Studio Two Three puts Richmond (and Scott's Addition) on the map. (photo by Harry Kollatz Jr.)
The news that Gogobot ranked Richmond as the No. 1 most artistic mid-sized city in America spread rapidly around town last week. City Council member Jon Baliles, co-founder of the RVA Street Art Festival, shared the link Wednesday morning, and coverage followed by WWBT-NBC 12, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and RVA Magazine.
What is Gogobot? For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a travel website that allows viewers to plan trips using advice from people with similar tastes. Participants can write lists or reviews and are given points that generate a ranking. One way to get in touch with similar users is through Gogobot’s “tribe” feature. The author of the artistic ranking article, identified only as Shelby, is a contributor whose work on Gogobot comprises 10 articles ranking cities in a variety of categories. (One of Shelby’s other lists, published Nov. 10, places Richmond as the fifth most exciting city in Virginia, behind Alexandria, Charlottesville, Williamsburg and Fredericksburg. That one, understandably, didn’t generate quite as much buzz here.)
How did Richmond reach number one on the artistic list? The introduction to the article explains, “We started with a list of all the cities in America arranged by population. From that, we eliminated the top 100 and every city below the top 300 to find 200 mid-sized cities.” Gogobot then used metrics to rank 200 cites based on the number of museums, art galleries, art schools, art supply stores and performing arts venues.
This ranking of Richmond raises the question: Who and what is fostering art and artists in Richmond? Virginia Commonwealth University and the use of grant money supporting the arts are a common thread. Suzanne Silitch, director of communications for the VCU School of the Arts, says there is a high level of community engagement at the school.
“There are students at the School of the Arts working on community projects through the Creative Disruption Lab,’ says Silitch. “The CoLab internship program provides students with hands-on community problem-solving through transdisciplinary projects assisted by a community member and a faculty member. This year, they launched a mobile app called Navigate VCU in conjunction with the UCI Bike Races.”
Joe Seipel, dean of VCUarts, says that this connection with the community has grown over the last four years. Among other projects, art students have assisted with the separation of conjoined twins, worked with the engineering school (through the da Vinci Center) to develop a low-cost operating table for third world countries and experimented with Google Glass in hospital trauma situations.
“I think most of it has to do with the alumni,” Seipel says. “They come out of VCU and stay around the city. A portion of our students certainly go to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but there is also a group of students who stay here. We have a very workable city for an artist. It’s reasonably priced. It’s big enough to have a community that can support what we do. There is more and more of a community of art buyers as well as art aficionados.”
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ expansion and rising profile, along with VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art, under construction at West Broad and Belvidere streets, are also drawing attention to the city’s art scene.
“The ICA will become a catalyst for new experiences — including exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists who will participate in the Richmond art scene,” says Lisa Freiman, director of the ICA. “As a non-collecting institution, the ICA will focus on a fresh slate of changing exhibitions of visual art and design, experimental performances, films and programs that encourage in-depth consideration of the central issues of our time.”
Another place that fosters art is Studio Two Three, a 7,000-square-foot building in Scott’s Addition that about 80 local artists use for screen-printing, hard and soft ground etching, spit bite and aquatint printing, relief-printing, lithography, mono-printing and photography.
“We started as just printmaking based,” says Megan Nolde, program manager at Studio Two Three. “We still have a focus on printmaking, but we are really starting to view ourselves now as an arts incubator because we have extended our reach to fiber artists and photographers. We have a mural artist that rents out a space here. We have a sign maker that rents out a space here.”
Studio Two Three has private studios, semi private studios, a communal shop space and a communal computer lab stocked with Mac minis loaded with the Adobe Creative Suite. The lab is also home to Epson printers to generate stencils and the transparencies for screen-printing, one of which was donated by Triple Stamp Press in Manchester.
“It is very difficult for a printmaker to practice their art after graduating from school without access to the equipment,” Nolde says.
The rates for studio use vary, but the equipment, chemicals and cleaning materials, as well as modifiers for ink, are included in the rate. Artists are expected to provide their own materials to print on, as well as ink and the emulsion required to develop transparencies for screens. In addition to studio space, Studio Two Three offers classes on a variety of printmaking techniques.
“We offer introductory classes for printmaking, photography and even fibers, and we offer classes for people that maybe have more experience and want to learn or refine a skill,” Nolde says. “We also offer classes on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.”
Education and outreach projects in the works for Studio Two Three include programming with visiting artists next spring, a dye studio and continued support of Second Thursdays in Scott’s Addition. The studio has plans to offer professional development for artists, such as branding advice, to how to sell work online and understanding legal issues.
Studio Two Three is partly funded through grants made available from sources including the Virginia Commission for the Arts, CultureWorks, and the Golden Rule Foundation. CultureWorks is a Richmond-based group that assists in orchestrating the application of grants to individual artists and arts and culture organizations. Scott Garka, president of CultureWorks, says that VCU is drawing a lot of talent, and the city of Richmond is helping to retain this talent.
“The more we become a city that is known for lots of other things, that helps to keep our creative talent here as well,” says Garka. “Our mission all about driving a vibrant community by inspiring, enabling and cultivating world-class arts and culture. We do that through support through funding programs, grants programs individual artists are eligible for, as well as arts and culture organizations.”
CultureWorks also acts a consultation company for artists. Garka says that CultureWorks helps artists trying to overcome different challenges by connecting the dots between different resources. This way, they don’t have to recreate the wheel when they are looking for a solution.
Another organization that receives grant money through CultureWorks is Art 180, whose focus is on enriching the lives of young people in challenging circumstances. And while some of those young people have been inspired to pursue art, the organization is proud to say it has had participants go on to be engineers and entrepreneurs as well.
The most recent show at Art 180’s Atlas teen art center and gallery at 114 W. Marshall St. features sculpture and hip-hop lyrics that resulted from a program with the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center.
“It is something we have always wanted to do,” says Michael Guedri, program and volunteer coordinator at Art 180.
The underlying goal is to give a voice and medium to the youth.
“Everyone has something to say,” Guedri says, “We help them find a way to say it. One of the things that we have considered is how to bring local artists together with the community. We bridge the gap and bring professional artists to the youth through leadership programs.”