All this strange, back-and-forth weather has been a little like watching the travails between the city and the local arts community during the past few years. The relationship seems to run hot and cold.
But now that many local arts groups appear to have managed the worst of the economic downturn, there’s a new feeling of hope in the air. Two new City Council members, 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto and 1st District Councilman Jon Baliles, even have backgrounds in the arts.
“We incentivize large companies to come to Richmond and we need to do the same with the arts,” says Baliles, who co-founded the RVA Street Art Festival with local artist Ed Trask, adding that dates for this year’s festival are being worked out.
The arts and cultural district is a case in point. It was created by City Council a year ago to help foster the proliferation of arts galleries and arts-related businesses, making permitting for shows easier and offering other financial incentives. The boundaries of the district stirred some controversy — some say the 65-block district centered on West Broad Street is too large to be effective (Baliles agrees).
Agelasto, who worked at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and came to Richmond to manage membership and visitor services at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, says there are still struggles in terms of the timeliness of getting inspections as well as complexities involved with permits. “It’s structural in nature. We’ve got to make sure when we say we’re going to do something, we have capacity within our systems to follow up,” Agelasto says. “The permitting office is a perfect example.”
In other cases, the city incentives seem to be working well.
“Art 180 moved their headquarters from Plant Zero up onto Marshall Street. Their loan helped get that job done,” says Scott Garnett, owner of Lift Coffee Shop and an advocate for the arts district.
Pretty soon you should start seeing the Richmond arts district logo stickers designating buildings that are part of the downtown arts district, Garnett says. That’s been a problem. Nobody knows just where it is.
One issue that Agelasto and Baliles are taking up is money for public art. “I think we need to have design components into all our public capital projects,” Agelasto says of the city’s existing program that designates 1 percent of the costs of capital projects to the arts. “Side money for design whether that be sculpture or environmental artwork. There are a lot of different options.”
A recent conference session on public art featured speaker Barbara Goldstein from San Jose, Calif., who offered alternative ways to apply the arts in other needed areas, such as storm-water runoff. “We could do some creative ways of mitigating that through kinetic structures or more landscaped design and use the 1 percent for the arts to do that,” Agelasto says. “If you take away that funding, it’s going to have a negative impact on the arts community.”
So there’s a lot to keep an eye on; and a lot of art out there struggling for support. What’s one thing you can do? Get out there to experience some of it.
The following pages offer some previews of the next few months, such as the French Film Festival and Richmond Ballet’s Leap Week, as well as a few profiles — a Richmond-raised actor poised to break out on the insanely popular “Walking Dead” television show, a local DJ who followed his musical passion to Malaysia, and the latest on the defining arts drama this winter, the Firehouse Theatre and Carol Piersol saga.
But it’s only a sliver. These are just teasers until the days grow longer and events such as First Fridays Art Walk and Friday Cheers start cranking up again.
As a music promoter friend of mine says, “Every week, it’s a hustle.”
Yes, and it’s a good one. — Brent Baldwin