That Richmond has enjoyed an influx of artists in the past five years is hardly debatable or even surprising, given the emergence of a veritable visual-arts corridor on Broad Street these days. Chelsea it isn't, but you can't deny Richmond's art scene is growing.
Turns out, the artists agree. But the remarkable thing isn't that new artists have arrived -- and they have, including renowned metalworker and jewelry designer Jaime Pelissier, who recently relocated from Connecticut but that so many of those who were already here have stuck it out through the years. Name a headline-grabbing artist in town Matt Lively, Heide Trepanier, Cindy Neuschwander and chances are they've been here awhile.
Brad Birchett, who has 21 years of living and working as an artist in Richmond under his belt, credits the local gallery renaissance with renewed public interest in the arts. Comparing Richmond today with its yearbook picture from five years ago, Birchett says: "There are more venues. I think it's better across the board. The community is being shown a more diverse range of art."
Plays Well With Others: B+
While Richmond isn't New York, part of its appeal to artists is that, um, it isn't New York. Julian Schnabel's film "Basquiat" may have made it look trendy, but nobody loves the idea of living in a box in Central Park. In our fair city, you don't have to pay an arm, leg and kidney for studio space, but the Big Apple is only a short jaunt away if you're craving a Carnegie Deli Reuben. "You can be a New York artist without living in New York," says longtime Richmond resident and installation artist Allison Andrews.
Of course, the downside to avoiding Manhattan's ghastly rents is the increased distance from The Armory Show and the International Artexpo. And while we may not have $30 martinis and an obvious love affair with plastic surgery, we also don't have Miami's Art Basel. Even local art shows aren't a breeze to produce. Andrews cites complicated zoning laws and general wariness on the part of the powers-that-be i.e., the Division of Zoning Administration as significant barriers to artistic growth here.
Potential for Development: B
Christine Gray, a recent Austin, Texas, transplant and assistant professor of art at Virginia Commonwealth University, contends that the Richmond art scene has done remarkably well considering its isolation. (Face it, we don't even collaborate much with Charlottesville artists and galleries.) But if we've learned anything from Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, it's that consumers love collaboration. Gray, for one, says she would prefer to see "a little bit more going on" in terms of an exchange with our counterparts in the nation's capital. Hey, if hooking up with the best and brightest in the field is keeping Britney's career alive (thanks, Neptunes!), imagine what the exposure could do for someone with real talent and no history of hit-and-runs.
As for Gray's former hometown, though, "There's maybe even more going on here than in Austin," she says. "It's at least comparable." If only the same could be said of the party circuit.
With artistic strongholds such as New York, D.C. and Asheville, N.C., nearby, no one's giving out easy A's here. Richmond has some ground to cover in terms of enabling the growth of its blossoming art scene. Traditional media such as painting, sculpture and even jewelry design abound, but performance art, for instance, is in scarce supply since the demise of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Fast/Forward series, which hosted the late Spalding Gray. But compared to five years ago, you can barely recognize the place here's hoping the awkward years are soon left behind and the artists stick around for it.
Becky Shields is a Curatorial Fellow at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary. She has been an art critic for Style Weekly since March 2006.