esterday evening, several hundred people rallied on Monument Avenue to express their support for Art 180's “What Do You Stand For?” exhibit, which is currently (at least for now) inhabiting the medians of this iconic street. The works were completed in summer 2011, and have been shown in various quarters of town since then. Among those gathered to view the self-portraits and observations of 25 schoolchildren and six program leaders were supporters of Art 180's nonprofit mission, some of the artists and their families, Monument Avenue residents, and interested citizens. As L’Affaire de Monument Avenue continues to simmer, Richmond has once again very nearly managed to toss victory into the jaws of defeat.
The recent donnybrook has had its confusing aspects, as the city has tied itself into a pretzel explaining why the art needed to be removed, following complaints of some Monument residents.
I spoke with Marlene Paul, Art 180's director and founder, who pointed to the flag of the Monument Avenue house where WORK advertising was headquartered and where Art 180 started. She explained the up-to-the-moment situation.
“The artwork is staying in place through Sunday,” she said, meaning for Monument Avenue's Easter on Parade. “We’ve received a letter from the Department of Public Works stating that the original permit that was granted has been revoked, and we must have the artwork moved by Monday, April 9. As someone described it to me, it's a half-victory because we’ll be here for the Easter Parade. But obviously, it’s a victory all the way around because the community has rallied around us and the art and the artists.”
The DPW's reasoning: According to Paul, city attorneys cited an ordinance that forbids the placement of signs in public rights-of-way. “We drilled down a little more deeply today,” Paul said. “There are exceptions to the ordinance that say exhibits like this are exempt.”
Venture Richmond, which oversees this weekend's genteel rite of spring, has adjusted the footprints of its attractions and booths in the medians in order to share space with the art. Where the art boards will go after this weekend remains an open question. A number of Monument Avenue residents have offered their own front yards as temporary homes for all the works. Paul doesn’t want this magnanimous gesture, however, to fall afoul of any other zoning ordinances. Second District City Councilman Charles Samuels met with Maymont Park’s administration to offer this as an alternative. While appreciated, Paul notes that the exhibit already premiered there for the jazz festival this past summer.
True, the festival was a ticketed event, meaning that the greater public didn’t get to see the work, but there’s an obvious draw to staying on Monument Avenue. Paul is hopeful the issue will be resolved. “We’re going to request the Canal Walk, we’ve been offered Byrd Park and Monroe Park, so they each have their appeal," Paul said. "But we’d prefer to stay here.”
Artist Robin Sledge, 12, a sixth-grade student at Henderson Middle School, says she’ll come to the Easter Parade to see her work amid the thousands who’ll throng to Monument. Her self-portrait also features flowers and a dog. “I enjoy that people are inspired by it and travel to see it,” she says. Sledge wants to continue pursuing artistic expression, and she’s already gotten a glimpse of how art can change the world. Now that’s something to stand for.
4 P.M. UPDATE: The fluid situation on Monument Avenue received an emphatic exclamation point today. In a letter sent to press and supporters, Art 180 Director Marlene Paul stated, "The plan to host [the art pieces] on private property has been green-lighted by City Hall. I received this email from Byron Marshall last night; it arrived just before the art walk, although I didn’t see it until later: 'Marlene... It is the opinion of the Zoning Administrator that art the temporary display of art work on private residential properties along Monument can be do[ne] in a lawful manner. We are available to answer any questions.' ”
She also writes, "Residents of Monument Avenue have mobilized to transition the What Do You Stand For? portraits onto private property by welcoming them into their front yards after Sunday’s Easter parade. Drs. Stephanie and Aaron Goldberg of the 1600 block are spearheading 'Monument Avenue Redux' (my term, not theirs). While they and other Monument residents are actively recruiting exhibition co-hosts, Stephanie and a VCU student she mentors are scheming a creative and wonderful way to further uplift the portraits — and the young artists who created them. Stay tuned for more details about another feel-good public event on Monument later this month."
Considering the spirit of the season, this may be the best outcome one could have hoped for, though there's at least one sour note: One of the portraits — 8 feet tall and not easy to haul — disappeared in an apparent theft on Tuesday night. The piece was God's Gift by Elizabeth "Lizzie" Gray, one of the six adult program leaders who were included in the exhibit.
As for Easter on Parade, event organizer Venture Richmond is covering the cost for city equipment and labor to reposition a few of the portraits.
ART 180 program leader Jen Lawhorne and some ART 180 teens created this video of events from last night: