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‘Black Space Matters’ exhibit transforms asphalt lot behind VCU ICA into garden

A local activist transformed a vacant lot outside the Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond to highlight issues of food security and the importance of Black and brown community spaces.

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By India Espy-Jones

A local activist transformed a vacant lot outside the Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond to highlight issues of food security and the importance of Black and brown community spaces.

The “Commonwealth” exhibit at Virginia Commonwealth University’s ICA features work from 10 artists including an outdoor installation created by activist and community farmer Duron Chavis who builds gardens throughout Richmond. The full exhibit seeks to examine how common resources influence the wealth and well-being of communities.

Chavis proposed the resiliency garden exhibit in 2019 during a public forum at the ICA. The resiliency garden—food grown to weather the tough times and to have food independence— is installed in an asphalt lot at Grace and Belvidere streets next to the ICA and features 30 raised beds of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

An extension of the garden exhibit is the “Black Space Matters” mural by Southside artist Silly Genius. A wall in the lot is painted, with fruit making the word Black and beneath the garden in big, yellow letters is “Space Matters.” The garden beds have historic quotes from civil rights leaders Kwame Ture and Malcolm X, among other activists.

“Black Space Matters means that Black people need space,” Chavis said. “We need space that is explicitly designed, planned, and implemented by Black and brown people.”

Chavis, along with a crew of volunteers, started building the garden on Aug. 10 while the ICA temporarily closed to install other exhibits.

“We invited him to think with us about how to activate a vacant lot next to the ICA,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA chief curator. “You could think about what it means to take a space and institutional resources, then give them over to an activist.”

Chavis seeks to address the lack of food access through his activism. Food insecurity, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” is an issue in Richmond’s low-income neighborhoods. The city had over 35,000 food insecure people in 2018, according to Feeding America, a network of more than 200 food banks.

“In a conversation about food justice, Black people are predominately impacted by lack of food access,” Chavis said. “We need space to address that issue.”

Low-income communities need access to resources and necessary skills to solve food wealth issues on their own, he said.

“We do not need anybody to come into our community to drop off food,” Chavis said.

He’s been doing work like this since 2012 and doesn’t have a hard count of how many garden beds have been built.

“Dozens, oh god, it’s all across the city,” he said.

Chavis amplified his efforts this year because of the pandemic. He fundraised and received a grant, according to a VPM report, to build over 200 resiliency gardens with the help of volunteers.

Quilian Riano, an architect at New York studio DSGN AGNC, designed the concept drawing for the ICA garden, which was envisioned as a public space for conversation and lecture. The completed garden is near identical to the original design except with an added texture and dimension, Riano said.

 The “Commonwealth” exhibit will be open until Jan. 17, 2021. After the exhibit ends, the gardens’ supplies and plants will be redistributed to other resiliency garden project locations throughout Richmond. Chavis collaborates with other groups and people to help people grow their own food during the pandemic.

Tickets to the indoor exhibitions can be reserved on the ICA website. Exhibits include a video performance by indigenous artist Tanya Lukin Linklater, Carolina Caycedo’s “Distressed Debt” and a sculpture by Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge.

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Arts & Entertainment

PHOTOS: Circle Center Adult Day Services unveils massive new mural

Richmond-based artist Nico Cathcart designed and painted the 75-foot wide mural.

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Local adult services provider Circle Center Adult Day Services will be unveiling an unprecedented work of art to its supporters on Wednesday, December 7th at 8:30 a.m.

Richmond-based artist Nico Cathcart designed and painted the 75’ wide by 18’ tall mural on Circle Center’s building at 4900 West Marshall Street near Willow Lawn. The mural features four people who attend Circle Center.

“It’s simply breathtaking in its size and in how well Nico captured the personalities of Mike, Elizabeth, Banoo, and Winston,” says Heather Turbyne-Pollard, Circle Center’s CEO. Nico collaborated with local artist and photographer Caroline Shelnut to bring her concept to life.

“Once I learned about Circle Center and witnessed the dignity and respect with which they treat everyone who attends their programs, I was inspired,” says Nico. “I reached out to Caroline because of her recent photography series.”

Caroline Shelnut, Creative Arts Coordinator for Hermitage Richmond, has taken over 30 Renaissance-inspired photographs of the residents with whom she works. “What I love about Renaissance art is that it features people of all ages,” said Caroline. She went on to say, “Whenever I photograph older adults, I want them to see themselves the way that I see them, as wonderful, valuable, and beautiful human beings.”

Circle Center’s unveiling will start at 8:30 a.m. on December 7th, rain or shine, and will include Nico signing the mural. In addition, Heather Turbyne-Pollard will interview Nico and Caroline about what Nico calls the “Age and Grace” mural. The four Circle Center participants who served as models will also be in attendance.

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Arts & Entertainment

New book chronicling Richmond’s music scene by local music journalist now available

Richmond music lover and former music journalist Andrew Cothern, better known in Richmond music circles as “RVA Playlist,” has announced the release of his first book, RVA Playlist: Stories from the Richmond, Virginia Music Scene.

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Richmond music lover and former music journalist Andrew Cothern, better known in Richmond music circles as “RVA Playlist,” has announced the release of his first book, RVA Playlist: Stories from the Richmond, Virginia Music Scene.

Cothern has been a music journalist, blogger, show goer, and champion supporter of the Richmond, Virginia music scene for nearly two decades. RVA Playlist: Stories from the Richmond, Virginia Music Scene shares more than 30 different stories of his life covering Richmond’s vibrant music scene from 2006 to 2016.

Highlights include him calling six bands by the wrong name in an interview, being embarrassingly drunk at a growing pop icon’s live performance, and trying to figure out why live music shows never start on time.

From the MashUp web series to Friday Cheers to the Ghost of Pop festival to the multiple RVA Playlist Anniversary Parties and more, this book is Cothern’s love letter to the RVA music scene.

RVA Playlist: Stories from the Richmond, Virginia Music Scene is available now in paperback and eBook. Click here to order online.

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Arts & Entertainment

VMFA acquires extensive photography book collection

“This collection is a transformative donation and has greatly increased our holdings in the subject areas of American and European photography,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO.

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced the gift of a significant library of more than 2,000 American and European photography books, donated by Barry and Gretchen Singer.

“This collection is a transformative donation and has greatly increased our holdings in the subject areas of American and European photography,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “These books are already proving invaluable to exhibitions developed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and this gift further supports the museum’s future photography galleries that are being planned as part of our current expansion project.”

Barry Singer has been one of the country’s leading photography gallerists with a prominent gallery in Petaluma, California, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century photography. “A 2019 conversation with Alex at Paris Photo about the future of my large library of photography books led to my decision to give the collection to VMFA,” said Singer. “I knew that the museum would be able to ensure their care and value their importance, and that the books would be fundamental to VMFA’s other collections and exhibitions.”

Several significant monographs and reference books have been added to the general collection at VMFA’s Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library, and many exceptional photography books and periodicals, including first editions and signed copies, are now part of VMFA’s rare book collection. The Singers’ gift includes the first edition of Robert Frank’s The Americans, published as Les Américains by Robert Delpire in 1958, Josef Sudek Fotografie by Czech film and photography critic Lubomír Linhart, published in 1956, and a first edition of Naked City by legendary photojournalist Weegee, published in 1945.

“This donation is especially relevant because the books relate directly to photographs in VMFA’s collection,” said Lee Ceperich, Director of Library and Special Collections at VMFA. “The library exists to support research about the art collection, tell stories and make connections between the art and the widest audience possible.”

Sarah Kennel, the museum’s Aaron Siskind Curator of Photography and Director of the Raysor Center, notes that many of these rare photography books will augment VMFA’s exhibitions. “One of the most important ways that photography has circulated in the past century is through the photo book, so these very rare editions are an exciting expansion to our holdings and allow us to better show how photography has shaped modern culture.” Included in the donated collection are two books featuring works by Ansel Adams, Michael and Anne in the Yosemite Valley (1941) and The Four Seasons in Yosemite National Park: A Photographic Story of Yosemite’s Spectacular Scenery (1940) — both of which appeared in VMFA’s traveling exhibition Ansel Adams: Compositions in Nature. Additionally, other books from the collection were used to inform the development of the museum’s exhibition Man Ray: The Paris Years and still others will be featured in the upcoming exhibition American, Born Hungary planned to open at VMFA in 2024.

VMFA’s Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library and Special Collections is the most comprehensive art museum research library in the southeastern United States. With more than 150,000 volumes and 200 periodical titles, it provides important resources for the study of art. The library’s archives and rare book holdings include primary source material related to the history and activities of VMFA, the museum’s art collection, the history of art and artists in Virginia.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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