Mickael Broth

Interview by Nicki Stein
Issue 38 • April 2016 • Richmond

This entrepreneurial muralist is taking his love of painting and using it to advocate for the power of public art.

“Ever since I was a kid, the act of writing on walls was captivating to me.” So said Mickael Broth, a sweet-looking guy with a captivating aw-shucks grin, winking blue eyes, and mop of dark curly hair. He’s known throughout Richmond for his brightly-colored cartoonish murals and, although his work has been shown in art galleries across the country, he got his start in a less socially acceptable manner: as a graffiti writer.

Michael said that as a teenager, he “aggressively painted graffiti in as many places as [he] possibly could.” That preoccupation ended abruptly when I was arrested in 2004 and spent almost a year in jail for my collected works of vandalism.” After that wake-up call, Broth was able to parlay his skills into a fruitful career working with international corporate clients, local nonprofits, and regional youth groups to create pubic works of art. He also speaks regularly as an expert on the popularity of the art form, championing the medium wherever he can.

Photo provided by Mickael Broth

Broth is a shining example of an artist who has successfully melded his craft and creative pursuits with an entrepreneurial community-minded spirit, fostering public art appreciation in the process. With that combination of creative drive and innovative business savvy, it’s no wonder that he was drawn to participate in the Tom Tom Founders Festival, which he will take part in as an artist and panel speaker for the second year in a row. Now in its fifth year, Tom Tom is a week-long celebration of the merger of artistic passion and entrepreneurial innovation in the areas of music, art, food, and technology. This year, Tom Tom will take place from April 11-17, ending with a weekend block party featuring over twenty musical acts and an outdoor film screening in Lee Park.

Public installations, workshops, and performances make up the majority of Tom Tom’s arts-related programming. This year, the festival will incorporate the broad theme of “City as Canvas” in their arts programming. The idea is to make art installations readily accessible throughout the city and murals will be a large component of that effort. “The mural project is a signature event of the festival,” explained Tom Tom’s Art Coordinator, Thomas Hendricks. He went on to say, “The idea of ‘City as Canvas’ is very important to us because it allows the people of Charlottesville to see the world around them, with all its blank spaces, as opportunities for art and creativity. Plus,” he added, “It’s art for art’s sake and we like that.” Long after the festival concludes, these murals will endure, keeping the spirit of artistic innovation alive. As Thomas put it, “It takes the elements of creativity, curiosity, and innovation that we’re so fond of and puts them into a lasting piece.”

Paul Beyer, the founder and director of Tom Tom, said that the festival’s focus is all about “celebrating people who have been founders and inspiring them to share their stories with you.” When asked to elaborate on the concept of what makes someone a “founder,” he explained that while the festival is named after Thomas Jefferson, one of Charlottesville’s founders, he wants to take that concept of founding out of a historical context and into the modern one. “Creative projects that you’re working on – whether it’s an art project, a business, or a civic program – those all require dedication, ingenuity, and inventiveness. The festival is something that sparks that in all kinds of different people.” Acknowledging the economic contributions of creative people, as well as the creativity of the entrepreneur, sets the event apart from other arts and music festivals in the region.

Photo provided by Mickael Broth

Part of what brought Broth back to Tom Tom is its focus on making art available to the community. As he said, “Paul really saw the great opportunities that creating large scale public art installations could have in bringing excitement to the event and the city at large.” During the festival this year, Broth will be painting a mural on the side of the Charlottesville Sanitary Supply building at 1327 East High Street. He will also be speaking on a panel entitled Public Art in Virginia at the Second Street Gallery to specifically address the role of public art in the community. That talk is part of the larger Founders Summit to be held on April 15 at The Paramount Theater, a day-long series of creative entrepreneurs sharing their founding stories.

Broth mentioned that the mural he painted at last year’s festival near Champion Brewery is directly across from a nearby playground. “I’d love for my work to make a kid want to pick up every color in the box of crayons and go to town,” he said, hitting on that seed of possibility for enhanced creative awareness that public art provides. I could hear a spark in his voice as he added, “Art in the public eye is great for adults, too. It breaks up the monotony of daily life and gives a little kick start to the brain!” That shock of electric inspiration is exactly what Mickael Broth, and the Tom Tom Founders Festival as a whole, hope to bring to the Charlottesville community, this April and for many years to come.

Mickael Broth will be speaking at Tom Tom Founders Festival on the Public Art in Virginia panel at the Second Street Gallery on April 15 as part of the Founders Summit. To see all of festival’s programming and purchase tickets, visit tomtomfest.com.

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