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Fall Arts Preview - Richmond’s arts scene helps put the city on the map

Fall Arts Preview - Richmond’s arts scene helps put the city on the map

And the area’s arts community, through partnerships, collaboration and cooperation, plans to keep it that way

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We’ve already been tagged Best River Town in America by Outside magazine.

Forbes has listed us as one of the Top 10 up-and-coming cities for entrepreneurial startups.

And Frommer’s travel guide designated Richmond as one of its top global destinations for 2014. “While you weren’t looking,” the Frommer team said, “Richmond got cool.”

It’s no secret that Richmond’s vibrant arts scene has helped put the city on the map. And now, with another arts season underway, it’s clear that our actors, dancers, painters, filmmakers and other tireless local artists have every intention of keeping us there.

How will they do it? In the upcoming season, new artistic partnerships, collaboration and cooperation will take Richmond arts into an ever-more-cosmopolitan realm.

For starters, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts sets a new standard by reaching across the globe, bringing exotic art right to our doorstep, and certifying Richmonders as true citizens of the world.

In October, the VMFA opens a one-of-a-kind exhibition that will serve as a centerpiece of Richmond arts interest and activity this season. “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing” will take visitors through a world of paintings, costumes and other decorative Imperial art hidden from the outer world for decades. The exhibition is part of a cultural exchange between the VMFA and the Palace Museum in Beijing and marks the first time the VMFA has worked with China to exhibit Chinese art.

Beyond new and ongoing exhibitions at the VMFA, museum director Alex Nyerges is looking forward to continuing to strengthen ties with Virginia Commonwealth University artists and administrators now that the Institute for Contemporary Art has finally broken ground downtown. “It’s fabulous for Richmond and Virginia,” Nyerges said. “It’s another reason to visit the city and to live here.”

According to ICA director Lisa Freiman, the institute, scheduled to open in 2016, “will offer yet another layer to an already complex and rich mix of treasures, adding to Richmond’s innovative and unique DNA.”

“There’s no question something special is going on here in Richmond, and I’m truly thrilled to be part of it,” Freiman said. “Even in one quick year here, I’ve noted the fast-paced changes.”

As a longtime guardian of Virginia’s legacy in history, art and culture, the Virginia Historical Society is also responding to Richmond’s growing profile as a cultural mecca by devoting the 2014-15 arts season to a major renovation of its galleries and exhibit spaces.

“As the Richmond demographic becomes more diverse, representing the cultures of more countries, the offerings at many cultural institutions change to reflect that transition,” said Paul Levengood, VHS president and chief executive officer. The society’s new exhibit spaces, designed to accommodate a broader range of exhibitions, films and other programs, will open in mid-2015.

Richmond theater professionals also will expand their reach this year with fresh artistic alignments. According to Jacquie O’Connor, managing director of Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare, theatergoers will at last learn the new name for the two companies’ ongoing partnership at the third-annual “Bootleg Ball” fundraiser in May.

Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare also will partner with the VMFA to bring “The Lion in Winter,” the story of King Henry II squaring off against his three sons and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the banished queen, to the museum’s Leslie Cheek Theater — the first full theatrical run of a production on that stage in 13 years.

Finally, Henley Street and Richmond Shakespeare will partner next spring with the Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage to present “Sam and Carol: a play where everything is true,” an original family drama by well-known local author and James River Writers co-founder David L. Robbins and directed by Richmond Shakespeare Artistic Director Jan Powell.

“Jan actually let me read her the play out loud — an oddity, I admit — and she laughed in the right places, cried in a few more than I’d expected, and said she wanted to do it in the round,” Robbins said.

Local independent theater producer Carol Piersol, who recently launched 5th Wall Theatre with local actor and director Billy Christopher Maupin, will mount three new shows in the coming season and also will partner with the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center to bring Richmond native Clay McLeod Chapman home from New York to perform his acclaimed, intense storytelling experience, the “Pumpkin Pie Show,” at Virginia Rep’s Theatre Gym.

The city itself is also pitching in to create ways for area artists to expand their reach and touch the community at large. Together with CultureWorks, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and Altria, Richmond has teamed with Cadence Theatre Company to create “Sitelines,” a project to generate a renaissance in the public arts and entertainment scene by inviting Richmond audiences to attend contemporary plays and musicals performed in public gathering spots, historical locales and cultural venues.

According to the theater’s artistic director, Anna Johnson, Cadence is already working with the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the Maymont Foundation to develop two exciting “site-specific” projects to be announced this fall.

Altria’s continuing interest in the arts will allow Richmond’s downtown Arts and Cultural District to continue to grow and thrive through a special corporate gift of $200,000 announced by Mayor Dwight C. Jones on May 1. Approximately half of Altria’s grant will support improvements to façades of the district’s many historic buildings, with the remainder going to boost marketing efforts and street mural projects.

“We support the arts in Richmond because we understand that if you want an ‘innovation economy,’ you are going to need creative people,” said Margaret Vanderhye, newly appointed executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts. “I often see symphony devotees at gallery openings and theater buffs attending the ballet. I think that kind of broad support will continue to be a trend in Richmond, and it conveys such positive direction and inspiration for everyone regardless of age or wealth.”

And if everything going on right now in Richmond’s arts scene still isn’t enough for you, get ready for the Ukrop-family-owned Quirk art gallery’s plan to turn an old department store building in the heart of the arts district on Broad Street into an arts-infused boutique hotel.

Call it “Quirk, the hotel.” C’mon, now. Is Richmond cool, or what?

Contact Tony Farrell at


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