Despite putting up 100 images in the last five years, Shane Pomajambo would like you to know that the effort is not over.
“It’s not the final sweep,” says the founder and executive director of the Richmond Mural Project, noting that a hundred in five years was a short-term goal. “That’s where I thought it’d reach its own tipping point.”
That happened about a year and a half ago, Pomajambo says. “Everyone started talking about Richmond and the murals and how amazing it was,” he says. “Now with a hundred, we’ve solidified Richmond as destination for mural lovers worldwide.”
The project started in 2012 with about 20 murals going up in the city each year, concentrated in the downtown arts district, by artists from all over the world.
“The mural project is the one event that almost kills me every year,” jokes Pomajambo, who divides his time between Richmond and Northern Virginia.
“It’s matchmaking,” he says. “It’s my responsibility as curator to make sure I pair the right wall with the right artist and the right neighborhood. You don’t want to impede on a muralist’s artistic direction but you have to respect owner’s decisions. I have many white hairs because of that.”
Local collaborator R. Anthony Harris invited Pomajambo from Washington in 2012 to brainstorm ideas for public art, and the Richmond Mural Project evolved from there.
“I said, ‘They’re doing an arts district and there’s no art,’” Harris recalls. “We walked around and saw some walls, met the right people, neighborhood associations. Shane just ran with it.”
Harris calls the 100-mural milestone satisfying, and says he looks forward to its legacy: “I want to be walking through Richmond in my 60s and still seeing some of these murals and knowing I had a part in it.”
“When I first started the project, I remember so vividly: I asked people if I could paint murals on their walls, and they’d look at me pop-eyed. It took some convincing,” Pomajambo says. “By the third year, I couldn’t even finish a sentence before people were like, ‘Oh I love the murals, count me in.’ It was really amazing to see the city and the community embrace it.”
Pomajambo is quick to credit other mural projects and local artists who have contributed to Richmond’s mural city status, but he knows the international reputation of many of the artists he’s brought will drive art tourism.
“I’m just one guy with one crazy idea and I hope I instill inspiration in people where they do their own mural project,” he says. “It doesn’t necessary have to be my vision.”
For Pomajambo the next phase of the project involves more murals, but also helping Richmond capitalize on them. “You’re starting to see it,” he says, “people taking it upon themselves to create bike-walk tours, races, scavenger hunts, videos, marketing campaigns, maps, etc. It adds another dimension.”
He hopes to continue creating 10 murals a year and replacing some that have disappeared.
“It’s is going to organically change. A lot of people have asked me to do Manchester, Scott’s Addition, Church Hill,” he says. “There’s critical mass now [in the arts district] and we can take it to other neighborhoods.”
Both he and Harris are sanguine about any criticism the murals have drawn. “I think the conversation is good,” Harris says. “It shows that people care. In any relationship, if someone’s indifferent, that’s even worse than liking it or not liking it.”
“There are monuments up that offend me and a lot of other people,” he says. “But it is part of our history and it does make me think about that. The murals can be the new monuments to a new Richmond, a more creative Richmond.”
“Part of me thinks the people who aren’t appreciative of murals tend to be a little more close-minded,” Harris adds.
Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist and CBS-6 commentator Mark Holmberg recently sparked debate suggesting that some of the murals were unsightly, and raising questions about aesthetics and numbers of murals. Pomajambo invited him for a cup of coffee.
“I don’t really like the whole [online] comment war thing,” he says. “It gets really ugly really quickly — a lot of name-calling on both sides.” But he’d like to talk with Holmberg one-on-one about some of his concerns.
“My cup of coffee is still on the table when he’s available.” S