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VMFA announces international firm SmithGroup will design museum’s new $190 million wing

The firm’s portfolio features several national museum projects including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collections and Conservation Center in Maryland, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, as well as the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

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Following its recent Board of Trustees meeting, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced that the integrated design firm SmithGroup has been selected to design the museum’s upcoming $190 million expansion and renovation project. The decision follows a comprehensive international search.

SmithGroup will be charged with designing a new wing at VMFA with state-of-the-art gallery spaces for African art, photography, and 21st-century art, as well as a second major exhibition space and a special events space with dining facilities that can seat up to 500 guests on the garden-level ground floor. The new wing will also provide a welcoming entrance to and from the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden to encourage visitors to enter and enjoy the museum.

In addition to the new wing, large parts of the existing building will be renovated to include improved gallery spaces for the permanent collection, increased facilities for art storage, new education classrooms, and upgrades to the Leslie Cheek Theater, Evans Court, and the 1936 Entrance. The expansion and renovation project will also support the museum’s commitment to enhancing the visitor experience and the institution’s strategic plan which calls for offering a range of curator-led, visitor-centered art experiences that engage, captivate and delight a diverse audience.

“We are thrilled to have SmithGroup on board and excited to collaborate with their visionary team on this exciting building project,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “The firm has demonstrated expertise in planning and designing dynamic, engaging museum environments. SmithGroup’s spirit of collaboration; its profound commitment to the same values that guide VMFA — diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; its first-hand knowledge of Richmond and Virginia; and its drive for innovation make them an exceptional choice for VMFA’s ambitious expansion and renovation project.”

An award-winning international firm, SmithGroup’s extensive portfolio features several impressive national museum projects including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collections and Conservation Center in Maryland, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, as well as the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. SmithGroup is currently designing the re-envisioned Thomas Gilcrease Museum of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The firm’s work is recognized locally as well. SmithGroup designed the concept for the National Slavery Museum at the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site/Devil’s Half Acre for the City of Richmond.

“VMFA’s mission for education throughout the Commonwealth and the region; its commitment to displaying and preserving its extraordinary collections, including African and African American Art; its dedication to advancing Black and women artists; and its culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility resonated with each of us on the project team,” said Jamē Anderson, SmithGroup’s Cultural Practice Director and Principal in Charge. “We believe this is a pivotal time for museums and recognize that the process and the physical design of a cultural entity speak volumes about its values.”

This marks the fifth expansion project VMFA has undertaken since the museum’s opening in 1936. Currently, the museum, one of the top ten comprehensive art museums in the U.S., comprises 650,000 square feet. The latest expansion plans call for a new wing that will provide an additional 100,000 square feet of total space, as well as a new stand-alone Collections Center building to be located on VMFA’s campus. This new facility of 40,000 square feet will house the museum’s conservation department, as well as registration and art storage. In addition to new construction, the museum will carry out approximately 45,000 square feet of renovations to the existing building to create a seamless visitor experience and meet the museum’s current and future needs for the permanent collection. The renovations include transforming the museum’s former library into the Frank Raysor Center, a dedicated photography, prints, and drawings study center, comprising a study room for scholars, curators, and professors, and students from local colleges and universities, as well as matting and framing, and compact storage for the museum’s growing collection of nearly 26,000 works on paper.

“SmithGroup presented us with an inspired proposal that dovetailed beautifully with our desire to reimagine and transform the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” said Michael R. Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, who is the Project Director for the expansion and renovation project. “SmithGroup’s passion for our institution, including our collection, staff, and mission, was obvious during the selection and interview process. Their blend of technical expertise balanced with their exceptional conceptual ability makes them the ideal design partner and we look forward to our collaboration with them on this landmark building project.”

With the selection of SmithGroup, VMFA’s project will begin with a discovery and design phase, which is expected to take approximately 24 months. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2023, with the new wing tentatively slated for completion in the summer of 2025. As the museum’s expansion project progresses, updates will be available at www.VMFA.museum.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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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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Weekend Radar: Kicking, Barding, Ice Cream, Summerween, Forbidden, and Reptiles

Our picks for what to do on what promises to be a steamy weekend.

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On The Radar

Kickers vs Ft. Lauderdale – The Kickers had a week of rest after an exciting 3-2 victory two weeks ago. The boys are fighting for to climb up the table. This game is against the worst team in the league so this has the potential of being another high-scorer. Ft. Lauderdale is the affiliate team of Inter Miami of the MLS which is owned by David Beckham. Maybe he’ll make the trip up to check on his youngsters. The odds of this happening currently sit at 0.00001%, so there is a chance.

  • City Stadium | 3201 Maplewood Ave. | Gates Open 5 PM Kickoff 6:30 PM Saturday, July 17th | $9 – $18 | Tickets

Richmond Shakespeare Festival – Bond with the Bard in a pretty nice location. Bring your lawn chair or blanket and join us on Agecroft Hall’s magnificent back lawn where you can sit as close to (or as far from) other patrons as you like! You’ll have a great view of the James River, the summer sky, the stage and, of course, Agecroft Hall’s beautiful facade. You can check out the sorta well-known Twelfth Night but I’m intrigued by the description of The Bottom Show. The latter comes with this warning: This show is devoid of anything vaguely intellectual, serious or romantic. Contains low-brow humor and semi-popular music.

  • Quill Theater | 4305 Sulgrave Rd | 7:30 – 10:00 PM Thursday thru Sunday, July 8th – August 15th | $33 Adults, $28 Seniors and Groups (10+) $20 Students | Tickets

Under The Radar

Free Ice Cream – Gelati Celesti will be celebrating National Ice Cream Day this year with a promotion called, ‘Midnight Madness’, offering free ice cream at midnight. “We love celebrating America’s favorite sweet treat on National Ice Cream Day,” Steve Rosser, Owner and President, said. “As Saturday night turns into Sunday morning, we want to get the party started with free ice cream.”

All locations will be offering free toddler scoops from 12:01 a.m. to 1 a.m. on July 18, then they will reopen at 12 p.m. for periodic giveaways during the day such as treats, Gelati Celesti shirts, hats and gift cards.

Summerween Family Fun Weekend – OddBalls is my favorite antique shop in town. This weekend they’re getting in the Halloween spirit. The store will be decorated for Halloween, and we will be playing Halloween music throughout the store. Kids (and pets) are encouraged to dress up and participate in our indoor Halloween trick-or-treat!!

  • Oddballs | 7580 W Broad St | Sat-Sun, July 17th-18th | Free | Website

Forbidden Broadway – You can talk about it, it’s not that forbidden. A musical revue parodying Broadway’s biggest smash hits. I hear from an insider that it’s a can’t miss.

  • Dogwood Dell | 600 S. Arthur Ashe Blvd | 8:30 PM, Thurs July 15th – Sun, July 24th | Free | Website

Reptile Expo – Not my cup of cold-blooded fun but for some this issssss a good time. Reptiles, feeders, supplies, everything under one roof.

  • Richmond Raceway | 600 E. Laburnum | 9 AM – 3 PM, Saturday July 17th | $8 per person , children under 5 FREE, ages 6-9 $3 | Website

 

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