RVA Street Art Festival livens the concrete giant

When the Richmond Flying Squirrels Diamond baseball stadium first opened in 1985 it received a series of awards for its unique modernist art-deco architectural designs. 32 years later, the stadium is harkening back to its creative roots by hosting the fourth annual RVA Street Art Festival.

From Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, the stadium’s signature concrete walls transformed into massives canvasses for over three dozens  artists to create and display public murals. Founded in 2012 by City Council member Jon Baliles and renowned street artist, Ed Trask, the Festival has become a staple for celebration of Richmond’s expansive mix media art scene.

“I’m from Oakland but moved to Richmond this year after being invited by the festival a few years ago,” said Mimi*, founder of the national all-women art collective skateboard crew, Few and Far Women. “Events like these always broaden your reach as an artist but really I’m always evolving as an artist and people here are interested in artistic and personal evolution.”

Mimi’s mural space was graffitied with the words, “Stay Positive,” summing up the overall mood of artists, attendees and vendors alike.

Holly Gordon, programs and operations manager for Hands On Greater Richmond, said the volunteer organization partnered with Street Art Festival this year year to end their week of service.

“Today alone we have around 1,400 volunteers throughout the Richmond area helping at various events,” Gordon said. “Not only are we bringing the volunteer element to Street Art but it’s just nice to see people who want to do good.”

RVA Street Festival offered a chance for kids and adults alike to interact with local art projects. Photography by Casey Cole.

The festival challenged the negative connotations of street art often displayed in mass media since the 1970’s with the advent of graffiti culture in urban centers like Richmond. This was done not only with the presence of volunteer organizations but with the decision to incorporate vendors like Richmond-based fashion brand Love This.

The owner of Love This, Rupa Singh, is an architect by trade but following 2008 financial crisis turned to community involvement which led to the creation of the company and it’s slogan, “shop goods that do good.” Singh’s company has its own quirk: it is completely based out of a large caravan.

“I curate the items I sell from color to shape to make sure it’s handmade products made by people or companies which give back to their community because art, fashion does has influence for change,” Singh said.

The festival featured dozens of vendors who captured Richmond’s street art culture in their own way. One of the vendors, Endeavor RVA, is known for its open studio space and draws a large crowd on First Fridays.

Three of Endeavor’s in-house artists, Ian Hess, Christina Wing Chow and Alex Beck, created a  massive mural near the the entrance portion of The Diamond. Chow, who goes by the artist name Wing Chow, said that her portion of the mural was completely improvised.

“It’s nice to have such a large public space to work with cause normally, when I’m doing a small canvass, space is so limited,” Chow said.

Each artist had only four days to create their murals start to finish. Thousands of attendees watched in awe and walked through the Diamond’s sprawling upstairs section to watch as the muralists immersed themselves in their work.

A big pull was a mural titled, “Phoebe,” created by well-known muralist, Nils Westergard, whose signature murals are  haunting portraits of women’s faces. Brian Gonnella created an ode to Richmond in a bright mural titled, “River City,” which featured everything from the James River to downtown. However, the festival was also giving novice painters and muralists a chance to shine as well.

Richmond native, Hassan Roberts, volunteered for the festival last year and was told this past Thursday that organizers wanted him to paint something.

“To give a chance to a a smaller artist who hasn’t done that much it shows what a kind town this is and how great it is and how much they love the art,” Roberts said.

Pedro Gabriel, a Bronx native who moved down to Richmond in an unexpected job relocation four years ago echoed Robert’s sentiments of the River City’s dedication to protecting and promoting artists.

“New York right now is trying to scrub all the art away but here it’s embraced,” Gabriel said. “I left the job, but I stayed in the city cause, I mean really look at all this talent that is being truly appreciated by this community and if we ever needed street art to resist the bullshit it’s now in my opinion.”

*chose to go by artist name

Siona Peterous, Spectrum Editor

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