It all started when Jon Baliles was visiting Venice. Shepard Fairey, the famous street artist, was working on a series of commissioned murals at St. Marks Place. People could stand around, watch the artist work and ask him questions.
His friend wanted to go see the artist who created the iconic Obama poster. But Baliles didnt.
I thought, lsquo;Im in Venice. I dont want to do that, Baliles says.
But eventually, he did. And he was hooked.
It was so enthralling, Baliles says. I couldnt leave.
He says it was fascinating to watch the artist work. To see him take off in new directions that you didnt expect. And get to ask questions about his process as he worked.
I thought, What a cool idea, and filed it away.
Now, that idea is coming to life in Richmond this weekend with the first ever RVA Street Art Festival.
Baliles is assistant to Richmonds director of planning and development. He also runs the Richmond website River City Rapids.
He teamed up with Richmond artist Ed Trask to plan the ambitious four-day festival. Trasks work can be seen all over town from the beauty queen at Sidewalk Cafe to the mural at Ellwood Thompsons Local Market amp; Cafe.
It sounded like a great idea, Trask says. Richmond just seems ready for a serious mural project.
They found the perfect location at the Richmond Floodwall and the adjoining James River Power Plant.
Trask calls the Floodwall the holy grail. Its over 250 feet of giant concrete. He says that every time he passes it, he thinks to himself: Man, Id like to paint something there.
The Floodwall is owned by the US Army and run by the citys public utilities department. Trask and Baliles got the go-ahead to paint 16 by 47 foot canvas banners on the Floodwall.
The old James River Power Plant is owned by the Cordish Company who are giving the organizers the right to paint directly on the wall.
The city is about to get a big infusion of art, Baliles said.
Trask put out the call to street artists across the country. And now 14 street artists and muralists from Richmond and beyond will be coming to town for the RVA Street Art Festival.
From graffiti artists whove done jail time to street artists who now score major commissions, the roster of talent includes big-name locals like Trask himself, Chris Milk Hulbert and Heidi Trepanier to Richard Colman from San Francisco, Californias Jeff Soto and Dalek from Raleigh, NC
They get to paint an 18 by 38 foot mural without anybody hassling them, Baliles says.
Plus, most of the artists have been here before or have some sort of tie to Richmond. Theyve all seen the potential in Richmond, he says.
Part of the excitement of the RVA Street Art Festival is that Richmond will be exposed to new artists and styles that weve never seen before.
For instance, Trask says that participating DC artist Marc Jenkins does street installations like giant dartboards where he uses people as the darts.
Its going to make Richmond redefine what is acceptible as art, he says.
Not all the artists will be physically at the Floodwall this weekend. For instance, Ryan McGinnes whos best known in Richmond for his commissioned mural in the lobby at the VMFA, will be sending a screenprint thats a preview of his solo show coming to the VMFA this fall.
But the vast majority of the artists will be on hand, painting at the Floodwall and on the walls of the Power Plant.
And Baliles says thats a big part of the RVA Street Art Festival.
That you can come down to the festival, watch the artists while they work, leave for a while, go grab a bite to eat or a drink in the Bottom, come back and see the artists progress.
You might think the artist is going one way. But if you go grab a slice at Bottoms Up and come back, theyve gone in a completely different direction, he says.
Trask says hes most excited to see watch Pose, a young graffiti artist from Chicago, at the festival.
Hes one of the most incredible talents youve ever seen. This is going to sound weird, but its like ballet, watching him work, Trask says. So graceful. Hes a real talent and everybody sees it.
The RVA Street Festival kicks off with a Qamp;A session on Thursday, April 12 at the VMFA. On Friday, April 13, artists will head to the wall to map out their sections and get to work.
The festival will be in full effect on Saturday, April 14 with food trucks like Christophers Runaway Gourmay, the Boka Truck and beer from Brown Distributing. The artists will be working all day and the public is encouraged to interact and ask questions.
The Bizarre Market will also bring 30 vendors to the Floodwall for a true festival atmosphere where theyll be selling everything from jewelry and ceramics to animal-friendly antlers and zombie bunnies.
The festival continues Sunday, April 15 with a family day, free arts activities for kids, and the chance to interact with the artists and watch them finish up their pieces.
Best of all, the festival doesnt really end this Sunday. The artwork will be up and on view for the rest of the yearhellip;or even longer, depending on how the art holds up.
Bringing art to the people, year-round.
And the discussion of public art front and center.
I wouldnt have believed a year ago that public art would be the biggest discussion in the city, Baliles says. Which is a great thing.
Public art has been a hot topic lately with the proposed arts district on Broad Street still under consideration by the City. Just last week, Art180s mural exhibit on Monument Avenue generated lots of buzz when it seemed like the project would have to be moved for the Easter Parade. Eventually, an agreement was reached and the exhibit was allowed to stay.
Baliles says that they were able to pull off the RVA Street Art Festival because theyre hosting it at the Floodwall, which isnt a historic district. We didnt have to jump through as many hoops as Art180, Baliles said.
But both Trask and Baliles say they hope the RVA Street Art Festival brings even more attention to the issue of public art.
What kind of city do we want to be known for? Baliles says. Do we want to be known for history? Or do we want to be known for our art galleries and artists? Theres an amazing scene here. A lot of people know about it, but many others dont.
That is changing fast.
Richmond is becoming this great hub of innovation and creativity, Trask says. And were hoping this brings even more attention to public art.
The time is now, Trask says. And the city is seeing it.
Heres the RVA Street Festival Schedule:
Thursday, April 12: 6:30 pm – Artist discussion and Qamp;A at the VMFA discussing their work and the art of collaboration.
Friday, April 13: 11 am – 6 pm – Artists work sessions and public interaction.
Saturday, April 14: 11 am – 5 pm – FESTIVAL DAY – All day festival atmosphere with food and drink, the Bizarre Market, and artists work sessions and public interaction.
Sunday, April 15: 11 am – 6 pm – FAMILY DAY – free arts activities for children (weather permitting); Artists work sessions and public interaction.