Richmond is vibrating. No, not from the fault line in nearby Louisa County. It’s from the creative energy that simmered for so long beneath the surface of this once sleepy city. Patiently creative pioneers have been working for years to bring new ideas to the city’s collective conscience, and finally that patience is paying off as RVA is rejuvenating and transforming in ways that not many of us could have possibly imagined.
Without a doubt, the advertising and art departments at Virginia Commonwealth University have had a lot to do with incubating creative forces around town. As the University has built its reputation in those and the medical and engineering fields, it has transformed the physical look and feel of a large part of the city. With the recent ground-breaking of the new Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), VCU is helping to solidify the city’s position as a national leader in the arts.
VCU alone, though, is not responsible for RVA’s metamorphosis into a hip destination for creative types. While Eugene Trani and the VCU Board of Visitors were implementing their vision for the school, other dreamers were collaborating on their own ideas. One such group was a group of VCU art professors who created a non-profit space for new art, 1708 Gallery.
Envisioned as a place for new artists to display thought-provoking contemporary works, 1708 Gallery settled in its first home at 1708 East Main Street in the then-edgy Shockoe Bottom 36 years ago.
As the Gallery evolved, the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood became the residential destination of choice for medical students, business creatives and artists, as well as the heart of the city’s nightlife.
Christopher Mahonski’s Rocks Passing in the Universe is comprised of foam pieces as found in the East River of New York.
As the primary beneficiaries of the gallery have been students and recent graduates of the VCU School of the Arts, 1708 Gallery decided to get closer to campus and in 2001 moved into the decrepit 300 block of West Broad Street. While only a stone’s throw from the then-outerbounds of the University, the area felt practically deserted. But as the saying goes,
Build it, and they will come.
Though it may have taken a bit of time, 1708 Gallery now sits in the middle of Richmond’s most exciting reincarnation, the recently-labeled Arts District. In addition to the just-under-construction ICA two blocks to the west, Quirk Gallery sits just a few doors east, and the new Quirk boutique hotel
is schedule to open up the block just in time for the UCI World Championships. Up another block is the historic
home to the Va Rep Theatre, and loads of new restaurants, whose chefs are artists in the culinary field,
have been taking over every previously abandoned storefront nearby.
Though the area is rapidly gentrifying, the 1708 Gallery remains a venue to celebrate the transformative power of contemporary art. The current show, Super/Natural, is a prime example. The five featured artists explore themes of alchemy and magic, science fiction and new age spiritualism through geology and ecology. The works all suggest transformation, often by reworking found objects into something new. What an appropriate exhibit for a gallery that is helping to rework its neighborhood and transform it into the creative center of Richmond.
Emily Smith rubs a thermochromic postcard from Stéphanie Roland’s Postcards from Future to reveal a map of an island that is slowly eroding.
Emily Smith, the 1708 Gallery’s engaging executive director, will be speaking more on the Gallery and the physical and spiritual transformation of its neighborhood on February 5, 2015 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Entitled Imagination, Rejuvenation, Transformation, the panel discussion also includes Quirk’s founder, Katie Ukrop, and Chrystal Neal of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. This Ladies Night Out is open to all and includes a wine reception and dinner.
If you have any interest in the exciting happenings developing along Broad Street, this evening will be a great place to start. Purchase your tickets here through February 2nd, if they don’t sell out beforehand. We’ve no doubt you will leave vibrating with excitement for RVA.
January 26, 2014