Arts & Events » Galleries

The Hills Are Alive

Groundbreaking gallery, ArtSpace, brings new energy to Stratford Hills.

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It would be easy to overlook the new art gallery tucked back in the sleepy Stratford Hills Shopping Center off Forest Hill Avenue south of the river. Easy, that is, if not for the big bright red-and-white sign perched on the gallery roof with the iconic “Artspace” logo cutting through any visual clutter.

“We’re the only art gallery in the city, besides the ICA (VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art), that has a lighted sign like this,” asserts Michael Pierce, Artspace’s Partnerships and Programming Committee chair. “I can see it from my 8th floor dining room window across the street.”

“You can probably see it from space,” jokes member artist Elaine Rogers.

While the sign going up earlier this year may have been the first notice some Stratford Hills residents received that they had a new neighbor, Artspace has been making in-roads and having an impact since officially opening last October. The gallery hosts monthly wine tastings, features regular jazz and baroque musical performances and has offered up space to nearby schools for exhibitions and shows.

The organization’s president, Alice Anne Ellis, enthuses, “The new location is really helping us interact with the community in a way we never could before.”

Mixed media paintings by artist Mona Dworkin recently were on display at the new ArtSpace location in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center off Forest Hill Avenue. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Mixed media paintings by artist Mona Dworkin recently were on display at the new ArtSpace location in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center off Forest Hill Avenue.

An artist-run nonprofit with more than 40 members, Artspace has been a fixture in Richmond for over 30 years, having famously initiated the First Friday Arts Walk when it was located on Broad Street. It went on to anchor the Plant Zero Art Center in Manchester and, while it benefited from the surge in interest in that neighborhood, it was eventually squeezed out.

“We were out of the swim of things in Manchester,” says Ellis. “Everything there is becoming apartments and lofts.” The biggest blow to the gallery was losing easy accessibility for patrons when a luxury apartment building consumed the parking lot next door.

The group took advantage of the pandemic shutdown to charge a relocation committee with the mission to find a new home. “We looked around a lot,” says Ellis. “And this location has almost everything we were looking for.”

Ample parking is the most obvious benefit of the Stratford Hills location but Ellis says the several neighboring businesses are also a boon. “This area is so much more vibrant with much more foot traffic,” she says. The building has slightly less actual display space than their previous location but has myriad invaluable improvements.

“It seems very basic,” says Ellis, “But we have running water and a bathroom here, and we did not in the previous space.” Artspace’s long-term plans include holding more workshops and training sessions. “If you want to do classes, a bathroom is really necessary.”

While the Stratford Hills space did not require any renovation or major reconditioning, Ellis says the space is still evolving. “We are on the verge of installing track lighting that will transform the whole appearance of the gallery,” she says. Movable walls currently allow for complete reconfiguration of the shape of the gallery but there are plans for more permanent fixtures like a kitchenette to allow for catered events.

In addition to the physical benefits of their new location, Ellis says it is also drawing more people into the collective. “Membership has shot up since our move here,” she says. “We’re so much more accessible and more visible plus we’re doing more because the location enables us to do more.”

New member artist Meuna Beidjeu, a transplant from Mauritania, says the community aspect of Artspace compelled her to join. “It is a good opportunity to be in a group with both new and experienced artists and learn from them," Beidjeu says. "I was looking for a new place and these people were lovely.”

Carl Patow’s "bright digital installations have realistic and satirical implications for climate change," noted Style Weekly in a Feb. 22 preview of his solo exhibition at ArtSpace. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Carl Patow’s "bright digital installations have realistic and satirical implications for climate change," noted Style Weekly in a Feb. 22 preview of his solo exhibition at ArtSpace.

Pierce notes that there is a synergy building in the neighborhood. “It’s a mutually supportive situation,” he says. “A lot of artists and musicians live close to us here. They come to the gallery and invite friends and then they go to nearby restaurants.” He says there have been more potential businesses eyeing other vacant spaces in the shopping center.

“You know how it works with art galleries,” he says. “Wherever they go, other things grow up around them. That’s what happened in Manchester, and we’re already seeing it here.”

Artspace, 2833-A Hathaway Rd., opens an all media juried exhibition starting on Friday, March 25th, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. featuring live music. A talk with juror Jacob Daroca-Kincheloe will be held on April 16th. Details at artspacegallery.org.

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