Concrete Oasis 

A new garden and art project in Mosby Court hopes to send a message.

click to enlarge Art Burton, founder of Kinfolks Community, is a gardener who is hoping to make a difference by beautifying Mosby.

Scott Elmquist

Art Burton, founder of Kinfolks Community, is a gardener who is hoping to make a difference by beautifying Mosby.

Redd Street in Mosby Court is considered the toughest street in a neighborhood known more for crime than creativity. It’s also the blossoming site of a street art gallery and garden that’s transforming it into an arts and education incubator.

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” Lady Bird Johnson said of the power of gardens, a philosophy to which Art Burton also subscribes. The founder of Kinfolks Community, an organization that aims to reduce violence, improve living conditions and increase employment opportunities in Mosby, is himself a gardener.

“There’s a hopelessness and disappointment level that exists in public housing culture,” he says. “I’m trying to change that culture to one of opportunity and possibility.”

With a goal to begin doing things that showed immediate results in the neighborhood, seven gardens were planted in Mosby last year.

Seeking further funding from the city, Burton was informed that one way to secure it would be with mural projects. “I think like a gardener, so I thought why not put art in flower and vegetable gardens and turn the whole street into a gallery of gardens and art? Right now, there’s only one flower or tree in the entire community and no art whatsoever.”

After taking the idea to the community, excitement began to build about mural painting in Mosby and the project took life. A 20-foot-by-40-foot tent has been erected to serve as an arts and education base during the two-month project. Jackson Ward-based muralist James Thornhill will collaborate with 130 children to transform Redd Street.

Thornhill’s goal exceeds teaching kids to paint outdoors. He wants them to walk away having learned life lessons from the experience.

“I’ll be taking the kids on a mural tour around the city so they can see something beyond their neighborhood,” he says. “I want them to meet someone who looks like them, who came from the ’hood and is an artist.”

“Every kid is an artist,” he says. “Parents tell kids drawing won’t get you where you need to go, do sports, but that’s wrong. Art can take you anywhere and it’s everywhere — on the shoes on your feet, in the design of your hair. Kids need to realize that.”

Work began April 13 and continues Monday through Friday through the end of the school year, with even the youngest children assisting by carrying water or mixing paints. Burton hopes the legacy of the project is far greater than the time it takes to create it.

“We hope we can get Virginia’s first lady to walk the galleries,” he says. His aim is to create a sense of community forged by visitors coming to see art in an unexpected place. Specifically, he says he hopes people will visit from other communities to enjoy the artwork and gardens: “That way, it’s not so isolated and desolate.”

Thornhill is on the same page.

“I want to elevate things for these kids,” he says. “I want the murals to talk about good, healthy eating, produce and healthful activities. Even colors are important. We’ll use colors that calm, not excite. It has to send a message and make kids feel happy and inspired.”

Just as key is a goal of residents taking ownership of their corner of Richmond, even places such as Redd Street.

“We want to create a sense of community where we learn to talk to each other to resolve our differences. Quality of life is not about how you live, it’s about how you choose to live,” Burton says. “When we don’t care about each other, that’s how you get a Mosby.” S

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