After a summer of ugly incidents involving younger Richmonders and hand wringing about their increased attendance, the First Fridays Art Walk returned after a month off with a featured exhibition by middle-schoolers.
Produced under the umbrella of ART 180, “What Do You Stand For,” includes 30 self-portraits painted by pupils from Henderson and Boushall middle schools. Eight feet tall and painted on plywood, the works were unveiled early Friday evening to a crowd of supporters and joyful parents.
Organizers recently moved the walk to an earlier time, 5-9 p.m., in hopes of refocusing the event, which has blossomed through the years from a simple downtown art gallery showcase to monthly street festival.
Growing pains struck, specifically fistfights involving teenagers in June and July. Given the recent incidents and resulting headlines, First Fridays’ coordinator, Christina Newton, called the timing and tenor of last week’s exhibit “fortuitous.”
Despite the changes, debate continues about who is the target audience of the art walk.
Asked if “What Do You Stand For” is a response to questions of youth participation and attendance, Art 180 program director Michael Guedri says, “This is an opportunity to show the city who its youth actually are, what they stand for and what they believe about themselves.”
Elsewhere last week, the mood on Broad Street never rose above mellow. There was one arrest, a Richmond police spokeswoman says —cursing in public, a misdemeanor.
Inside Office, a new gallery near the intersection of Broad and Jefferson, patrons, including teenagers, moved in and out briskly during a soft opening. Owner John Martin said he was happy to see a less demonstrative police presence. “Recently, it’s been overwhelming,” he says. “It was like a crime had already happened. No one, not kids or adults, are going to want to participate if you have an atmosphere like that.”
Geraldine Duskin, owner of the Ghostprint Galley, said she was pleased to see that the event continued to draw a crowd from many generations. “It’s taking children and giving them a chance to discover new, more artistic ways of expressing themselves,” she says. “And isn’t that better than having themselves express themselves aggressively?”