Maybe you've heard of the Billboard Art Project, which first happened in Richmond on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, before traveling to other cities — including Nashville, Chicago and New Orleans.
For each iteration organizers David Morrison and his partner Claire Accardo rented a digital LED billboard for 24 hours and showcased one image after another of an artist's work. Morrison and Accardo weren't particularly discerning about the images that were shown but rather threw up pictures submitted by any artist. The first project included 26.
Since then, Morrison and Accardo have been busy with another project: the Highpoint, a two-floor, 16,000-square-foot site in Scott's Addition that includes commercial spaces, office spaces, a gallery, a music room and an event space. Twenty tenants include artists Carl Patow and Rob Carter, Frozen in Flight Taxidermy, Courthouse Creek Cider, and Michael Patrick Hair Studio.
The Highpoint idea started around 2008.
"That was when I moved into the building at Highpoint and Moore Street [3119 W. Moore St.]. It was just a couple of people that got a warehouse we could rent for 50 cents a square foot per month," Morrison says. "It was really cheap and we were living in this building."
Morrison moved to Richmond in 2000 as a transplant from Savannah, Georgia.
"It really was more of a fresh start. … At the time, Richmond had more of a low-key feel, which was what drew me here. It was ripe for the arts in the sense that it was a really affordable place." Though his formal background is in chemistry, English and philosophy, he points out that he was always dabbling with the arts and hanging out with artists.
While Morrison ran his tile business from the nearly 5,000-square-foot building, other friends set up studios for making art, music and taxidermy. The group also played host to pop-up events and art exhibitions by emerging art students from Virginia Commonwealth University. After five years, "We knew we wanted to be there, but they just wouldn't sell the building."
But they didn't want to leave Scott's Addition. So they found the current Highpoint, a building that multiplied the first space nearly four times. Although larger than necessary, the friends suspected that other creatives wanted to stay in the quickly developing neighborhood.
"I knew if we didn't buy and develop then, space for smaller businesses with a ceiling of growth potential would be priced out of the area," he says. "That seemed both unfortunate and wrong to me so I went about trying to figure out an affordable way to pick up and develop a property that centered around keeping rent under control for creative professionals."
So Morrison, who owns the building along with his dad and manages the daily operations with assistance from Accardo, took it upon himself to find a space. What he didn't expect was the amount of work and time it took to finish the project.
"It just took an incredibly long time. This is why there is a profession of people who develop things. It's why idiots like me don't go out and just do it once because you really need to know the ins and the outs and the tricks," he says.
The Highpoint officially launched Sept. 1 with a party tours, and the unveiling of "Found, Repurposed, or Reclaimed," a solo exhibition by a longtime Richmond artist, Chuck Scalin, and "Aftermath," an exhibition of environmentally conscious work by New Orleans-based Ana Hernandez. Local painter Katy Becker mounted the next exhibition: "Passages," which opened Nov. 30 with watercolors of the back streets and alleys, the overlooked spaces of the Fan and Museum districts.
Morrison points out that it is a challenge to get people to think of Scott's Addition as an art destination, but he remains optimistic.
"It's an ongoing process," he says. "We're really trying to push both local artists and ones from out of the areas as a means of continuing to diversify Richmond's art scene while supporting local work."
Ana Hernandez's "Aftermath" and Katy Becker's "Passages" are up through Feb. 8. For programming, see thehighpointrichmond.com.