Richmond Night Market celebrates community, emphasizes creativity during in-person season

An artist works on a painting at the Richmond Night Market’s live art Maker Space. The event took place every second Saturday of the month during its July to November season. Photo by Lily Doshi

Jiana Smith, Staff Writer

When Adrienne Cole Johnson and Melody Short co-founded the Richmond Night Market in 2019, their goal was placemaking creating a space in which marginalized communities, namely women and people of color, could see themselves represented in the city’s growing arts scene, according to Johnson.

“We wanted to remind folks that we are here, and we belong here,” Johnson said. 

The Richmond Night Market takes place every second Saturday of the month from 5-9 p.m. during its seasonal run from July to November. It features live music, children’s activities, a vendor marketplace and a live painting section called the Maker Space.

Despite the cloudy weather on Saturday, people of all ages gathered at the Richmond Night Market in Shockoe Bottom in search of live music and unique items ranging from jewelry to candles. This month’s market was the organization’s fourth gathering this year. All markets for the 2021 season, which started in July, have been held in person. 

Johnson said the Night Market team was excited to return to an in-person format.

“I think what a lot of people have been missing is the ability to engage and build community, so it’s nice to get back to that this year,” Johnson said.

In 2020, the organization shifted the Shockoe Bottom-based market into a virtual event due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in March and the instatement of state mandates that prohibited large gatherings.

The virtual markets were livestreamed through platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and through the Richmond Night Market website, featuring virtual interviews with vendors. 

Johnson said she attributes the success of the 2020 virtual markets to customers’ desires to connect with friends and family during the pandemic. 

“I think the need to connect with those you love was so much more important, so you found people getting really creative and doing some unique gift giving,” Johnson said. 

Shockoe Bottom, the Richmond neighborhood where the monthly event takes place, was an intentional and significant setting choice for Johnson and Short. In the 19th century, it hosted one of the largest slave markets in the country, according to Johnson.

“When you look at what it was juxtaposed with what it is, we really wanted to honor the history in a way where we’re hopeful that we’re making our ancestors proud, to be honest,” Johnson said.   

Ron Brown, who has attended each market this year, said he enjoys interacting with vendors and other guests. 

“It’s a nice, friendly atmosphere, great music, and the people who have put this together have done a great job,” Brown said. “Every time they have it, I come out.” 

Changes have been made to the Richmond Night Market to prioritize participant safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Johnson. Besides encouraging guests to wear masks and social distance, organizers have reduced the number of vendors for the market this year from around 40 to about 25. They have also shortened the season from April through December to July through November, according to Johnson.

“We always suggest that people follow the proper mitigation strategies, and that we are mindful of our interactions and dealings, because we are still in a pandemic,” Johnson said.

The Maker Space specifically has seen a transformation as a part of new safety measures. Before the pandemic, the area was an interactive art space where guests could create together on one large art board. This year, the Maker Space has been highlighting local Richmond artists, who are tasked with creating a piece live at the market.  

This month’s featured artist is Amiri Richardson-Keys, a VCU painting and printmaking senior and co-founder of the Artists Revealed Through Service (ARTS) Community Center in Midlothian. The community center hosts arts-based community events for all ages.

Richardson-Keys said he was “honored and humbled” when he was selected to be this month’s featured artist for the Maker Space.

“There are so many wonderful creators and artists in the Richmond area,” Richardson-Keys said. “To be selected as one they saw fit, that they would like to be a part of their event, I’m very grateful for that.”

Live music was provided by DJ Liphe, DMV rapper Cane and R&B artist PHNX. Brewer’s Sessions, which records live sessions of Richmond music artists at Brewer’s Cafe, recorded for the premiere of their fourth season. 

Vendor and abstract muralist Ron Stokes said that he plans to continue attending Richmond Night Market events in the future.

“I think the city of Richmond loves it,” Stokes said. “I hope it just gets bigger and bigger.”

For the market schedule and list of participating vendors, visit richmondnightmarketva.com.

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