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Richmond’s Institute for Contemporary Art celebrates third anniversary

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art recently celebrated its third anniversary after a year marked by a four-month pandemic closure and declining attendance.

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By Anya Sczerzenie

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond recently celebrated its third anniversary after a year marked by a four-month pandemic closure and declining attendance.

The institute hosted a “Lunch & Launch” event in late April to commemorate the milestone and to preview upcoming exhibits. Previously featured artists spoke at the event. Guests previewed the upcoming exhibit “It Will Always Come Back to You,” by Cairo-based artist Ibrahim Ahmed, who creates work based on textiles and other mediums. Ahmed’s exhibition will feature a large sculpture commissioned by the ICA.

The institute opened in April 2018 with the exhibition “Declaration,” which featured more than 30 artists and ran through September 2018. “Declaration” was the institute’s first and most well-attended exhibition, according to Dominic Willsdon, ICA executive director. “Declaration” featured the most artists in an ICA exhibition and was the only exhibit to take up the entire institute.

The New York Times previewed the ICA in 2018 and lauded the institute’s potential to grapple with “pressing social issues” from its “historic pivot point” on the corner of a Richmond intersection that “once marked the boundary between Black and white communities.” Almost two years after it opened, USA Today named the ICA a top 10 best new museum—the only art museum on the list.

Willsdon said over the past three years an increasingly large portion of the artwork on display is commissioned specifically for the institute.

“Almost every exhibition involves commissioning new work,” Willsdon said. “The ICA doesn’t just show art of the past but brings new art into the world.”

Attendance at the ICA decreased in the second year of operation. It went down from over 100,000 in its first year to just over 54,000 in the second year, according to the ICA. The attendance figures are from April to April of each year. Willsdon said this was anticipated.

“The second year after a museum opens, it’s going to go down a little bit,” Willsdon said. “It didn’t go down quite as much as it might have.”

The institute’s attendance decreased to just over 10,000 in its third year, mostly because of the four-month closure at the start of the pandemic and the fact that no in-person events were hosted, according to the ICA.

Willsdon considers “Great Force,” which ran in the ICA’s second year, the institution’s keynote exhibit. It featured 24 artists and explored the theme of white and Black racial forces in the United States. It was on display from October 2019 to January 2020.

“Great Force has a special significance for us, in terms of the themes that recur in other exhibitions,” Willsdon said. “I found myself calling it a keynote in terms of the way it embodies what we’re about.”

The ICA has also featured art by VCUarts faculty members, such as Guadalupe Maravilla’s “Disease Thrower.” Maravilla, an assistant professor in the VCU School of the Arts, created the sculptures and banners in the exhibit to discuss themes of illness and immigration.

The ICA has never shown work by VCU students, but Willsdon said it’s “not impossible” that they will do so in the future.

“About half of our visitors are affiliated with VCU,” Willsdon said. “We’re really happy about interest in the student community.”

The ICA also closed in March when other businesses throughout Virginia were shuttered due to COVID-19. It reopened in July 2020. The ICA currently hosts in-person exhibitions as well as online events.

The ICA recently entered into a partnership with Virginia Public Media to create a podcast recording studio and workspace within the institute, though COVID-19 halted construction plans. After several months of online-only programming, construction on the podcasting studio is slated to begin in June and end in August, according to VCU assistant professor Chioke I’Anson. He is the director of the community podcasting space, which will have a soft opening on Sept. 10.

I’Anson aims for the studio to be accessible to people who want to start a podcast but may not have resources such as recording and editing equipment. The studio launched virtually, which has gone well despite the lack of a physical location, I’Anson said.

“We’ve had what we call ‘skill share’ sessions where one person shares their own lessons and everybody talks about it,” I’Anson said. “We have producers’ institutes, where we bring a guest from a podcast network to give a workshop on a particular editing technique.”

I’Anson said the focus has been on Richmond creators, but the center is “open to really anyone with an internet connection.”

Willsdon said his goals for the ICA’s future are to bring in more international artists and experiment with more tactile and interactive exhibits.

“We’ve actually thought more and more about tactile material exhibition,” Willsdon said. “We’re always looking at screens. Museums can be where a different type of experience is offered.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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2nd Street Festival Announces 2021 Headliner Plunky & Oneness

For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist, songwriter and producer J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, R&B, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness.

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The 2nd Street Festival will return this fall, live and in person, Saturday – Sunday, October 2-3. Marking its 33rd year, the festival celebrates the rich culture of the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood in Downtown Richmond. This FREE event is produced by Venture Richmond Events.

Over the years, it has grown to be one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest street festivals. In 2019, thousands visited historic Jackson Ward to reminisce about the days when 2nd Street was the heart and soul of Richmond’s African-American community and was known as “the Harlem of the South.” Today, Jackson Ward continues to be a thriving neighborhood and community. The 2nd Street Festival is an annual celebration and homecoming over two days that features three stages of live musical entertainment along with a Kidz Zone, popular food vendors, a marketplace and Artists Row to shop, and the Richmond Metropolitan Antique Car Club.

This year the festival features headliner Plunky & Oneness on Saturday, October 2. Many other great artists will be showcased over the two-day event.

Saturday’s Headliner, Plunky & Oneness

J. Plunky Branch
For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist, songwriter and producer J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, R&B, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness. As a native Richmonder, he was mentored by local R&B musicians and music educators, including jazz violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr.

Along with his band, Plunky & Oneness, he has appeared in concert with some of the biggest names in Black music, including Patti Labelle, Ray Charles, Earth Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly & Maze, LL Cool J, Chuck Brown, and more. His song “Every Way But Loose” was a top-ten soul music chart hit in London in the 1980’s and his hit single, “Drop,” was released in 2007. He also wrote “2nd Street Jaunt,” a song that Venture Richmond used in TV commercials promoting the 2019 festival.

In addition to being a veteran saxophonist, J. Plunky Branch has served as an administrator, lecturer and teacher. Plunky is a two-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowships and in 2017 was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force for the Promotion of the Arts in Virginia. Throughout his career Plunky has entertained and taught thousands, and in the process, has developed a broad and loyal following.

More information on the 2nd Street Festival and additional artists performing will follow later this summer as we continue to follow CDC and state guidelines for Covid-19 protocol for large outdoor events. A commitment to safety and adherence to local, state, and federal ordinances and guidelines is crucial.

For up-to-date information about the 2nd Street Festival, please visit: https://venturerichmond.com/our-events/2nd-street-festival-2021/

The 2nd Street Festival is presented by Dominion Energy, Altria, NewMarket Corp., and the City of Richmond

The 2nd Street Festival is sponsored by Virginia Union University, Brown Distributing, CoStar
Group, Community Foundation, Radio One Richmond, NBC12 and CW Richmond

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New murals add a splash of color to Willow Lawn

A mural project recently wrapped up at Willow Lawn, where several new murals painted by acclaimed Richmond-based muralist Ed Trask are on display throughout the shopping center.  

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A mural project recently wrapped up at Willow Lawn, where several new murals painted by acclaimed Richmond-based muralist Ed Trask are on display throughout the shopping center.

Richmond-based marketing agency Rocket Pop and Trask collaborated on the design of the murals, which represent Richmond, the history of Willow Lawn, and birds, a common element in Richmond’s populated mural scene.

The project incorporates Richmond skylines and the James River – acknowledging Richmond is known as the river city – and the Blue Ridge mountains.

“There is no better means to connect with people than through art,” said Deirdre Johnson, Vice President of Asset Management.  “This mural provides a unique photo opportunity by featuring elements of the community, environment, and history while engaging with customers as they enter the property from Monument Avenue.”

Willow Lawn, Richmond’s first shopping center, originally opened in 1956. “We incorporated the Willow Lawn arch signage from the 1960s as a nod to the long-standing history of the center,” says Cara Dickens, president of Rocket Pop. “For many Richmonders, Willow Lawn is a nostalgic landmark.”

The birds are meant to give a lighthearted, cheerful vibe. Trask often incorporates birds into his murals and specifically incorporated Virginia’s state bird, the cardinal, into the Willow Lawn project.

“Birds represent everything from environmental health to freedom to a sense of place, but in Richmond, they often convey the fact that Richmond is an urban city with a ton of green space, nature, parks, rivers – a connectedness to the nature around us,” says Trask. “I often use birds to convey a connection to nature, but also the direction the bird is facing is very purposeful in my work…they are looking toward what I want the viewer to look toward.”

Lighting elements were added to the mural to provide a three-dimensional component to the project. The mural design started in May of 2020 and was completed in June of 2021.

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Patrick Patrong named VMFA’s new Chief Diversity Officer

As Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives, Patrong will assist in leading EDIA strategies defined in VMFA’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and co-lead the museum’s commitment to the ONE Virginia Plan recently launched by the Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM).

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced the appointment of Patrick Patrong to the position of Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives. Patrong comes to VMFA with more than 25 years of experience as a public service leader.

Currently the lead facilitator for his consulting firm, Patrong Enterprises, Inc., he has also worked as Construction Training Manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation and Director of the Training, Education and Exercise Division for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. In addition, he led organizational diversity initiatives for seven professional schools of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, while serving as Director of Organization and Employee Development.

“Patrick has a solid background in implementing and managing diversity programs at several agencies in the public sector. We are delighted to have someone with his extensive experience joining the museum’s human resources team,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “Patrick will play a leading role taking VMFA’s EDIA initiatives to the next level and ensuring that the values of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility are fully integrated into everything the museum does and shared with all VMFA employees.”

As Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives, Patrong will assist in leading EDIA strategies defined in VMFA’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and co-lead the museum’s commitment to the ONE Virginia Plan recently launched by the Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM).

For more than a decade, VMFA has actively worked to diversify its collection, exhibitions, staff and audience. Building on the success of its previous strategic plan, the museum strives to become a more vibrant, inclusive cultural leader. The museum’s current strategic plan demonstrates its commitment to the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. VMFA’s vision is to be an institution that empowers all Virginians — through art and creativity — to reflect and connect to each other, their communities and the wider world.

“I am excited to join the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts team, to work with employees and the museum’s community on expanding the institutional EDIA initiatives. VMFA’s diverse organizational culture already has unique advantages when it comes to attracting diverse staff and visitors and developing museum exhibitions, art collections and programs that appeal to diverse communities,” said Patrong. “Communication, idea generation, creativity and connectivity are all enhanced through engagement with the museum’s representative communities.”

“Patrick’s knowledge and experience will help VMFA continue to advance towards instilling EDIA values and practices, becoming a more valuable and relevant community resource, and providing even greater access to the arts for all people in the Commonwealth,” said Kimberly Wilson, VMFA’s Chief Operating Officer and CHRO/Deputy Director for Human Resource Services, Museum Operations and Volunteers.

Patrong will begin his position at VMFA on July 26. For more information about VMFA’s strategic plan and EDIA initiatives visit www.VMFA.museum.

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