Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor
A diamond-shaped mural with a teal Sankofa iconography-inspired image sits surrounded by thick red and yellow lines, creating color contrast that immediately catches the eye. The large mural funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative sits at the intersection of West Marshall Street and Brook Road.
In September, ART 180, Gallery5, Walter Parks Architects and the city of Richmond came together to begin the process of painting a large-scale painting on the street, which was funded by a grant meant to reimagine public spaces through artwork, according to the initiative’s website.
While over 200 different cities applied for this grant, Richmond was one of 16 cities chosen to pursue the project. The project is funded by the initiative’s $25,000 grant; Venture Richmond is also giving an extra $5,000 to the project.
Vaughn Garland, the director of community programs and partnerships at ART 180, said they decided the project should take place in Jackson Ward because of the complex history surrounding the area itself.
“Jackson Ward has a very unique history, a very important history that is sometimes overlooked,” Garland said.
The mural is a Sankofa image, which originates from the Akan people in Ghana, designed by local artist Chris Visions, located outside ART 180’s Atlas gallery. ART 180 is an organization that partners with Richmond Public Schools to develop a variety of free or low-cost programs for underprivileged students, allowing them to practice and cultivate their art skills. Visions is leading an ART 180 teen program taking place during the fall, and is also an Edward Dean Robinson Artist Residency teaching artist.
Gallery5 is an art center that exhibits progressive, innovative artwork located in Jackson Ward. Walter Parks Architects is an architectural company that specializes in “rehabilitation” projects of historic properties around Richmond.
The project includes three parts: the mural, a parklet and a pedestrian plaza. Garland said that while the main mural of the Sankofa image is completed at the intersection, the artists are planning on having a second phase of the project. The painting will continue down both Brook and Marshall streets and a pedestrian Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza will be redone in the next few weeks in partnership with Gallery5, according to Garland.
Garland said, as of right now, the entire project is set to be completed on Nov. 5. He said this project is important for Richmond because it gives people a connection through a communal space they all use — the streets.
“It’s important that Richmond continues to move forward in many ways that also includes the streetscape and what the streets look like, and returning some of those spaces back to public space,” Garland said.
He said that it was crucial to have an experienced artist like Visions because he brings a fresh interpretation of this project, allowing Visions to use his own experiences when overseeing the project.
“Not only is this a good thing for people to relax, which is the idea of the parklet, but it means something in terms of our vocabulary, our language going forward,” Garland said.
Garland said he thinks that this project will continue the conversation around improving more public spaces around Richmond for people to enjoy.
“It’s been an all-encompassing … one of those moments where we could see, potentially, projects like this in the future because now we’ve kind of set up a situation where we’ve learned from each other,” Garland said. “I think it’s been deeply rewarding in many ways.”
Zoe Perry, a painting and printmaking sophomore, stated she’s not surprised that Richmond has been recognized for its rich arts and culture because of the number of talented artists that reside here.
She stated she’s thrilled that ART 180 students were a part of the actual painting process because the arts are usually not considered essential, meaning a lot of young artists aren’t given many opportunities to cultivate their artistic talents. She stated it is important young artists are given the ability to do what they love.
“Art gives a way to communicate to all kinds of people since it transcends language and education level, and I know this isn’t a profound idea, but even those with visual or auditory disabilities can utilize art to communicate,” Perry stated in a direct message.
She stated this overall project has been beneficial for the Richmond arts community because it highlights both the talents of these students and the abundance of talent within the Richmond arts community. She stated that, as an artist herself, she knows how crucial practicing art can be for artistic growth and discovery.
Perry stated that she believes this project will highlight the diverse and expansive talent the Richmond arts community has, and will allow it to be showcased and appreciated beyond the city.
“I think this project will continue to push Richmond’s reputation of being a home for creative expression especially in terms of uplifting the voices of marginalized communities,” Perry stated.