Public Art Meeting Seeks Ideas

Consultants seek input on what makes Richmond unique.

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[From right] Susan Reed, chair of the public arts commission, the city's public art coordinator Ellyn Parker, and consultants Gail Goldman and Gretchen Freeman.
  • [From right] Susan Reed, chair of the public arts commission, the city's public art coordinator Ellyn Parker, and consultants Gail Goldman and Gretchen Freeman.

About 60 art professionals, artists, designers, historians, and citizens gathered Tuesday night at the Science Museum of Virginia for the Public Art Commission’s meeting on Richmond’s forthcoming public art master plan.

“It’s critical that everything in the plan reflects what is unique about Richmond,” said Gail Goldman, one of the consultants hired to develop it.

The meeting was a brainstorming session centered on just that -- a congenial, informal atmosphere of attendees that mostly seemed to know one another.

The city has $3.2 million in a fund for public art, because of a mandate that earmarks 1 percent of every municipal construction project over $250,000 for such a purpose.

With a $150,000 contract from the city, Goldman and Gretchen Freeman will develop the master plan. They've worked together before on such plans elsewhere, including San Antonio and Calgary.

At the Science Museum, Goldman and Freeman showed slides of public art projects around the world: tourist attractions such as Cloudgate in Chicago, interactive alleyways, large-scale projections, innovative parks, re-purposed abandoned spaces, and temporary light sculptures.

They also noted artists’ additions to built infrastructure like bridges, convention centers, parking garages and airports.

The room hit a lively groove when Goldman and Freeman, who are from San Diego and Phoenix, respectively, asked the crowd what makes Richmond unique.

Answers ran the gamut: the pipeline, the Pump House, Maggie Walker, Teresa Pollack, the rapids, the triple crossing, Hollywood cemetery, Shockoe’s collapsed train tunnel, the 17th & Main slave graveyard, tattoos, street festivals and the trolley system.

Richmond Magazine’s Harry Kollatz corrected and elaborated on others’ histories and urban myths at will. He told the room a parable about stolen diamonds, which Freeman dutifully added to the board.

“Right now we’re in the research phase,” Goldman said. “It’s all about community input.” She and Freeman attended InLight at the VMFA while in town for this meeting.

By April, they will “identify emerging values and themes” and a rough draft will appear next fall.

In the meantime, Ellyn Parker, hired in July as the public arts coordinator, is tasked with collecting and communicating these ideas to Goldman and Freeman.

“Basically anybody with a group of five or more, I will come to your meeting and collect ideas,” she said.

And now they say there's no bad idea. People can take the Public Art Commission’s survey here until February.

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