September 01, 2004 News & Features » Cover Story


Culture Under Construction 

Nineteen arts groups want to change Richmond -- they just need $500 million.

From grassroots organizations like Richmond Indie Radio, which is hoping for $30,000 to get on the air, to big state institutions, such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and its $150 million expansion, our arts scene is under construction this fall. No matter how large or small, they're all hoping you'll contribute to their cause. The cost of the following 19 projects, which include nonprofit arts and historical institutions, totals approximately $500 million, of which about half has yet to be raised.

Interestingly, the two largest projects, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' $150 million expansion and the $161 million Virginia Performing Arts Complex, have had the most divergent fund-raising results. While the 68-year-old museum is nearly finished with just $20 million to go, the proposed VPAC has at least $117.5 million more to raise. About half of the projects will be occurring downtown, and more than half have missions to teach history.

While we have included a broad spectrum of projects, these aren't the only ones. Some groups, such as the Richmond Mural Project and Polkadot Arts, haven't established their nonprofit status yet to seek public funds. The University of Richmond, in the midst of a $200 million endowment campaign, hasn't specified how much of that money will go to the arts.

But even if you don't have money to give to arts groups, they could use your time. We've compiled a list of the types of volunteers different groups are looking for, from gardener to Webmaster. And the fall arts calendar will guide you through the season ahead — we've highlighted events we think are especially exciting.


Project: Renovating gallery space (the old Artspace) on 6 E. Broad Street. Two-year project includes creating an office/shop, correcting traffic flow by opening up doorways, making the bathroom handicapped accessible, sectioning off storage space, improving lighting and refinishing the floors.

Completion: Phase 1 completed, which included converting a small gallery into a shop and opening up doorways to correct a congested hallway problem. The second phase will be undertaken after the gallery has raised more money, either through grants or donations.

Why: The First Friday event can attract as many as 1,500 people. The renovation helps move traffic around more efficiently. "The most important thing is we want that gallery shop," says founding member Chuck Scalin. "Most of the members will sell one-of-a-kind items in the shop, all for under $100."

Cost: Raised $800 for phase 1. "This would be a $10,000 job easily, but because we're a cooperative gallery, the members are working together," says Scalin, who designed the renovations. Member Pete Heiberger has done all the construction. The cost of the second phase is estimated at $10,000.

Total: $10,800

To go: $10,000

Arts Fund

Project: The Arts Fund is a new, annual campaign administered by the Arts Council to streamline corporate donations to the arts. Businesses donate once to the fund then arts groups submit requests for money, rather than going to the businesses directly. "Because of all the regional economic development that's arts based, now seemed an especially good time to make sure that the arts and cultural community has ongoing operating capacity," says Arts Fund Director Kathryn Fessler. "What's happening in economic development is all about buildings, another piece is economic stability."

Completion: Began raising money for the fund in May 2004, made first contributions to eight local arts groups totaling $170,000 in June. The fund will become an annual campaign. Last year, the fund's board of directors went after direct corporate contributions; this year they will begin an employee contributions campaign as well.

Why: "The Arts Fund enables a greater number and variety of businesses to contribute to the arts, because they can do it once and in one place," says Fessler.

Cost: Raised $300,000 in 2004 campaign, now in middle of distributing the remainder. The board hasn't set a goal for 2005 because it has not met this year, but Fessler says it will be more than last year's goal of $300,000.

Total: more than $300,000

To go: more than $300,000


Project: When Artspace moved to the Plant Zero complex in Manchester the group needed to design the new space for gallery use. They added museum-quality track lighting and plywood reinforced walls.

Completion: Construction is completed.

Why: "When we moved in, the whole building was being changed from a printing facility to an art facility, so we had to get the track lighting installed, and the walls were reinforced with plywood so we can hang heavy paintings on them," says gallery president Dana Frostick.

Cost: The nonprofit gallery owes the construction company $8,500 for the work completed. The next it would like to do is add electronic door locks for better access and security, at a cost of $4,100.

Total: $12,600

To go: $12,600

Black History Museum

Project: The museum's administrative offices moved from the top floor of the museum to the townhouse next door last summer. The old office area was recently converted into additional gallery space needed for the museum's ambitious Brown v. Board of Education exhibit, which runs through April 2005.

Completion: The renovation is complete. Now the museum is raising one year's operations budget plus extra to start an endowment.

Why: "That's very easy, we need money," says Executive Director Charles Bethea. "Because of the critical financial times we're all in, museums need to look to establish new funding streams. We will always try to raise general operating support. That's just the nature of the beast. Without that endowment, anything can happen."

Cost: The renovations came in at just under $40,000 for the administrative facilities, $160,000 for the Brown v. Board exhibit and gallery updates. They will now begin a $500,000 endowment campaign.

Total: $600,000

To go: $500,000

Tredegar National Civil War Center

Project: The Tredegar National Civil War Center Foundation recently completed planning stages to adapt the 1861 Gun Foundry near the James into a 10,000 square-foot exhibition that will give a balanced perspective on the war and its participants, including Confederates, Union soldiers and blacks. The plan also includes development of a Web-based learning program available to classrooms across the country.

Completion: Ground will be broken in the first half of 2005, and the center will be completed in the spring of 2006, according to Foundation President Alex Wise.

Why: Wise says the center will draw visitors and coveted tourism dollars to Richmond, especially attracting those people who might not be Civil War buffs but are interested in history. A byproduct of telling everyone's story, he says, will be the creation of a safe place to discuss the legacy of slavery and the war, one that will help us come to grips with our shared past.

Cost: Opening the center, including the Gun Foundry exhibtion and the Web-based learning program, will cost $12.4 million, Wise says. The non-profit, tax-exempt center has raised $10 million so far.

Total: $12.4 million

To go: $2 million

First Freedom Center

Project: A national education center devoted to the protection and expansion of religious freedom worldwide. Through interactive exhibits and an educational outreach component, it will explore the development of religious freedom in America and today's related national and international issues.

Completion: Will be built on the site of the first State Capitol of Virginia on 14th and Cary streets where the General Assembly met in 1786 and passed Thomas Jefferson's bill establishing religious freedom. Site development is scheduled to begin in 2005, to be completed by 2007.

Why: According to communications director Laura Baliles, when you ask people what's guaranteed by the First Amendment, people usually say freedom of speech. Freedom of religion "is one of those freedoms we take for granted because we don't hear about it all the time," she says, but it "could not be more timely in light of what's going on in the world." Baliles is careful to clarify that the center will not be about religion, but freedom. "Jefferson's statute was really a revolutionary idea," she says. "Virginia was the first [state] that said this is a fundamental right, and people have the right to believe or not to believe as they see fit."

Cost: While the architectural plans have been completed, the Council for America's First Freedom is still working on a couple of factors that will affect cost, like what the interior exhibit space will look like. They are also working with historians to make sure the building fits in with its historic Shockoe Slip neighborhood.

Total: $25.5 million estimated cost

To go: $19.4 million

Henricus Historical Park

Project: The re-creation of the Henricus settlement and Arrohateck Indian village in the Chester area of Chesterfield County. Will consist of seven areas: an Indian village, the 1611 city center of Henricus, John Rolfe's farm, Rock Hall parsonage, Mt Malady hospital, a tavern, and the site of what was to be the College of Henricus. The college was chartered, the first in the New World, but never built because of an Indian uprising in 1622, so this area will consist of re-creations of the dwellings of people brought over to construct the college.

Completion: Part of the project will be completed by the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007, but the goal to complete the entire 30-acre park is the 400th anniversary of Henricus, which is in 2011.

Why: Primarily for education and secondarily for economic development. "There is a common misconception that settlements here in Virginia went from Jamestown to Williamsburg and that nothing outside of Jamestown happened," says Henricus Foundation Assistant Director Terry Graham, "but there were over 50 settlements outside of Jamestown." Aside from that, Henricus was also the site of the first English hospital in the New World. Physicians from Henrico Doctor's Hospital were interested in seeing the hospital re-created, and started this project. Henricus' most famous resident was Pocahontas; the park will tell the story of Virginia's Indians then and now. As for economic development, Graham says the site is located close to both I-95 and I-295 and that hotels have already begun to spring up nearby. And Henricus' setting on the James River sits in the middle of the 810 acre Dutch Gap Conservation Area, so it will also appeal to nature lovers.

Cost: Seven of the park's 31 acres are currently under construction. More than half of the money has been raised, much of it coming from the counties.

Total: $18 million

To go: $12 million

Maymont's Upstairs-Downstairs Exhibit

Project: Maymont is restoring nine authentically furnished period rooms from America's Gilded Age at the mansion once owned by James and Sallie Dooley. The new exhibit is called Upstairs-Downstairs, and is being installed in the Maymont House. The focus of this new 3,000-square-foot addition to the estate is not the aristocratic owners but their servants. Rooms in the exhibit include the butler's pantry, kitchen, laundry and wine cellar, among others.

Completion: Maymont is planning a grand opening for the summer of 2005.

Why: Not only is the Maymont House a local treasure, says spokeswoman Carla Murray, but it is important nationwide, especially since it is being recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Servants are an important part of history that are not always talked about, she says. This exhibit will help tell the whole story of Maymont.

Cost: The $2 million restoration project has already been funded. Maymont will now begin raising money $100,000 for grand opening events and promotions.

Total: $2.1 million

To go: $100,000

Richmond Ballet

Project: Reynolds Metals donated three buildings on Canal Street in 1998, one of which was renovated into the ballet's new home. The two others were knocked down. Now the ballet has begun construction on a surface parking lot.

Completion: End of September, early October.

Why: "Now school children will be able to be dropped off right at the side of the building, which will be a nice safety feature, and the dancers will have their own parking lot, so they won't have to pay for parking anymore," says Marketing Director Jennifer MacKenzie.

Cost: Anniversary campaign started last year to raise money for the new parking lot, a new "Nutcracker," a New York City tour and endowment to pay for upkeep of the building.

Total: $3 million

To Go: $800,000

Richmond Independent Radio

Project: WRIR-LP 97.3, a nonprofit that hopes to offer national talk shows and "free form" musical programming.

Completion: WRIR has until Jan. 5, 2005, to get on the air. If not, the FCC pulls the plug. President Christopher Maxwell and his immediate staff, including Vice-President James Hickman and fund-raiser Liz Skrobiszewski, want to get on the air by October, in time for the November election.

Why: Maxwell believes Richmond needs more diversity in its radio programming. Most stations have other goals, he says, either to make money or serve a specific mission, like religion or classical music. He wants WRIR to offer national talk shows and "free form" musical programming. Local community organizations will get some air time, along with national broadcasting like NPR's Travis Smiley and Talk of the Nation.

Cost: Maxwell estimates it will take $30,000 just to get on the air, of which his group has raised $5,000. The first year's operating budget is estimated at $300,000. WRIR is also in the process of renovating the top floor of a Broad Street row house.

Total: $550,000

To go: $545,000

Science Museum of Virginia

Project: The Science Museum has six large-scale projects planned, starting with $2 million in renovations to the building. The construction of two new exhibit galleries to occupy a large fraction of the main concourse. Building a working streetcar and electric-railway loop behind the museum to look like the ones that used to run in Richmond. The installation of large, interactive outdoor energy-conversion exhibits. Hosting the 2005 annual conference of the worldwide Association of Science-Technology Centers. There's also a longer term project includes the construction of a $30 million outdoor science center to run behind the museum to Leigh Street.

Completion: The museum hopes to have all but the long-term project completed by 2005. The outdoor science center will take longer. Museum Director Walter Witschey says he hopes to have some of it done by 2007 but that it will likely run until 2011.

Why: Witschey says the conference "provides the most powerful professional development opportunity for our staff, and that ranges from installing new exhibits to chairing and staffing different seminars." In addition, he says permanent exhibits should be changed every seven years. Since the science museum's are more than 10 years old, they are worn and out-of-date. "A cultural institution has to be re-energized to maintain its audience, and we're no different," he says, adding that the museum will not be updating its exhibits, but removing and replacing.

Cost: The $2 million for renovations, $1 million for the electric railway and $250,000 for the outdoor energy-conversion exhibits have been raised. The museum is in the process of fund-raising for the $3 million for new exhibits, $150,000 for support for the conference and $30 million for the outdoor science center.

Total: $36.4 million

To go: $29.9 million

St. John's Church Visitor Center

Project: Stabilization and renovation of an old brick schoolhouse that sits on the southwest corner of the property. The building was used as one of the first schools for African-American children. It will be turned into a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the school, the history of the church (an active parish for 263 years), Patrick Henry's political career and information about the Second Virginia Convention, the 1775 meeting at the church during which Henry made his "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. The site will also be made accessible to people with disabilities through the addition of an elevator and renovation of uneven sidewalks.

Completion: According to Kay Peninger, a trustee with the St. John's Church Foundation, they are hoping to have everything open by the 230th anniversary reenactment of Henry's speech on March 20, 2005.

Why: The church has experienced a surge in visitors since Sept. 11th, and the current visitor center is too small. "Once you get more than four or five people in there it's hard to turn around," says Peninger. "It's hard for visitors to have a conversation with the docents. It's hard for the employees to even do their job." The new facility center will put Henry's speech in its historical context and feature artifacts. "It will definitely enhance the experience for schoolkids and adults who come. … and we'll bring out the story of the African-American school because it is just a wonderful Church Hill story."

Cost: An elevator had to be specially built in order to disturb as little of the property as possible.

Total: $886,000

To go: $436,000

Valentine Richmond History Center

Project: Richmond's storehouse is in the middle of a two-phase project. The first phase began in 2001 with the restoration of Edward Valentine's sculpture studio, which was opened to the public in 2003, and conversion of the Davis house into offices, which should be complete by the end of 2004. In addition, the Center began archiving the extensive collection of approximately one million objects and another million photographs. The inventory will continue through Phase 2, which also includes rehabilitating the original museum building (next to the Whickham house) to convert the old administrative offices into additional storage for the collections and to update the gallery space and gift shop. The center will also be upgrading access to its inventory through their Web site and will establish an endowment.

Completion: Phase 1 will be completed by end of 2004. Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed when funded.

Why: "To know what we have, to make it available to the public through programs, exhibits and events," says director Bill Martin. He adds that no one will ever see their biggest project, the inventory of the collection. "These campaigns are about storage. Fifty years from now no one will remember an exhibit, but in 50 years people will remember if we're careful stewards of the collection."

Cost: Phase 1 costs approximately $3 million, and the second phase and endowment will run $15 million.

Total: $18 million

To go: $15 million

Virginia Capitol

Project: In conjunction with the $83.1 million extension and restoration of the Virginia Capitol, the Virginia Capitol Preservation Foundation has been set up to seek private funds to give the interior of the building and the grounds a facelift. The mission is to restore, preserve and acquire art, artifacts, furnishings and historic finishes throughout the Capitol. The foundation will also try to capture 19th-century landscape design in Capitol Square, establish an endowment for the perpetual care of the Capitol and provide countinuig education programs,.

Completion: The Capitol restoration and expansion project is scheduled to be completed by late 2006 in time for the 2007 General Assembly session. No specific deadline has been set for the foundation's project, but the goal is to have it completed around the same time.

Why: "You can certainly appreciate this building just by gazing at it but through the educational component it will be able to come to life for visitors," says Alice Lynch, executive director of the Virginia Capitol Preservation Foundation. Lynch says the interior restorations will help return to the Capitol to "the grand style it deserves as the front door to the commonwealth." She also adds that the educational component will help the Capitol's many visitors "have the full sense of the significance of this building, the history that has occurred within the walls, but also its focus on the future."

Cost: The general assembly appropriated the $83.1 million for the extention and restoration portion of the project, but the foundation is charged with raising private funds for its portion. Lynch says a total cost has not been determined. The building's structural work is being done first, and historic finishes are being uncovered through the process, so a final plan has not been established yet. But, she estimates it will be somewhere around $15 to $20 million.

Total: $15-$20 million

To go: $15-$20 million

Virginia Center for Architecture

Project: New museum located in the Branch House, the 1918 Tudor revival mansion on the corner of Monument and Davis. The house has been used for offices for half a century, so the Virginia Foundation for Architecture is remodeling it as a museum and event space. "We want to provide a welcome center for Monument Avenue, to provide folks with info about all the great architecture on this street as well as in the Fan," says communications director Maggi Tinsley. It will feature permanent exhibits on the Branch Family, Monument Avenue and architect John Russell Pope, who designed the house, and there will be changing exhibits about the building arts that are regional or historical in scope.

Completion: Opening in Spring, with inaugural exhibition "Southern Architects, Southern Architecture."

Why: "Architecture museums are few and far between in the country so this is a very exciting project," says Tinsley. "Virginia is a state that is full of important architecture from one end to the other, historic and contemporary. We have a history of concern and care for architecture. We have award-winning designers who are making great architecture in the 21st century, and people in Virginia seem to be aware of and appreciative of architecture."

Cost: Hanbury, Evans, Wright & Vlattas, the Norfolk-based architecture firm that designed the renovations to the Governor's Mansion, has donated architectural design services for the renovation, which helped reduce costs.

Total: $5 million

To go: $3.3 million

VCU School of the Arts

Project: The School of the Arts began a capital campaign in 1999 to strengthen its arts programs through scholarships, research, visiting artists, equipment and technology. It set up a $1 million "Special Opportunity Endowment," a fund to take advantage of unexpected opportunities to increase the school's national and international profile. The School of the Arts is also developing a second phase to address the Anderson Gallery, which may involve fund-raising to renovate or build a new gallery.

Completion: VCU as a whole is raising $330 million in a capital campaign that ends in 2007. The School of the Arts campaign is scheduled to coincide with that, but the Phase 2 campaign may run longer.

Why: "The School of the Arts is focusing on gifts to support our programs here to keep up our ranking as the top public arts program in the country," says Amy Singleton, development director for the School of the Arts. As for the Anderson Gallery, Singleton said there was still further research that needed to be done to determine whether the space should be renovated or a new gallery should be built, but that the space needs major work in order to attract high-profile exhibits. "I guess we feel that being one of the top arts schools in the country, we should have an exceptional art gallery to go along with that," says Singleton.

Cost: The campaign to support arts programming will total $10,550,000, while the plan for the Anderson Gallery has not been determined, Singleton estimates it would cost approximately $8-$10 million.

Total:School of the Arts Campaign $10,550,000

To go: $2,366,189

Virginia Historical Society

Project:New 54,000-square-foot wing to house the Reynolds Center for Virginia Business History, plus a state-of-the-art classroom, 500-seat auditorium and storage space for for the historical society's business collections from Virginia companies.

Completion: Ground was broken July 1, projected completion is 2006.

Why: "As one of the main repositories of Virginia collections, our collections are constantly growing so we need a space to organize, store and restore these items, and one of our growing collections is the business collections," says the society's public relations director, Maribeth Cowan. "As far as we know this is the first collection in the state to establish a center for the study of Virginia business history."

Cost: The new wing is part of a capital and endowment campaign that will also expand education outreach and support operations.

Total: $55 million

To go: $20.5 million

Virginia Performing Arts Center

Project: Create a performing arts complex downtown by renovating existing venues and building new facilities.

Completion: Demolition has already begun on the Thalhimers block. When the $113 million has been raised for Phase 1, construction will begin on that block. It will include renovating the 2,000-seat Carpenter Center and constructing a 1,150-seat music hall, a jazz hall and a 200-seat community playhouse along with rehearsal rooms and other community spaces. When that is completed and $48 million more has been raised for the rest of the project, Phase 2 will begin, which is an arts education center at the Landmark Theater. And Phase 3 will be renovating the Landmark, Empire and National theaters.

"We're still on schedule to make 2007," says Virginia Performing Arts Foundation President and C.E.O Brad Armstrong, "which has been our goal since the beginning. We obviously still have some money to raise and we are frantically doing that."

Why: Armstrong cites three reasons for the project. The first is the revitalization of downtown. "We've seen from every state in the country that the number one way to get people to come downtown is the performing arts — things you can't get in the suburbs." The second reason Armstrong cites is to upgrade our substandard arts facilities. "We're finally going to have facilities that live up the quality of our arts groups." And the third reason he says is arts education. "Being able to express yourself and imagine a world better than the one you live in really helps kids," he says.

Cost: The total cost of the complex is $161 million. The Thalhimers block (Phase 1) will cost $113 million. So far $43.5 million has been raised. Armstrong defends the high price tag by saying that of all the performing arts complexes that have been built in the last 10 years, this one is the most cost efficient because most of the venues are being renovated, rather than built from scratch.

Total: $161 million

To go: $117.5 million

Virginia Museum

of Fine Arts

Project: The $100 million expansion will tear down the latest, 1976 wing of the museum and sculpture garden to make room for a modern addition that will double exhibit space, house a new dining room and library, and include underground parking. The existing surface parking lot will be converted into green space.

Completion: Ground will be broken in early 2005, the goal for completion is fall of 2007.

Why: "We'll finally have room for blockbusters, big exhibits that have box office appeal" says Director of Public Affairs, Suzanne Hall. The last blockbuster the museum exhibited was "Splinters of Ancient Egypt" in 1999 and in order to have enough room for the exhibit, VMFA had to move all the work out of the Lewis Gallery. "That's not good conservation practice," Hall says. The plan also includes correcting circulation through the museum to prevent dead ends. It will connect the new and existing buildings on both gallery levels and create a more obvious entrance.

Cost: Since a bigger building will require greater resources, the VMFA will also be raising approximately $50 million to increase its endowment.

Total: $150 million

To go: $20 million

— Additional reporting by Wayne Melton

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