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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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Arts & Entertainment

The Nutcracker Returns

Richmond Ballet and its beloved holiday tradition The Nutcracker return to Dominion Energy Center December 11-23, with the Richmond Symphony playing Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score.

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Richmond Ballet and its beloved holiday tradition The Nutcracker return to Dominion Energy Center December 11-23, with the Richmond Symphony playing Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score. Clara, her adoring Nutcracker, the glittering butterfly, and the dancing Russian bear will once again charm audience members of all ages.

Choreographed by Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, the Richmond Ballet holiday classic has been heralded as “one of the country’s most perfect [Nutcracker productions]” by The New York Times, and this season will mark the final year to celebrate the current production as updated costumes and dazzling new sets will premiere in December of 2022.

“The Nutcracker is a multigenerational experience, with parents, grandparents, and children alike entranced by the magical story. We were heartbroken to not have been able to bring the live theatre experience to the community last year” notes Winslett. “We look forward to welcoming audiences back to Dominion Energy Center this December where the holiday tradition will carry on and new memories will be created.”

Tickets to The Nutcracker start at $25. Tickets may be purchased online at etix.com, by phone at 804.344.0906 x224 or in person at the Richmond Ballet Box Office, 407 East Canal Street, Monday – Friday, 11:00am – 6:00pm.

The Nutcracker – December 11-23, 2021 | Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219

  • Saturday, December 11th, 2021 2:00pm and 7:00pm
  • Sunday, December 12th, 2021 1:00pm and 4:30pm
  • Saturday, December 18th, 2021 2:00pm and 7:00pm
  • Sunday, December 19th, 2021 1:00pm and 4:30pm
  • Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 7:00pm
  • Thursday, December 23rd, 2021 2:00pm

Health & Safety Protocols
Upon entering the theatre, all audience members ages 12 and above are required to show printed or digital proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or of a professionally-administered negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. Patrons ages 18 and above will also need to show a photo ID. All patrons ages 2 and above are required to wear a mask at all times while in Dominion Energy Center, except when eating and drinking in specified locations. Please note that proof of vaccination or of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

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Arts & Entertainment

VMFA acquires work by abstract painter Alma Thomas

Painting complements works by African American and women artists and artists of the Washington Color School.

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) recently acquired Forsythia and Pussy Willows Begin Spring (1970), a painting by African American artist Alma Thomas (1891–1978).

“We are delighted that Forsythia and Pussy Willows Begin Spring has joined VMFA’s Modern and Contemporary art holdings,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “Alma Thomas was a major contributor to 20th-century art. Her nature-based paintings significantly influenced artists who came after her, and her vibrantly colored canvases resonate with viewers today.”

Born in Columbus, Georgia, during the Jim Crow Era, Alma Woodsey Thomas and her family moved to Washington D.C., where more educational and economic opportunities were available for African Americans. By 1921, Thomas enrolled in art instruction courses at Howard University and, by 1924, became the program’s first graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in fine arts. After receiving her Master of Arts degree in education from Columbia University in the 1930s, Thomas taught at Shaw Junior High School in Washington D.C. for 35 years before retiring in 1960 and devoting herself to painting full time.

Thomas had earlier eschewed abstract art in favor of figurative and still life painting. By the 1960s however, when studying at American University in Washington D.C., she admired and responded to the abstract paintings created by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and other contemporaries in the Washington Color School. This loosely affiliated group of painters applied luminous colorful hues by staining and soaking their raw canvases with thinned oil or acrylic paint.

In 1972, Thomas became the first African American woman artist to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. She was also the first African American woman artist to have her work acquired and displayed in the White House after former First Lady Michelle Obama selected two paintings, Watusi (Hard Edge) and Sky Light, installed on loan to the White House in 2009, before the landmark acquisition in 2015 of Thomas’s 1966 painting Resurrection. Thomas’s works are featured in many museum collections including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. Her work is the subject of the current nationally touring retrospective entitled Alma Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful.

“Acquiring a painting by Alma Thomas has long been a priority for the museum. We patiently waited for an iconic work and are delighted to bring this vibrant visual echo of Thomas’ garden into our collection,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Forsythia and Pussy Willows Begin Spring will complement VMFA’s existing holdings of work by African American and women artists, artists of the Washington Color School, as well as the canon’s celebrated masters of abstraction Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky, whom Thomas noted as significant influences.”

The painting, from Thomas’s Earth series, is a classic example of the unique painting style she developed after encountering the work of the Washington Color School. Her technique of placing precise dabs of vibrant color in a succession of vertical, hyphenated stripes conveys the beauty of a colorful flower garden. The palette of warm browns, fresh greens, bright blues and sunny yellows evokes the blooming flowers, petals, grass, tree trunks and clear skies the artist could see from her bay window, which overlooked the garden at her home at 1530 Fifteenth Street in Washington D.C.

“Alma Thomas applied her radiant colors in a series of vertical, staccato brushstrokes in Forsythia and Pussy Willows Begin Spring to capture, in abstract terms, the beauty and rhythms of the natural world, including the flowers in her garden,” said Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education. “The white gesso ground that breaks up both the lines and bold touches of color not only helps to organize the composition’s rendering of the diverse shapes and colors of the natural environment, but also illuminates the scene and suggests sunlight peeking through the flowers and leaves. We believe that this joyful painting will be a landmark purchase for VMFA and an iconic work for our visitors to see and enjoy.”

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Arts & Entertainment

Dominion Energy Christmas Parade is this Saturday

The weather forecast is looking pretty perfect for Saturday. It’s predicted to be mostly sunny with highs in the 60s.

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The Dominion Energy Christmas Parade kicks off at the Science Museum of Virginia at 10:15 AM. Traveling eastbound on Broad Street, the parade will conclude at 7th Street near the Richmond Coliseum. The parade also airs LIVE on WTVR CBS6.

Over the years, the Richmond Christmas Parade has been known by several names. From the 1950s to 1974, the event was known as the Thalhimers’ Toy Parade. After a 15-year hiatus, the parade was resurrected by the Richmond Jaycees. For 17 years, Ukrop’s Supermarket was the title sponsor until the beloved Richmond icon was sold in 2009. Dominion Energy saved the Christmas Parade in 2010, becoming the next title sponsor, and the parade has been known as the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade ever since.

Over the years, the Richmond Christmas Parade has celebrated a fabulous lineup of grand marshals! Numerous Richmond locals have been featured including NFL Football Player Willie Lanier (1984), The Walking Dead Actor Chad Coleman (2014), and American Idol Finalist Rayvon Owen (2015). Childhood favorites have also made appearances, such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse (2000), Spongebob Squarepants (2002), Disney’s Aaron Carter (2004), and the Harlem Globetrotters (2009). And who could forget when Paul Simon, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase took over the Christmas Parade to film a music video in 1991?

This year Snoopy is the Grand Marshall and the parade theme is “Bringing Back the Fun in 2021!” The lineup will feature the usual colorful floats, giant helium balloons, college marching bands, local dance troupes, Legendary Santa, and much more! Honorary Grand Marshals include JMU Softball Pitcher Odicci Alexander and Coach Loren LaPorte. Alexander was the starting pitcher for James Madison University from 2017 to 2021, leading the team to their first-ever Women’s College World Series in 2021. She was also named Softball America’s 2021 NCAA Pitcher of the Year.

The route of the parade is below so start planning your ideal viewing spot.

No conversation about the parade would be complete without showing this video of Rudolph meeting a tragic end in 2010.

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