The city still hasn't come up with an all-purpose arts venue, but on a smaller scale, The Camel plays the part.
Located on Broad Street between the post office and The Firehouse Theatre, the venue was the dream of Alan Schintzius, who's long been involved in the local activist scene, particularly the Radio Free Richmond movement.
A Buffalo native, Schintzius, 59, has been running the building for the last 13 years. He says the reason for the project has always been clear: to give back to the community. During its construction, he and his family lived on the second floor, and hundreds of community volunteers helped the family gut the dilapidated interior of the building and turn it into a comfortable, social gathering place to discuss politics, culture and spirituality.
Schintzius' stepson, Peter Szijarto, cut his teeth in the arts community as a volunteer working with RVA Magazine, and he books most of the music and art for the club, while Schintzius' wife, Juliana Szijarto, is the "business whiz" who handles finances.
"We never had the money, but we always had this dream," Schintzius says.
Another creative push happened within this building in the mid-'90s: the crusade for low-power FM legislation. It made Richmond one of six radio-activist hot spots in the nation. But the high point was getting the station on-air. The Internet studio in the basement, Radio Free Richmond, became Richmond Indie Radio, WRIR-FM 97.3. After five or six months as president of its founding board, Schintzius left to focus on The Camel.
"Now that we're out of the starting gate, we're working to fill the calendar with other stuff besides music events," Schintzius says. "So if people are looking for a place to hold an event, that's what we're there for."
On the venue's Web site, www.thecamel.org, many of the bands leave audio samples or links for previewing. The Camel is a "venue" in the broadest sense of the world, a performing arts center in miniature that gives the arts a place to roost.
"What I'm most proud about, besides my family," Schintzius says, "is that Richmond stepped up and helped put this thing together."