What is the city doing to engage out-of-school youth this summer? In light of recent incidents involving attendees at Richmond’s First Fridays Art Walk, a lot more people are looking for an answer.
Jeffrey Bourne, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Dwight Jones, says the city has begun talks with the art walk’s organizers and downtown businesses to develop more youth-oriented programs.
“The idea would be to carve out a piece of the event to make their own,” Bourne says. Among the ideas being discussed are showcases for high school step teams and spoken-word competitions that would be held downtown in conjunction with the art walk, held on the first Friday of each month.
The initiative comes on the heels of recent reports of unruly crowds at the normally tranquil downtown event. Scuffles involving teens hanging out along Broad Street at the last two events, in June and July, led to arrests. Following the incidents, police reportedly used horses and sirens to disperse the larger-than-normal crowds.
One of downtown Richmond’s few success stories, the art walk nonetheless seems always in a precarious position. Only now instead of city officials threatening participating businesses with shutdown over code violations, the issue is unruly crowds.
“If this environment continues, it will contribute to drive people away,” says Christina Newton, organizer of First Fridays, in an email sent earlier this month. “With the emails that I’ve received and comments that are being posted on social media and on local blogs, this is already the feeling.”
Both Bourne and Newton were among various city officials, police and others who attended a meeting to discuss the event’s future following the July 1 art walk. Attendees of the July 8 meeting say the consensus is that art walk has become a draw for young people in part because of the summer break from school. Following the meeting, Newton said that reports of the alleged unruliness of the young attendees have been overblown. In the future, there will be volunteers to help direct sidewalk traffic, Newton says, and other initiatives to help control the crowds.
Some of the new measures will be in place during the next event on Aug. 5.