From left: Chris Milk Hulburt, Jon Baliles and Ed Trask; Photo by Ash Daniel
The downtown floodwall will receive a fresh look as the city's first RVA Street Art Festival takes place April 12 to 15. Helmed by Jon Baliles, assistant to Richmond's director of planning and development, and street artist Ed Trask, the event will involve artists from around the country, who will create floodwall murals on canvas, as well as paint directly on a power-plant building. We spoke with Baliles, Trask and Chris Milk Hulburt, who will create a river-themed mural.
RM: How did the idea for this festival generate?
JB: It started when I was in Venice in 2009. Shepard Fairey [creator of the iconic Obama posters] had been hired by the city of Venice to do three murals in these different public squares over the course of two weeks or three weeks. Shepard would create these murals with his team, and people would stand around and watch them as they came to life, and you could sit there and talk to him or some of the other guys.
RM: When was your first conversation about it with Ed?
JB: It was in April of last year. And then we started working on it in June.
ET: I just immediately started calling the street artists and friends I knew to see if they had any interest. I think with a lot of street artists in general … they're pretty suspicious of a lot of people. A lot of these guys will come from, ah, older backgrounds of different activities.
RM: Not always sanctioned by law?
ET: Right. But actually they are now. Now, these guys, their work is all corporate or gallery work. They're huge. They're massive.
RM: Do they have a free rein on what they can paint?
ET: Pretty much, as long as it was in the realm of decency. Also, these artists have done work [like this] before, so we know they're not coming here to paint something completely rebellious that's going to disrupt the common cause of bringing art to the streets.
But their work in general is going to freak some people out because … everybody seems to think art needs to be a certain way.
JB: This is a great opportunity to [improve] an otherwise really ugly asset, the floodwall that protects downtown. It's ugly. It's basically a big piece of concrete. The Army won't allow us to paint it, so the idea was to do murals, and we can paint on this power-plant building on the inside [wall].
RM: Chris, what are your plans?
CMH: My mural's the one with the most volunteers. So I have to conduct this fairly large group of people, painting on my painting. They do their part, and I come in and fix it. It's all paint-by-numbers;
it's very easy and exciting and fun.
RM: I'm going to ask you to decide between artists: Spencer Tunick, who does the large-scale nude photos, versus Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the couple who wrapped bridges in fabric and did The Gates in Central Park.
ET: I personally like Christo for the main reason that he creates an absolute community uproar. The most recent piece that he's trying to work on [5.9 miles of fabric panels suspended over the Arkansas River], you have half of the community saying, "No! They're going to totally disrupt our life so he can blanket this whole area with his project." Then you have this whole other side that is like, "No, he's bringing art to the masses."
I love seeing a bunch of naked people in one spot. That's beautiful. But I think the full-on ramifications of what Christo gets away with and what he does is so much more important than a thousand naked people.
Note: Richmond magazine is a sponsor of the RVA Floodwall Street Art Festival.