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Organizers behind the latest Richmond Mural Project hope to add modern color to people’s perceptions of the city.

click to enlarge “Icarus Fallen,” by local muralist Nils Westergard is behind 821 Café on West Cary Street. The artist joins the lineup for this year’s Richmond Mural Project.

Nils Westergard

“Icarus Fallen,” by local muralist Nils Westergard is behind 821 Café on West Cary Street. The artist joins the lineup for this year’s Richmond Mural Project.

Students returning to Virginia Commonwealth University this fall will have a new sight greeting them on campus: murals.

In its fourth year, the Richmond Mural Project is underway, with artists from all over the globe adorning the city’s buildings with roughly 20 installations. The event runs July 13-24, and with the recent backing of the university, artists will be allowed to paint parts of campus.

“They’re allowing us access to their buildings, which is awesome,” says R. Anthony Harris, publisher of RVA Magazine and co-creator of the project. “I feel like in the fourth year you get into an area where people trust your opinion, people have seen the project, they’ve seen how positive it is, and they’re willing to take a chance.”

The project was created by Harris and Shane Pomajambo as a spinoff of the latter’s G40 Art Summit. The first three years have seen the creation of 68 murals, meaning the project is getting close to the stated goal of completing 100 murals in five years. Now supporters are considering an extension of the project, and have discussed creating murals in other parts of the state with Virginia’s tourism office.

“I’m really interested in the idea that art can change perspectives, whether it’s a neighborhood or a town,” Harris says. “If we brought art to other parts of the country, other parts of the state, what would happen? Would it create a conversation? Would people look at art differently?”

Harris says he’s most enthusiastic about British artist D*Face, aka Dean Stockton. D*Face’s work plays off of pop culture, and reflects on society’s obsession with fame and consumerism.

Pomajambo, executive director of Washington-based Art Whino, says the project is “a balance between big names like D*Face and rising stars like James Bullough,” a Berlin-based American who’s gained notoriety for his photorealistic spray-paint murals.

“This year we’ve expanded to include one Richmond-based artist, Nils [Westergard], so it’s exciting to have a hometown hero in the mix,” Pomajambo says. “[Also] exciting is we have three women in the lineup, and women are very hard to get because there are so little of them in the mural world.”

The project has received some criticism for its lack of female and local muralists, but this year, three of the 12 muralists are women.

“I think women are making inroads in the mural community,” Harris says. “We’ve never tried to exclude women from the project, it’s just a matter of finding and making those connections.”

And Belgian-American street artist and filmmaker Westergard is a muralist to watch out for, the two say.

“He’s a VCU guy,” Harris says. “He’s been all over Europe, he’s done some stuff in the past year in Australia. I don’t know if he’s 20 years old yet.”

As in past years, the project is paid for through a combination of private and public money. Among this year’s sponsors are VCU, Altria and the City of Richmond.

Together with the RVA Street Art Festival, organized by artist Ed Trask and City Councilman Jon Baliles, Harris and Pomajambo have no small vision of what Richmond’s murals can achieve.

“The idea is that we have the largest concentration of murals anywhere in the world,” Pomajambo says of the art installations, which have received press from The Washington Post, Juxtapoz magazine, Buzzfeed and real estate blog Movoto. “This will add another dimension to the city, and bring a ton of people.”

Harris and Pomajambo hope to continue to bring big-name artists to the city and expand their vision.

“Once you start something and once the ball is rolling, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘Hey, let’s stop doing it,’” Harris says. “I can’t wait for the bike race, for people from all over the world to come and get a sense of Richmond now, not stuck in the past. Hopefully there’s something for everybody, and hopefully it leaves them with a positive impression of Richmond.” S

The muralists will finish their work by July 24. An outdoor reception will be held July 18 from 4-8 p.m. at 2727 W. Broad St., featuring live painting, music, food and drink. artwhino.com.

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