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Community Lights: The 11th annual InLight Richmond brings the concept of community into VMFA for two nights


Maybe you heard the rumor that last year's InLight, the 10th for the outdoor event, would be the last one.

Not true, says Emily Smith, executive director of 1708 Gallery, which presents the light-based exhibition. For organizers, the concern is not letting InLight get stale, especially as crowd numbers continue to increase. Despite the temperature being a bone-chilling 27 degrees in 2014, more than 9,000 people showed up for InLight when it was held in Monroe Park. The next year, 13,000 showed up at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and 15,000 in Scott's Addition in 2016.

Although last year's event along Broad Street had to deal with rain blowing through, after two hours there were already 16,000 people on the streets of the arts district. "There's still clearly an audience for it," Smith says.

This year's InLight mimics 2015 because it again encompasses two nights rather than one and returns to the museum's grounds. The 26 artists were asked to think about community when designing their pieces, resulting in several installations focused on local flora and fauna, as well as the James River.

Steven Casanova's "1898 N. Colonial Ave." is an installation of papier-mâché, chrome paint, blue tarps, solar powered lights and projections, purposely designed to a scale that makes the message feel real and relatable. He sees his work as melding historical background within a current reference. "The installation is made up of materials that could never be used for the purpose they serve and materials that should never be used for the purpose they serve," Casanova explains. "Yet they are, developing a conversation between the sculptures."

The piece is part of his year-long project in Virginia to bring awareness about Puerto Rico's circumstances after Hurricane Maria. "I want to educate people beyond what they see in headlines so they can be more informed about the crisis continuing and developing into larger problems. Since Puerto Ricans don't get to vote, we have to."

Part of the goal for the 1708 Gallery team that produces InLight is for it to evolve along with the city. Artists are invited to apply and a new judge — this year's is Kimberli Grant, the McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk — is selected every year to winnow the applications to a manageable number. For 2018, it has begun inviting more artists directly to augment the juried selections. "We're focusing on making it a more curated exhibition," Smith says.

Jessica Lynne is a writer who was invited to participate this year, but because she doesn't create objects, the experience was a new one. "Draft for an Epic #4: For Love and Land" was originally written for Open Space, a hybrid publishing platform of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The essays produced during her residency there blend art criticism and elements of creative nonfiction as a way of grappling with memory, home and black Americana.

For InLight, the essay will be displayed as a handwritten projection. "This specific text is a meditative response to the ecological precariousness of my home and birthplace in Hampton Roads," Lynne says of the ongoing work in progress. "I'm hoping to find a way to think about the places that I've called home and my relationship to the American South as a black Southern woman. Land and the politics of land are certainly connected to that for me."

"Building Together," created by Kevin Orlosky, is an installation of interactive larger-than-life building blocks lit from within, their sides displaying portraits of Richmonders printed on transparent material.

"The concept of the installation is to show that if we all work together reaching across communities and putting people first, we can build a healthier more equitable Richmond," Orlosky says of blocks that represent the diversity of people who live in Richmond. The audience is invited to stack and re-stack, build and rebuild the installation throughout the exhibit as a way to draw attention to the need for continual change and input from all communities. "My goal in creating it is to help open dialogue about potential ways to build and develop Richmond that are more inclusive and bring people together."

As always, InLight will include many interactive elements like Orlosky's, clearly labeled to draw attention away from visitors making everything interactive.

Ten years in, InLight has become ingrained in the cultural calendar of Richmond, the must-see visual equivalent of the Richmond Folk Festival.

"I love the range of subjects and the variety of spectators," Casanova says. "InLight brings so many different people together to see art without the gallery walls and the works become part of the city›s pop culture." S

InLight Richmond will be Friday, Nov. 16, from 7 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday, Nov. 17, from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard. Free.