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Matt White, Scott Burton, Chris Elford

Creative organizers

"We've been successful bringing in outside talent," White says. "But in order for Richmond to grow, we need to export Richmond products. We want to be a source, a legitimate artistic community — not just a stop on the tour."

To that end the Patchwork Collective organizes a whirlwind of genre-transgressing projects that shake up the usual isolated creative process in the hopes of unexpected results. Take its Richmond Comic Lab, for example, in which comic-book artists illustrate a text without consulting with the author. A similar approach is followed in the Video Project: Musicians compose scores for films without input from the filmmakers. Independent creation is the cultural equivalent of a particle accelerator, spawning something smashingly new from a process that is as much collision as collusion.

Whether the results are performed or published, it's a high-risk approach. But if NASCAR teaches anything, it's that the occasional flaming pileup just makes things more interesting for the audience. "We've had crowds getting into what is going on and cheering," he says. "That's not usual for free jazz."

If unpredictability doesn't faze the Collective, neither does inexperience. White's upcoming project is a 25-piece chamber orchestra concert featuring music by local composers. It's something White's never done before, any more than Elford has ever published a comic book. "Every time we go into something with no idea of how to do it," Elford says. "We're operating in a throwback style, learning by doing, borrowing from people, knowing it will all work out."

It's a lot like jumping off a building and learning to fly on the way down, but taking chances is an integral part of stemming the outward flow of talent from Richmond. "We want people to stay here," Burton says, "because we want to stay here."

And so they collide, combine and otherwise bind together talent to build the critical mass that could transform Richmond from a minor-league career stop on the way to New York City into an artistic font and destination. It's a wild ambition with a simple strategy. "All you have to do is say that you are going to do something," Burton says — "and then do it."

The Patchwork Collective's next show is March 8 at Ada Gallery with Fight the Bull at 8 p.m. Tickets $5. Go to for more information.

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