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Outside the Box

1708 Gallery launches a weekly summer series designed to let artists try new things.


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Two artists, one in Richmond and one in Trinidad, will live stream and project themselves into each other’s spaces while they work to simultaneously make the same objects in two different places. The plan is to make at least one piece a day for five days.

The duo, Nikolai Noel and Matthew Shelton, share an interest in the aftershocks of colonialism as well as a curiosity about individuals as historical creations. They’ll get to explore that curiosity as part of an experimental platform that stretches perceptions of what art galleries can be in the 21st century.

The notion of gallery as communal space will flower this summer at 1708 Gallery with a three-month project called “10 x 10: Richmond Takes the Gallery,” inspired by a similar program called “We Are” by Nurture Art in New York. The open platform of the project allows artists and nonprofits to use a week’s time and the gallery to try something different, test an idea, experiment with a project and attract new audiences.

“We’re treating the gallery like more of a community space with open-ended programming,” says Emily Smith, executive director of 1708. “It’ll give people an opportunity to try new things, engage new audiences and be a chance for us to interact with people we might not usually interact with.”

For artists Matt Spahr and Valerie Molnar, that means investigating the transfer of energy and dynamic exchange within nature by turning the gallery into a plant rehabilitation facility. People are invited to bring unhealthy and neglected plants for some tender loving care, which includes repotting, grooming, exposure to light-time cycles and, of all things, the proper soundtrack.

“The frequency has to be right for the plants,” Spahr says. Studies in the ’70s demonstrated that plants respond positively to certain frequencies, particularly between 3,000 and 5,000 kilohertz, and prefer these frequencies produced by strings rather than percussion instruments.

“Our aim is to infuse these plants and their visitors and caretakers with as much positivity as possible,” he says. “Plants being happy via people being happy and vice versa.”

The changing exhibits will run Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and, as the weeks unfold, Smith says additional evening events will be programmed and listed online.

“Our regular programming focuses on early career and emerging artists. That’s where we fit best into the larger Richmond art community,” Smith says. “‘10 x 10’ is an extension of that, so it feels mission-based in that way. We’re showing new artists or established artists doing something different than what they might show in a gallery.”

Another week will be devoted to BridgePark, a plan to highlight the beauty of the James River by building a bridge as a scenic park. A model will be on display to engage the public about the possibilities of the idea. Organizers see it as not only a bridge for walking and biking, but also a one-of-a-kind public green space for meetings, markets, festivals, picnics, quiet contemplation and recreation, all perched over dramatic urban white water with inspiring views of wildlife and the city skyline.

“BridgePark is about capturing the rich spirit and imagination of our community,” organizer Ted Elmore says. “We hope to provide a foretaste of BridgePark and another opportunity to leverage all the talent around us in making it great.”

At the conclusion of the 10 weeks, 1708 will hold a public community potluck featuring the participating individuals and organizations. The event, organized in part by artist Travis Robertson as part of his Foodist Colony project, is based on the concept of trading canned goods for works of art. The goods are then donated to the Central Virginia Food Bank.

A photographic exhibit documenting the history of Nick’s Market and Houff Foundation employees who took on the responsibilities of 1708 Gallery’s interns show a sense of the originality and quirkiness, intelligence and ambition, and overall creativity of Richmond.

“We were really pleased with the proposals submitted by the artists and organizations,” Smith says. “Everyone understood the spirit of the project.” S

For a list of the weekly programming, visit


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