Growing up in South Side next to Chesterfield County in the ’80s, Richmond native Spencer Turner was bused to John B. Cary Elementary School as a part of the school system’s desegregation initiative.
“It was seen as a way to educate children, to have them not have racist ideas,” Turner says. “I think it worked.”
The experience led Turner to reject the suburban rhythm of where he grew up and instead look for places where ideas and cultures mixed freely. That took him to teaching posts in Braziland Peru, and then back to Richmond, where he owns a house in Battery Park with his wife, Eva Rocha.
While working on a Latin American family day for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Rocha began hearing about a lack of acceptance of Latin American artists in local galleries. The two decided to change that, and a bus again became a symbol of challenging ideas.
Since March 2012, the rolling headquarters of the Virginia Center for Latin American Art has played host to exhibits featuring up-and-coming Latin American artists, and the greater art community has taken notice.
The bus allowed the project to get operational quickly, Turner says, and go where the people are — schools, for example, and the First Fridays Art Walks.
But it’s also given Turner the chance to take Latin American art to unexpected places, where minds are changed. He recalls one conversation at the West End Farmers Market that began with anti-immigrant sentiment and ended with a discussion about art.
“We’re trying to build a bridge,” Turner says. “We’re trying to transcend our cultural reality.”