Political Arts: Richmond's Mayoral Candidates Share Their Arts and Culture Platforms 

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As novelist Toni Morrison said, all good art is political. So perhaps all good politics also is art.

Certainly, even in such an artistic town as Richmond, the arts aren’t a top priority for any mayoral candidate. No one would expect them to be.

Among voters’ concerns are city finances, the high poverty rate, public school conditions and transportation. But in a healthy city, arts and culture can have a hand in improving those conditions, too — not to mention contributing to an environment that fosters creative problem solving.

And for the city’s chief executive, an appreciation for what makes Richmond great is expected, as is an understanding of art’s communion with the rest of a leader’s duties. Will budget slashing claim arts programs in the parks and recreation department? Will the new mayor work with the School Board to preserve arts education at the Richmond Public Schools? Do the candidates understand the difference between a project like CenterStage and supporting local arts?

Do they even read, bro?

Art tells a story of who we are, where we come from, and whom we’ve decided to memorialize along the way. Statues are art, museums are art, public history is art. All are political, and all are part of the Richmond community.

So while Richmond’s artistic bona fides are being represented on a national stage by the musically inclined Tim Kaine, Style spent time with the seven mayoral candidates to better understand their perspective of the city’s political theater.

click to enlarge ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel

Jon Baliles

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

All three RVA Street Art festivals — that’s the biggest thing. And my web calendar I’ve been doing since 1999, River City Rapids. It used to be called WeeklyRant.com, and I started that because I got tired of people saying there was nothing to do in Richmond. I said, “Are you crazy?” There’s tons of stuff to do in Richmond, so I started an online calendar that lists live music festivals, theater, symphony, opera, ballet, sports.

Can you point to any sponsored legislation, votes or work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

Nothing legislatively. But when I was on staff in the planning and development department, I worked on the establishment of the arts district. We had a good community-driven discussion and proposal, and then the administration flipped it on its head. It was very frustrating. At least they got the arts district established, but the process by which it was done wasn’t very smooth. Very top-heavy.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

Local government needs to look at the arts in a city as the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company. If you put all the professional theater, performing arts venues, all the galleries, all the artists, all the stuff at [Virginia Commonwealth University] together — even without VCU — you put all that stuff together, it’s the equivalent an entity that employs hundreds, if not thousands of people, an enormous amount of economic development opportunity. And a lot of those organizations do a lot of stuff with students in the schools, and a lot of it’s free. So it’s enriching lives of kids that might not otherwise be able to experience a play or the ballet or whatever. I think that’s the way government needs to look at it. I’m not saying we subsidize it, but you absolutely have to encourage it so it thrives.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

It’s a contract, which technically could be broken. I would support continuing the $500,000. The real estate tax issue — I did vote for it, so I do support it — but the city has to make sure, if we’re doing deals with people, we need to have that kind of stuff settled beforehand. The fact that it came to light years after the fact is disturbing.

What makes good public art?

Some of it is collaboration, but some of it is the spontaneity of it. Somebody sees something and says “Hey, this area could use a dose of art.” Then they call the property owner and boom. It’s the kind of stuff [muralist] Ed Trask used to do — back then they used to call it graffiti. He had to do it on the sly. And now it’s kind of hip. It adds a lot to neighborhoods and areas. One of the Street Art Festival’s goals was to take blighted space and dank, dark walls or space, some place that needs a dash of color. It brings attention to places in ways you hadn’t thought of.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

Monument Avenue should continue to grow with statues that show our growth and maturity as a city. My personal preference was to put Maggie Walker up on Monument Avenue. Oliver Hill should have a statue. Doug Wilder should have a statue. There’s plenty of intersections left in the city to do that and show how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. It’s not the end of the discussion. You put it in proper context, where people can go and read about the circumstances behind it.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

We need to continue to dig and continue to tell the story. I’ve lived here all of my life and I’ve only been learning about what happened, as far as the slave trade goes, for the last 10 years. That’s a discussion that should’ve been had civically, in schools, and in textbooks. As a community, we need to have more understanding and education about it. One of the great pioneers in that has been [former University of Richmond president] Ed Ayers. ... The city absolutely has a role in telling that story, in conjunction with people like Ed and universities and historical societies.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

I haven’t studied it, but I support the concept. What’s the point of doing a plan, if we’re not going to implement it? It’s important that we look at it and prioritize it, just like the riverfront plan. It comes with cost, a la carte. And of course you have to go to council for each.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be to you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at Richmond Public Schools?

It is very important, but it’s up to the School Board and the superintendent whether they cut those programs or not. It’s up the council and mayor to provide the resources needed for kids to get a well-rounded education, including the arts. But the mayor and council can lead in terms of building and promoting the philanthropic stuff the community already does. Like Virginia Rep brings in kids for matinees and doesn’t charge them.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

I’d like to maintain at least what we have. If we can expand in good times, great. But I don’t think we should be cutting stuff back.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

No I don’t.

 

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  • Ash Daniel

Jack Berry

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I’m most proud of the Richmond Folk Festival. It’s transformed the way people think of their city, demonstrated that we can do big, audacious things really well. It’s a model of creativity and inclusion and diversity and flawless execution. In the beginning I was the person who stood up when nobody else did and took responsibility for organizing it and raising the money to make it possible.

[He also lists other projects Venture Richmond has sponsored or been part of: Friday Cheers, the G40 mural project, TEDxRVA, First Fridays, Fall Line Fest, Street Art Festival and the Second Street Festival.]

We’ve worked very hard to make Richmond a more vibrant city to attract the young people and a diverse array of folks to downtown Richmond.

Can you point to any work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I spent the last 10 years of the leader of Venture Richmond, which produces major festivals and events for the community, most of which are free or close to free, and offer incredible cultural experiences to the community. ... My job has been to bring together the people who have the expertise to select the performers and produce amazing concerts for the community.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

This is an arts town — it’s one of our biggest strengths, so it’s very important for city government to be supportive of the arts and create a climate where they can thrive. For example, it’s important for the city to supportive of free cultural events like First Fridays and the 2nd Street Festival and the Folk Festival.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

First, I think it’s important for the city to honor its contracts [like the one it has with SMG/RPAC] and to be supportive of arts education — and to be supportive of efforts that bring new audiences that might not otherwise be able to afford performing arts experiences. I would not seek to change their tax-exempt status.

What makes good public art?

Public art should reflect a wide diversity of artistic expression. It should push the limits. It should make us think and make us talk about what we’re seeing. I would only draw the limit at art that may be offensive to children.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

I would not remove the statues on Monument Avenue, but I would try to add context to the story so that people understand the true and complete history of Richmond, not just the glorification of defeated generals.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

It’s an incredibly important story in the history of our nation and in the history of our city. We should do a much better job of presenting that story, not just in Shockoe, but throughout the city. We should start by completing the Lumpkin’s Jail project, and acquiring property in Shockoe to memorialize the slave trading history of our city in a complete and authentic way.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

I don’t have any particular objectives. I look forward to seeing how it plays out and what the arts community thinks is important. My job as mayor is not to direct any particular outcome but be supportive of the community’s priorities when it comes to arts.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at the Richmond Public Schools?

Arts education is very important in the lives of many children. It’s their opportunity to excel and express themselves and find something that truly engages and challenges them. It’s a really important part of the educational life of many kids, and we shouldn’t sacrifice it for budget concerns.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

No, I haven’t evaluated the arts programs in the parks and rec yet, but I’d certainly like to see the Dogwood Dell programming continue, as well as Arts in the Park program.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

I have no plans to change the geographic boundaries. I’d like to see improved streetscapes in the arts district, and more marketing to bring people down to see it.

 

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  • Ash Daniel

Bobby Junes

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

Serving on the board of Caritas for six years. What we wanted to do was create a facility for women and children to go, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. … We had to make this concept a reality. That’s where you have to be very creative and innovative to do that. It gives these people the creativeness and innovativeness to be able to step back into life.

Can you point to any work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I’ve got 10 years [experience] as recreation and parks commissioner in Henrico County. Once the parks were created, you have planned events at the park that people can enjoy. And you try to focus those enjoyments. Not only for mother, dad, children, but also for retired and elderly community with plenty of time on their schedule. You have to see all the colors of the rainbow if you want to be creative and move things forward.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

Local government doesn’t just get focused on one group, like school students. You have specific assignments in school but you don’t cut the cord right there. The cord has got to realize that a lot of the school goes home. The student goes home with mom and has got to learn. You’ve got to make it creative and fun enough that it keeps the student’s appetite, that they want to do this. … The more fun and enjoyable it is for the student, the more you’re going to keep the student in school. [Interviewer tries to clarify whether he is suggesting the role is through schools.]

Schools for sure, education, and recreation and parks. I’ve got three master’s degrees, I should have my Ph.D., so I’m very well educated, so I have to make sure that when I’m speaking to you, that my answer to you might need more information.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

Yes, and yes. If the city is so in-bound now with the amount of revenues it can raise, I’d be interested in looking at a public-private real estate tax. That would be if a nonprofit buddies up with an entity but they make a million dollars on the deal. That particular event would be subject to a real estate tax — what they would’ve normally paid in real estate tax. Now the flip side of this is, if they break even or make under $100,000, there’s no tax. But if they make a million or half a million on the event and it’s held at X place, then we look at this. This has to do with Richmond looking for other sources of revenue. [Interviewer notes that this isn’t the CenterStage situation.] This is more concept. The generality is that I would look at this.

What makes good public art?

Good art is when you can engage the bulk of the population. I don’t think anything you’re going to do is going to encompass 100 percent, but when you can get 50 to 75 percent of what you’re trying to profess, saying yes, we hear you, we see you, and we want you to come and be a part of what’s happening.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

Very simply put, we need to equally remember the other wars and events that the state has contributed to. Civil War is one page, but you have the Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam — so these are other functions that the city has sent its citizens as volunteers to. So, again, like the colors of the rainbow, let’s not get stuck on just the Civil War aspect.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

Very much so. This was a center. … My parents immigrated from Europe. Well, a lot of the Afro-American families today, their immigration came from Africa, so this is just as important for these families that are now American citizens as it is for the Europeans who came from other countries to the U.S. Each of us has a past and we should look at this past and know where it came from. And if we can highlight it, we can highlight it. The Afro-American community really had to suffer, had to pay quite a price at that time, as slaves, when they came over. So we certainly should highlight the trials and tribulations they had to put up with before they actually became American citizens. It was not an easy cost. Horrific is not the right word, but they had to suffer quite a bit.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at the Richmond Public Schools?

Again, like the rainbow, and I think this is why we’re having students score so low on the SOL scores. Art is as important as math, science and reading. The art is what gets the young students’ appeal and attention. This is what really attracts them. Once you put the arts aspect back in, you start to draw the students back in. This is something fun that they enjoy doing, and this keeps them hip-hop with doing the other topics that they have [sic]. It’s critical.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

I want to keep the relationship and be very open to other ways and means. We can look at what Henrico’s done and Chesterfield’s done with their recreation and parks department. That is what recreation and parks is about, relaxing, letting people come and enjoy the parks, and art is really the way you do that.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

Currently I like it the way it is. I’m running for mayor not for the things I believe in, but for things people have told [me] the citizens want. And the citizens’ primary concern at this point in time is education.

 

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  • Scott Elmquist

Joe Morrissey

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I’m on a board of Neighborhood Housing Services of Richmond, an organization that helps people find low-interest loans and develop financial acumen in order to be a homeowner, but they also have an interesting project where they promote art projects at a school. They’ve gotten me involved in that. The other thing is literature-related, the Podium Foundation, and I’ve always supported that. I love those types of programs where individuals in the community come in and are contributing to literature in schools. I would like to get the city of Richmond engaged in giving them money to carry on that project.

Can you point to any sponsored legislation, votes or work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

Not really. I appreciate artists but I have not been involved in any specific artistic projects.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

There’s a huge role. Every successful, thriving community has a vibrant arts district. I love what I’m seeing in Richmond right now, our theater district, our arts district. A city has got to have a commitment to help our arts community and I’ll support that as much or even more so than has already been done.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

I’m desirous of continuing to support what they’re doing. Regarding the situation with the taxes, let me just say that I’m going to look at it. I do not want to get into the habit of, because something is laudable, we give them tax abatement. … There’s a culture down at City Hall that any new business coming in is good, end of story, do what we have to do to get that business in, including huge tax abatements. I’ve got to examine it to find out whether they should continue to be exempt from paying taxes, but I don’t want to commit myself right now. [Morrissey voted for the 2015 bill in the General Assembly to expand real estate tax exemptions to include Richmond CenterStage and Altria venues.]

What makes good public art?

Good public art is festivals, like Folk Fest, Jazz Fest. Having various artists with studios here, that’s good. Having people walking up Carytown, Broad Street, Jackson Ward and having artists selling their wares or putting their products and works on display. If you walk down Broad Street on First Fridays, you see an eclectic mix of [races and ages]. There’s talk of putting in those rings on the south side of the Potterfield Bridge. I’ve reflected on that and I think that might be good. ... It’s great to have that thriving arts scene. It helps us lure in millennials to the city.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

We always have to be mindful of history. I would separate generals from a Confederate presidency that served as the titular head of a South that condoned slavery and wanted to preserve it. [Morrissey recently came out in favor of removing the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue, saying he would seek to take it down as mayor.]

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

It’s absolutely paramount that the city tells that history. I would love to see a situation where people all over the country, the world, came to see the horrific nature of the slave trade, from the riverfront and a replicated slave ship, to the path leading to Lumpkin’s Jail, and feel like they were walking up there as a slave themselves, a replication of Lumpkin’s Jail. I would like it to be a memorial and a park and a museum that told this story. I think we could have a [Colonial] Williamsburg up here in the form of people wanting to see about that slave trade. I think it is the city’s job to tell that story, working with the private sector.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

I’ve had no input into it and would like to be educated about it.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at the Richmond Public Schools?

To me it’s very important. People can distinguish themselves in many ways in school. Some do it academically, some through the arts. We need to foster that, nurture it, and promote it. I’ll do all that I can to promote arts in public school.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

Like other city agencies, I think it would be premature to say what I’m going to do except that I’m going to examine every department from the bottom up, start with zero-base budgeting and say, justify your cost. I’ll look at it and see what they shake out.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

No plans to change it. I’ve echoed what other candidates have said: I’ve got an open mind to expanding it.

 

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  • Ash Daniel

Michelle Mosby

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I’ve always been a part of a choir, part of a group. I’ve been doing that all of my life. At a New U, a New Chance church in the 9th District, I was part of the Crusade for Christ. I’ve also started singing groups.

Can you point to any sponsored legislation, votes or work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

This council was a part of ensuring that Binford Middle School became one of RPS’ schools of art. I’m proud to have been a part of that. We had to find the resources to make that happen. I would like to see some things happen legislatively as far as art expanding on the South Side. I don’t think that all of Richmond understands art and what art does for all of Richmond.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

Expanding what art does for our community and our city. I don’t think there’s a real connection to all people on what art does. So expanding it to a place where it’s reaching the South Side as well as the North Side. Legislatively, it’s a part of our responsibility to link up with nonprofits to ensure that all of Richmond has a knowledge of the arts.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

I can’t give a definitive answer. I can say as mayor I’m going to look at the priorities and see where we are and see if we can begin to get systems in place so that government works, implement a plan for schools, and then look to see how we can expand the rest of things. But there are some priorities that I have to take care of walking in the door. [Mosby voted for the city to pay for CenterStage’s real estate tax bill in 2014.]

What makes good public art?

I like murals. I have a salon on Forest Hill Avenue, and 15 years ago I tried to do a mural on the salon, and it wasn’t accepted at the time. I like murals but I do believe they should be in taste. When we’re looking at something, we have to ask ourselves, when a child is looking at it, what do they see.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

We should enhance all art. We’re spending time talking about the take-away instead of the add-to. To have the Jefferson Davis statue and not talk about what it meant, and perhaps how we overcame it, is perhaps doing a disservice. So I believe we have to have the whole entire picture to understand art.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

It is Richmond’s role. A lot of things happened here. A lot of things continue to happen here. Because of our history, we are still suffering educationally. We’re still dealing with public housing issues. And that to me is a form of what went on in our past. For me it’s time for Richmond to really have a conversation about it, so that we can come from it.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

Art should be a part of the master plan, and any great leadership makes sure that everything that we see ourselves moving forward in — transportation, education, the arts — are things we need to make sure are in this master plan. For me it’s leading a city that has something for everyone, so how do you have a master plan that leaves some of it out?

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at the Richmond Public Schools?

We have to have clarity on whose roles are whose. The mayor, the council can give money to schools, but after that you can’t determine where it goes. The first thing we need to do is get a leader that can really work with the School Board, the superintendent, so that we’re all of one accord on the importance of things such as art. Relationship-building has to be first. The role [of mayor] is to provide the resources. And I’ve been on the side to notice that sometimes you can provide the resources, but if you don’t have the relationship, they still don’t go where they need to go.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

Today I do not.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

With both the parks and the arts district, it’s not a matter of not wanting to expand them, it’s a matter of priority. So let me begin to look at the things we know as a city that have to work, which is our city system, getting government on track.

 

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  • Ash Daniel

Levar Stoney

What, if any, projects have you been involved in that have contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I haven’t been involved in anything in the arts. I’ve been more into volunteering at different schools and reading to children. That’s where I spend most of my time, as a mentor and volunteer at Swansboro Elementary School, to open their eyes to art, or some of the works throughout the city — that’s in my path, getting involved and engaged in the community and with our children.

Can you point to any work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

Working on statewide campaigns over the years, you get a front-row view of why it’s important for communities like Richmond. I’ve been invited into a number of different museums, institutions, some here in Richmond, particularly the [Virginia Museum of Fine Arts]. When I was running the governor’s campaign in 2013, I got to sit down and visit with Alex Nyerges (the museum’s executive director).

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

I don’t think there’s an either-or when it comes to public art. ... I think that the city could be a driver in investing in some of the nonprofits that allow for many of our children to engage in culture and arts that they wouldn’t normally do. If they live in certain neighborhoods of the city, they don’t currently have that front-row view of arts and history and culture in the city. The mayor can play a role particularly in funding nonprofits that can connect the two.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

Their ability to bring in people from outside of Richmond to partake in the arts here has been a good thing, a plus for the city. I hear a lot of frustration about the dollars that go there, and whether or not we should have already ended the current setup. It’s something that’s worth exploring but I don’t mind the current setup. You look at the people who come from all over the East Coast coming to Richmond. They partake in our restaurant scene and they spend dollars here in Richmond. So for me it’s all about how we get more people to come to Richmond.

What makes good public art?

For me it’s what challenges people. It’s about challenging what you may already know or think. Looking at something in a different perspective. When I’m walking around the city and I see a mural, or I’m in a museum and I see something that I would have never expected and it challenges me — that’s what I want to get out of art. And I think that’s what our children here deserve to see and people in the city deserve to see.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

There’s no better place for the conversation to begin and end than here in the former Capital of the Confederacy. We should be the place where we have the true discussion on how we recognize and memorialize Confederate figures, and particularly we should start with Jefferson Davis, who was a politician, not a soldier. Should there really be such a grandiose exhibition for him on Monument Avenue? That’s a discussion worth having. I know that for some people in the city it is a tad bit offensive. And I think we should consider renaming Jeff Davis Highway.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

I think it’s our responsibility to tell folks, to tell the story about those individuals who came from another land through our streets. Many of them helped build this city, and the fact that there’s no true recognition or memorial to their lives — it needs to be resolved right away. I’m glad to hear that we’re moving toward something but it’s taken far too long.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

I want to wait and see. Community engagement is a priority and what my administration will be all about — hearing what the community wants to see from our art scene and how the city plays a role in it. I’m not into an ivory-tower approach of sending down decrees.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at Richmond Public Schools?

Arts education contributes to creating a well-rounded student. ... We should do our part in ensuring [students] have that foundation to enter a 21st-century economy. When people talk about STEM education, I add the A to it to create STEAM, because arts are important. We’ve been moving towards technology and math, but I’ve benefited from having a foundation in arts. Every child should have access to it.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

I’ve talked about after-school programs that every child in RPS should have access to. It’s not just about homework, tutoring — it’s opening a child’s mind as well — through recreation or in the arts. It’s something that should be a part of every after-school program in conjunction with nonprofit partners and also through parks and rec.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

I’m always open to expansion. This is where I talk about starting with yes over no. What we have right now is something that has evolved over the years. When I first came here, it wasn’t as burgeoning as it is currently. I see it growing organically on its own. But I’m sure there’s a role that City Hall can play as well.

 

click to enlarge ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel

Lawrence Williams

What projects, if any, have you been involved with that contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

The revitalization of 2nd Street: I was co-architect on the Jackson Center Office Building at Second and Clay streets. Years ago I sat down with the owners and had to beg them to see if they could build an office center and they got it down. Now it’s home to 2nd Street Festival. I supported the Broad Street arts district development and participate in First Friday events.

Can you point to any work experience that has contributed to the artistic and cultural life in Richmond?

I’ve been a registered architect since 1986. Being an architect in town and contributing to the urban fabric, I’ve contributed to the built environment. Tenth and Byrd streets, the old Reynolds metal core winding machine building, I designed. Numerous historical renovations in Church Hill.

As succinctly as possible, what is the role of local government in local art?

Local government should be a patron of the arts. They should always have in their budget adequate dollars to fund art. Street facade, street scape, the whole built environment should be a work of art. The skyline should be a logo and work of art for the region.

Richmond CenterStage, Altria Theater, Dominion Arts Center is an instance where the city’s involvement in an art-related project has been fraught. As mayor, would you continue to give $500,000 a year to the Richmond Performing Arts Center for SMG, the global management company that profits from the venues? And would you continue to allow the nonprofit side to use its 501(c)(3)status to avoid paying real estate taxes on those venues — while using the for-profit side to get historical state and federal tax credits?

The main thing is we want to make certain the downtown is vibrant. We want to get enough people downtown to get these nonprofits and venues clientele. As mayor, I would do whatever I can to help increase exposure and cash flow and we would have to revisit their success every couple of years. I would have to explore the real estate issue again. Another way to look at it, is that downtown is improving and we have made anchor investment, and because we’ve already made anchor investments, from this point on we might need to have a policy of not providing any additional support along these lines.

What makes good public art?

Good public art to me expresses Richmond’s history, of course, but it also expresses Richmond’s future, what we can be. It would illustrate that there were many people, even during the rough times in our history trying to do the right thing. Our art would be a master plan for the future. I think we have to focus on land use and the quality of the environment. Like Savannah’s parks in the city grid. Capital Square is heavily landscaped and it gives a certain image and sense of place. I’d like to continue that down to Shockoe Bottom where they’d put the slave plaza.

Should Monument Avenue be home to art glorifying Confederate generals and presidents?

There’s no reason to put statues any further [out Monument Avenue]. In my master plan for the Boulevard, I have a new spine going south to north, and on that new spine we could have additional art and monuments as well. There are other corridors we need to develop, like Boulevard, that could showcase our artistic character.

What is the city’s role in telling Richmond’s history of slavery and the slave trade?

I would like more emphasis put on Mrs. Lumpkin because she is the lady that endured. Mr. Lumpkin should not be honored or perpetuated. He abandoned his wife, a black woman, got on train with Jefferson Davis and escaped south [when Union forces came to town]. I would like to see the Lumpkin’s jail site done, and more emphasis on Mrs. Lumpkin. I want to see Shockoe Square developed fully with the Exxon station removed.

Do you have any plans or priorities for Richmond’s public art master plan implementation?

Shockoe Plaza, the Boulevard, monuments to the past and future, more art in lobbies: The City Hall lobby needs murals that inspire our city population. And we need more educational art in our schools. Linear display systems in our high schools and middle schools, so we can use it as an art and educational medium.

Arts programs are often the first cut when a school faces budgetary problems. How important will it be you as mayor to ensure fully funded arts education at the Richmond Public Schools?

Our education system has to readjust itself to be a hand-to-mind instructional system, where each classroom has a lab or arts studio close to it. Yes, I want to maintain and expand arts education in schools, and I’m talking about a $400-$500 million school budget.

Do you have any plans as mayor to expand, change, or shrink any of Richmond’s art programs in the parks and rec department?

I’ve watched them grow over the years and create successful a regional market — I’d like to continue that. I’d like to see a greenway park environment that allows all these spaces and festivals to flow contiguously, a flow of urban connected space. Everyone believes education is important, but as mayor I believe our amenities would also be important. People stay in Richmond and invest in property because the city has adjacent amenities. It’s amenities that hold this city together and the arts are an integral part of that.

Do you have any plans as mayor to change or expand the arts district?

I hadn’t thought about it. VCU and the arts district are already intertwined but I want Broad and Belvidere to look like Times Square — more artistic neon graphics and advertising. But ads so sculptural that it would look like a work of art at night. There’s the new museum [VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art], and I want the other three corners to glow.

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