Street Art Fest site closed after assault

The violent actions of a few have forced the hand of the GRTC.

Update #6 — November 28, 2013; 8:35 AM

The abandoned GRTC bus depot, site of the 2013 RVA Street Art Fest, has been closed indefinitely after a violent assault that hospitalized a security guard last weekend. GRTC has closed the property to the public.

On Saturday night, several suspects allegedly trespassed on the property after the site was closed and began damaging the property. The suspects then allegedly assaulted the security guard. Police are investigating the crime as an aggravated assault.

Organizers of the RVA Street Art Fest wrote on Facebook:

We are outraged that such cowardly actions have led to the closing of the site and understand GRTC’s decision. It was our goal to revitalize the area and GRTC property using creativity and art with the hope of changing the expectation of its use as a future neighborhood asset. We did not intend for the actions of a few criminals resorting to such horrible violent behavior to negate the hard work and many hours that GRTC, ourselves, the great artists, and countless others put in to rejuvenating this historically vital spot.

Organizers added: “We will work with the GRTC to reevaluate the use of the property in the future but for the time being the site will remain closed.” 

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Update #5 — September 22, 2013; 9:40 AM

The old GRTC bus depot has reopened to visitors who want to see the murals and sculptures made during the recent RVA Street Art Festival. The site had been closed due to liability concerns (see below).

“We are going to be able to have the site open for pedestrian traffic only,” said Stephen McNally, a project administrator for GRTC. “We worked through the liability issues, and we’re able to allow folks to come on site.”

The public can enter through the Grayland Avenue gate between 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM seven days a week. No vehicles or parking are allowed on the premises.

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Update #4 — September 19, 2013; 6:20 AM

Judging by the number of tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebook chatter, last week’s RVA Street Art Festival was a success.

“I thought it was pretty amazing,” said a pleased Councilman Jon Baliles (District 1), one of the organizers of the festival. “There really was something for everybody.”

Unfortunately, now that the festival is over, the site is closed to the public. The reason? Liability. “It really comes down to the lawyers and the insurance,” Baliles said.

Unlike last year’s festival at the Shockoe power plant building and flood wall that still remains open, the new murals at the old GRTC bus depot are now inaccessible to the public. That’s because GRTC would be on the line if any site visitor got hurt.

“We are self-insured, so we are very concerned about bodily harm, accidents…those kinds of things,” said Stephen McNally, project administrator for GRTC and steward of the abandoned bus depot where the festival took place. “All of those liability concerns are very real with us.”

In addition to injury concerns, the GRTC also contracts building space out to the Richmond Trolley Company, which stores vehicles on the property. If one of their vehicles were to be damaged as a result of opening the site, GRTC would be accountable. Moreover, the GRTC is undergoing an environmental remediation process on select parts of the site, areas the public needs to avoid.

These liability issues were dealt with for the length of the festival, but not for the immediate aftermath. “Our goal was making the festival a success, and we really didn’t have time to worry about after the festival,” Baliles said.

But he said that the GRTC was “absolutely phenomenal” to work with in the lead up to the festival. “They practically moved heaven and earth to make that site workable,” he said. So he’s confident that some sort of arrangement can be made to reopen the depot to the public.

“I’m on board with Jon with this,” McNally. Later this week, he’ll meet with the company’s CEO and director of risk management to discuss how that might happen. To do so, some sort of liability insurance must be obtained, as well as possibly employing someone to monitor the site.

“I am optimistic that we can get it resolved,” McNally said.

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Update #3 — September 10, 2013; 7:36 AM

The RVA Street Art Festival kicks off its second year this Wednesday at the former GRTC bus depot. Over a dozen national artists will join over 24 Richmond muralists to transform the property. In addition to murals, this year’s festival will also include sculptures, mixed media installations, a bicycle obstacle course, and more.

“This is such a unique and different festival that offers so many different forms of art and creativity in one place and shows the transformational power of public art,” said local artist Ed Trask, who created the event with Councilman Jon Baliles (District 2) last year.

The site has already garnered positive attention before the official kick-off, with the ongoing interactive The Light of Human Kindness project. It’s just one of the several additions to take place at the site.

“We encourage people to come see the site in its rawest form during the week and then return on the weekend to watch color and creativity revitalize it before your very eyes,” said Jon Balies.

Here’s a preview of this year’s festival:

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Update #2 — August 20, 2013; 7:53 AM

Local artists will compete for space at this year’s RVA Street Art Festival by having a “paint off” during a festival pre-party on Wednesday at the former GRTC bus depot. Each artist will have a 6’ x 6’ space to create a mural. From those, jurors will decide which three artists will be awarded a larger canvas at next month’s festival (see below).

Pre-party attendees will be able to tour parts of the depot site, as well as contribute to a collaborative mural. Food trucks will also be on hand. The paint off is free and open to the public, and runs from 5:00 – 7:30 PM.

Here’s the release:

The RVA Street Art Festival returns to the former GRTC depot September 11-15, 2013, and will host a pre-party Wednesday, August 21 that will feature a “paint-off” of local artists who will each get a 6×6 space on the wall and a chance to earn a larger mural canvas at the festival.

A group of randomly chosen local creatives will jury the artists’ work and three will be chosen for a larger mural on a wall at the Festival in September alongside the other local, national, and international artists!

Attendees can also tour parts of the site that will be painted at the festival as well as take part in expressing their own artistic talent in creating a collaborative mural. They will also be able to support the festival through their IndiGoGo campaign where they can get autographed cans of Ironlak spray cans, high quality mural prints, and limited edition posters and T-shirts.

Admission to the pre party event is FREE and will include food trucks and the Taste of Local campaign. Proceeds from the festival benefit Art 180.

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Update #1 — March 20, 2013; 3:17 PM

“We always wanted to do a sequel,” said Councilman Jon Baliles (1st District), speaking today among the dilapidated buildings that make up the virtually deserted GRTC bus depot. A sequel to what? Last year’s RVA Street Art Festival, held at the Shockoe Flood Wall Power Plant.1

Baliles and his co-organizer, artist Ed Trask, approached the GRTC in January, asking to use the abandoned bus depot on Cary Street as a site for this year’s festival. The organizers expected the board to have reservations.

“They loved it,” Baliles said.

For the GRTC, the festival presents a “real opportunity to revitalize the site,” he said. “Revitalizing this space opens all sorts of opportunities until it’s sold,” something the GRTC will likely do in 2015 or 2016.

Not only will big-time street artists be present for the fall festival, but Baliles said local artists will also participate. “We’ll have local artists working side-by-side with the big names,” he said.

One difference from last year is that this year’s festival will also feature local and nationally-known sculptors. “We wanted to do it last year,” Baliles said, but he and Trask felt ill-prepared to recognize cutting-edge sculptors, let alone convince them to attend.

So this year they’ve recruited Vaughn Garland, a VCU doctoral candidate and creator of the acclaimed 2005 Manchester Sculpture Invitational event, to chisel a sculpture component into this year’s festival.

Not only will Vaughan work to entice and organize sculptors,2 but he’s currently working with the University of Richmond’s department of Arts and Sciences to create transportation-themed sound installations for the festival.

Buses themselves will also have a unique role in the event.

Co-organizer Ed Trask recalled a recent meeting with the GRTC board in which a board member offered the organizers eight new GRTC buses for artists to custom design. Trask didn’t believe it at first.

“I thought it was a joke,” he said. But later this summer, if all goes to plan, artists will cover the exterior of four running buses to promote the festival. During the festival itself, the exteriors of four additional buses will be covered.

Trask said the artists selected to design each bus will be chosen at a later date. Additional plans regarding artist lists, vendors, and other operational details will be made public in the coming months.


  1. Site of Friday’s TEDxRVA
  2. Which will likely include him leading artists through the bus depot to scrounge for parts to be used in sculptures. 

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Original — March 20, 2013

The 2013 RVA Street Art Festival will be held this September at the abandoned GRTC bus depot in the Upper Fan. Dozens of national and international artists will paint murals on trolley barns and create sculptures using on-site materials. Street artists will also paint four new GRTC buses this summer to promote the festival. Proceeds from the festival will benefit Art 180.

The co-organizers of last year’s festival, Councilman Jon Baliles (1st District) and artist Ed Trask, have teamed up this year with Vaughn Garland, a VCU graduate and co-organizer of the acclaimed Manchester Sculpture Invitational in 2005.

Organizers hope this year’s location–a historic transit hub for over 100 years–will not only inspire transportation themes in the art but will push conversations about transportation options in Richmond.

Among the list of invited artists:

Local artists will also participate. More names are expected to be announced in the coming months.

The RVA Street Art Festival will include local food trucks, Virginia wine, Bizarre Market artists, art activities for children, and public interaction. The festival will feature public art and sculpture sessions from September 11th – 15th and incorporate projects in collaboration with VCU and the University of Richmond.

A public forum will be held on September 12th, in which artists will discuss their work and the collaborative nature of art.

Photo by: Madison Price

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Nathan Cushing

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

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