On most Friday evenings in Richmond’s Fan District, it’s not uncommon to see swarms of barflies heading up West Main Street towards one of the neighborhood’s trendy bars. As these weekend carousers swagger toward their watering hole of choice, they will inevitably pass the illuminated plate glass windows of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. For over fifty years, that historic red brick building has been home to a different kind of excitement: the combined smell of oil paint, humming sewing machines, and the blur of unshaped clay spinning on the potter’s wheel create a palpable aura of inspiration. On January 30, it’s that creative energy that members of the Young Professionals Board hope to capitalize on at Young & Artful, their second annual fundraising event.
The VisArts Young Professionals Board is comprised of fourteen local early-career professionals: arts educators and lawyers, gallery directors and graphic designers, all in their early twenties to late thirties. Better known by the acronym VACA (Visual Arts Creative Ambassadors), this junior board is tasked with fundraising, promoting outreach programs, and expanding the center’s audience. “We wanted to bring in a new generation of young people to spread the word about what VisArts does,” said Jordan Brown, Director of Adult Education and staff liaison to the VACA board, “and we thought a young professionals group could do that.”
People walk into VisArts and they feel a real creative energy.
I spoke with Jordan and Emory Gunn, co-chair on the Young & Artful planning committee, as they were tightening up the details for this year’s event. The party will include an expanded silent auction featuring two dozen local artists, live art demonstrations, food from an up-and-coming local restaurant, signature cocktails, and live music. The pair shared with me that they had just secured “jangle pop” cover band Party of Four to accentuate this year’s theme: Miami circa 1980. Jordan explained how the industrial VisArts space would be transformed for the event into a white-pants-suited, neon-clad playground. “We’re excited to be working with Light Tape to create an interior design that’s going to play on this neon theme,” her fingers tracing the outline of a sign in the air between us. “We’re also working with Creative Workplace Interiors and Technology who are generously donating some amazing furniture and lounge spaces.”
Although the bright, playful theme will certainly draw in party-goers, Emory was quick to explain that the main focus is to highlight young up-and-coming artists and the VisArts mission to engage Richmond’s creative community. “We’re trying to keep it tasteful, but very bright, very clean, and a great space for our artists to show their work,” Emory told me. Jordan nodded in agreement, “Young and Artful came from this idea that there aren’t a lot of arts events in Richmond that pull in a young audience, at least not to buy art or to talk about it in a meaningful way.” By catering to this audience, VACA hopes to cultivate a new generation of fledgling art patrons who are invested in the VisArts mission and the Richmond arts community.
All proceeds raised at Young & Artful will go towards two VisArts projects: establishing an adult scholarship fund and enabling their community outreach programs. Both are designed to help underserved individuals in the region to participate in the arts. “I think everyone knows that you can take classes at VisArts, but I don’t think everybody knows the community impact that VisArts creates or the amount of free programming we give to a huge population every year,” Jordan explained.
With any luck, Young & Artful will draw in those young revelers off of West Main Street and give them a different buzz than the one they’re used to. “People walk into VisArts and they feel a real creative energy,” said Jordan as we finished our interview. Emory echoed, “Once you’re in the building, you can really see what it’s about.”
Young & Artful will be hosted at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on January 30 at 8 PM. Purchase tickets at visarts.org/young-artful.
Photography by Nicki Stein