Listening sessions begin for potential documentary center in Richmond

Photo by Andrew Ringle.

Andrew Ringle
Contributing Writer

Community members, journalists, photographers and filmmakers gathered Saturday to discuss the potential of creating a documentary center at 1708 Gallery.

The discussion was led by VCU alumna Kate Fowler, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in photography and filmmaking. She has since contributed to the Magnum Foundation in New York City and Appalshop, a media center located in Whitesburg, Kentucky. In both programs, Fowler focused on education, often working with young creators between the ages of 14 and 21.

The listening session covered a range of topics, including the potential center’s impact on the city, along with consideration of existing members in the local documentary community. The attendees discussed possible construction sites, especially weighing proximity to public transportation like GRTC Pulse — the transit line which runs along Broad Street.

Existing organizations mentioned in the discussion included the Richmond production company Fourth Line and Richmond Story House, a non-profit organization focused on documenting the stories of the local community.

“In Richmond, there’s a great fine art world for photography in marketing and commercial fields,” Fowler said. “But there are no spaces for documentary media makers to get together and collaborate outside of VCU.”

Fowler said the first listening session was intended to be a “landscape of the existing field.”  

“The goal was to determine what already exists and what could exist in the future,” she said.

The project was spearheaded by Fowler and Michael Beller, a Los Angeles creative who specializes in digital media and content marketing. Beller’s role in the potential documentary center is focused on including education within the facility structure.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the legacy we’re leaving for future generations. I believe that something like this, if done correctly, can be a beacon for the community at large,” Beller said. “It can be something which invites everyone to tell their story and document that story while having a conversation with other creators.”

The documentary center plans to include studio spaces, galleries for finished projects and a lending library of books and media equipment. It will serve as a place reserved for filmmakers, journalists, photographers, podcasters and any other creators of non-fiction media.

Among the participants in the discussion was Norma Haynes, a folk musician from Massachusetts and friend of Fowler’s. Haynes visited Richmond to attend the listening session and share her stories as an artist of traditional media.

“This project is about making the community into something you want it to become,” Haynes said. “And it has the potential to develop along with Richmond for years to come.”

Her perspective on the city as a visitor represented the way a documentary center might connect Richmond to the larger media world. That connection, Fowler said, makes a local documentary center more important than ever.

“I don’t just think Richmond should have a documentary center, I think every city and town should have one as well,” Fowler said. “Storytelling is important to democracy. We’re more empowered to be better citizens when we know how to tell our own stories and share our own media.”

The next listening session will be in November at Candela Gallery. An exact date has not been determined. 

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