A long time ago in a Richmond far, far away, fire performers were virtually unseen in public, unless you happened to be at a Gwar show.
An all-nude art show would have been scandalous. Headline-worthy bands such as Handsome Furs, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists or Dan Deacon hadn’t yet experienced the wonder of playing on a stage made of Thalhimer’s leftovers adorned with flames and a gargoyle.
Then along came Gallery5.
Celebrating 10 years in April, the multipurpose art and music venue housed in an 1849 firehouse began as the brainchild of Amanda Robinson and Jeremy Parker, aka Parker Galore. After originally connecting through MySpace in the dark ages of 2004, the two set out to breathe new life into the building owned by Robinson’s father.
“The place lends itself to a lot going on at one time,” Galore says. “We conceived of wall space for art and a stage for music. We were on the same page from the beginning about how we could make this a creative community.”
Channeling their youthful exuberance and plenty of elbow grease, they set an opening date of April 2005 to coincide with the launch of RVA Magazine, with which Galore also was involved. The opening extravaganza was like nothing Richmond had seen, with more than 40 artists participating, video projections, sculpture, paintings, prints and photographs plus bands playing downstairs. Serendipitously, Galore came across five fire performers dazzling a dozen people in an alley and recruited them to move their act to Gallery5.
“People were waiting in a line that went down the street to get in,” he recalls. “We were blown away. Inside, Amanda and I stood on the stairs looking down at it all and decided we needed to keep making this happen.”
Robinson had recently returned to Richmond after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design and driving cross-country selling T-shirts. And for her, Gallery5’s kickoff was a revelation.
“I was a new face back to Richmond so I didn’t know the arts community,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without Parker. He’s a fire starter. Then I met Prabir [Mehta]. We all met each other at the right time.”
As a member of the Rachel Nevadas, musician Mehta played an early show at Gallery5. “There were good vibes, good energy to the space,” he says. “One of the few places that spoke to me. After the gig, I asked Amanda if there were any music things I could help with.”
Ten years later, he’s worked the soundboard, helped build exhibition structures, cleaned up after shows and sat on the board of directors. He even left, thinking he needed a break from the all-consuming effort. “But I couldn’t stay away too long,” he says. “You always go home.”
The gallery was an incubator for developing art forms such as burlesque, the Richmond Comedy Coalition, and hula-hooping and dance troupes.
“It was a catalyst for new emerging artists and nonprofits to have a base,” Robinson says. “So many artists were created out of their starts here.” High-profile exhibits such as Disrobed 1 and 2, featuring nude models in full body paint, ensured that Gallery5 continued pushing boundaries.
Eventually Robinson left to focus on her baking business. That departure left a hole filled by artist and musician Nick Crider, who’d been seduced by the old firehouse. “I was an intern for like five minutes,” he says, laughing. “They asked me to show my art here and then I asked them if they needed help and here I am now on the roof.”
Besides curating the gallery’s art and music, Crider stays busy maintaining the building and currently, repairing the gallery’s ancient roof. But he vows that April will be a blowout month to pay tribute to a decade of creative community.
To celebrate, a photography exhibit will feature some of the most iconic imagery captured at Gallery5 through the years, along with an installation by local artist Dave Watkins and two performances from RVA Dance Collective. Onstage under the gargoyle’s watchful eye will be musical guests White Laces, Lobo Marino, Dave Watkins and the Awesome Few.
The Party Liberation Front, stalwarts of Gallery5, will close down the side street with a Pyro Circus consisting of circus arts, video projections and, yes, fire performers. S
Gallery5’s 10th anniversary party is Friday, April 3, from 6 p.m. to midnight at 200 W. Marshall St. A series of anniversary shows continues through May 1.