First Fridays, thinks that’s the key to continued growth and success. “Nobody accidentally opens a business on Broad Street–people purposefully invest time and money to be here,” she says.

What are some of the ways the DNA and FF are strategically strategizin’? Here’s a good “Did you know?” for your fellow RVA enthusiasts.

First Fridays purposefully does not pursue street closings during their monthly event, which could be assumed to be because it’s a long, slow, and potentially expensive process with the City. In actuality, the DNA simply doesn’t want the event to live in people’s minds as a huge pain in the ass. We’d have to drive around it, parking would suck more, we might have cars towed that day because we forgot to come clear out…the whole idea behind First Fridays is to get people to experience the area as a place they want to visit on the regular. They don’t want you to think that the streets have to be closed off in order for you to get over to ADA Gallery.

Barbato met with me to show me a brand-new website for the Arts District1 that she, for good reason, believes will help attract even more Richmonders to visit the neighborhood’s welcoming shores, er, sidewalks. It’s not just any neighborhood website–it has a super easy-to-use calendar, a slick map feature, and a nice little weekend snapshot so you can get some ideas. Plus, it’s all very visual, which is particularly key for a district with “art” in its name.

“Concierges [in surrounding hotels] didn’t know where to send people,” says Barbato of the folks in charge of entertaining visitors. “They were sending them to Short Pump when there are so many restaurants and shops right within walking distance.”

Now, tourists and locals alike can view the entire district, which has a wonky shape that juts out over here to grab the Richmond Ballet and sticks out over there to make sure it incorporates the ICA. If they search for a restaurant, they’ll see other places within walking distance of that restaurant–you could conceivably get yourself a little point-by-point adventure together by using the map efficiently!

And it doesn’t just lead people to “places with doors,” as Barbato puts it. The area’s public art spaces (such as the Bojangles statue) are singled out as well.

Gearing up for the Big Bike Race™

By the time the billions2 of visitors line the streets for the Bike Race, Broad Street will have packed itself with as many pop-ups and shops as it can muster, turning its best face to the world. The district will host the finish line of the races, so the amount of potential attention from visitors and locals alike should not be underestimated.

To that end, the Arts District is wholeheartedly embracing the event and capitalizing on the opportunity for fantastic PR. September this year will have a First Fridays Artwalk and another one on the Last Friday of the month, September 25th. Yes, do not let your mind explode. There will be two first Fridays in one month—in order to coincide with the race and get those people who have been milling around the area to quit milling and start…whatever the more active, engaged version of milling is.

If you’re doing your math, the October Artwalk will be–yep–the very next week! Two First Fridays in a row!

It’s not mayhem, it’s strategy again. The DNA has garnered support from most of the neighborhood businesses to throw a wrap party for the city on October 2nd, as much to say that “We made it through the race!”3 as to say to those who skipped town, “Come on down to the Arts District and see what it looks like when we get dressed up for the world.”

  1. Designed by the wizards at INM United, a former Arts District business itself. 
  2. Not a real or even a cumulative number of spectators. 
  3. Always assuming we do, folks. Always assuming we do. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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