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Michelle Obama and Maya Lin Invited to Judge National Design contest to Rethink Monument Avenue



The 12-member commission charged by Mayor Levar Stoney is tweaking its report expected next month with recommendations on how to approach the fate of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. Meanwhile, a number of other groups are seeking different solutions.

Among them is a consortium of nonprofit cultural organizations that is issuing a call to designers and planners to suggest how Richmond might rethink its most famous thoroughfare.

Rather than posing the question of either what might be removed or added to the boulevard, a national design competition has been announced by the Storefront for Community Design in association with the Middle of Broad Workshop, a program of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and the Valentine. Entries will be exhibited at the Valentine next year.

"This is an antidote to what the [mayor's] commission is doing, but should have the advantage of incorporating its findings into suggested designs," says Kristen Caskey, an associate professor of fashion design at VCU who also teaches at the workshop. "Having designers involved should stimulate forward thinking and broaden the dialogue by offering fresh ideas into the community conversation."

The competition, budgeted at $85,000, has been jump-started by a $30,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a $15,000 commitment from the university. Additional funds are being sought.

There are few parameters to the competition. Entrants may address the entire 4.5 mile stretch of Monument — from Lombardy Street to Horsepen Road — or any portion of the grassy and tree-lined, mostly residential stretch. Submissions must be made digitally but transferable to a single 22-by-48-inch printed format. Projects are due Dec. 1.

Among those invited to serve as jurors are former first lady Michelle Obama, Maya Lin and Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Lin is an American architect whose evocative design bested 1,440 other entries in the 1981 international competition for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.

A cash prize will be awarded to the first place winner and a people's choice award also will be selected.

The competition is an outgrowth of a project recently offered by the Middle of Broad workshop for VCU students that sought design solutions to issues involving Monument Avenue and its legacy of Confederate statuary. When more than 100 people packed the Storefront for Community Design on East Broad Street for the presentation, it was clear the public was keenly interested in how designers would weigh in on the highly-charged debate.

"In addition to entries from individuals, we hope that there will be team efforts, people working on social justice as well as planners, artists, designers, architects and landscape architects," Caskey says.

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