Local gallery owner finds visitors’ inner artist

ADA Gallery opened 15 years ago. The gallery’s name alludes to the owner’s grandmother, who inspired him to become an artist. Photo by Raelyn Fines.

Tirtha Ratnam, Contributing Writer

The diversity and intrigue of works within ADA Gallery is enough to entice any art aficionado through its doors, but part of the ADA experience is credited to the warm enthusiasm of its owner. Artist, curator and frequent speech-giver, John Pollard, is the man behind the gallery on West Broad Street.

Pollard decided to create his own gallery after graduating from San Francisco Art Institute, but unexpected events caused him to leave for Virginia.

I was about to create a gallery space when my landlord suddenly sold our building and gave me short notice,” Pollard said. “So I decided that was a sign to move and [I] came home and began painting in Richmond before deciding to try the gallery idea again.”

Then, ADA Gallery was born. The name is an homage to his grandmother, Ada, who always supported the idea of him becoming an artist.

Pollard adopted his grandmother’s attitude of embracing the arts, and his gallery now serves as a haven for people of all backgrounds.

“I really love the people that come in,” Pollard said. “So often in the neighborhood, Jackson Ward, many of the people coming in have never been in a gallery, so they’re not sure what to make of the art and they’re not even sure if they can come in.”

Pollard makes it a point to encourage anyone who enters the gallery to create art. Visitors can expect engaging conversation with Pollard on their artistic capabilities. His motivational words have reached some unexpected audiences.

“Once, Solange Knowles came in and, unfortunately for her, I launched in on my motivational art speeches and art advice for her teenage niece,” Pollard said. “She laughed at almost all of my bad jokes and nodded in [approval] of my advice.”

Pollard didn’t initially recognize the celebrity artist, until Knowles revealed her identity in a request for images.

“I literally fell to my knees when she left, embarrassed that I gave her the full ‘Church of John’ art speeches,” Pollard said.

Pollard’s conscious effort to curate pieces beyond the standard contemporary aesthetic offers something in the gallery for everyone to appreciate.

“I curate what I love,” Pollard said. “I try to show a range of work, but as a painter myself, I seem to have a focus on painting and drawing … I just look for art that speaks to me as being authentic, honest and bold.”

After 15 years of operation, Pollard said that ADA Gallery has been embraced and shaped by the VCUarts community.

“So many students have stayed over the years after graduating,” Pollard said. “So the connection to and importance of art in so many Richmonders’ lives is very palpable.”

Pollard’s future plans are to enjoy the company of the gallery’s visitors and to continue making art of his own.

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