When conjuring a mental image of the popular landmarks that dot the Richmond cityscape, one might imagine the statues of Civil War generals that line Monument avenue, the dignified architecture of the state capitol, or the towering mausoleums of Hollywood cemetery. However, on the edge of Broad Street, another 843-foot-tall landmark hulks above them all: the WVTR radio tower. The red and white steel structure juts out above the landscape, looming over the arts-focused neighborhood of Scott’s Addition. An old-school emblem of the power to transmit images and ideas through the airwaves, it also stands as a beacon for the scrappy neighborhood itself. This iconic tower is the focal point of the logo (designed by none other than Shepard Fairey) for the community’s inaugural CURRENT Art Fair.
When I met gallery liaison and event coordinator Caroline Wright at Urban Farmhouse Market, she reminded me that the tower is visible from almost anywhere in Scott’s Addition, but in particular, from right outside of the Hohman Design building where the fair will take place. “We came up with the name CURRENT because we wanted something that had a Richmond-centric vibe to it,” she explained, “and ‘current’ has multiple meanings.” It’s a nod to the James River that flows through the city, as well as the electrifying spark of something new that the participating galleries hope to generate within the local art scene.
While such art fairs are commonplace in many major cities, this will be the first event of its kind held in Richmond, filling an important niche in the mid-Atlantic corridor. Caroline explained the structure of the event: “It’s a gathering of different galleries that are all setting up temporary space to showcase art and to give people a small selection of what they have in their racks, gallery storage, and in their programming for the rest of the year.” In other words, an art gallery sampling, free and open to the public throughout the weekend.
Given the city’s already tightly knit art community, the collective motivation behind CURRENT was a logical one. “It creates a one-stop for people to come in who have been curious about the gallery scene in Richmond but who maybe haven’t made an effort to go to a First Friday event,” said Caroline. “An art fair made sense because people can come and, in one hour, see offerings from seven of the great art galleries in Richmond.” The participating galleries include Glavé Kocen, Page Bond, and Reynolds from the Fan, as well as ADA, 1708, Candela, and Quirk from the Broad Street Arts District. Each gallery will set up a booth for the duration of the weekend, presenting their own unique perspective of the current Richmond fine arts landscape.
The close camaraderie of these galleries has been an essential part of making the event happen. They also share a common goal of dispelling the myth of insularity within the arts community, which helped motivate the decision to make the fair free and accessible to all. Putting herself into the shoes of the average gallery visitor, Caroline mused, “They might feel somewhat intimidated to walk in on a Saturday afternoon to a place they don’t know. We thought that would give people a chance to make that first step.” They hope in the long term that their efforts will establish a new community of Richmond art patrons, particularly younger collectors. Caroline noted that gallerists will be manning the booths throughout the weekend, available to elucidate the finer points of the pieces on display. “All of these galleries want the chance to meet new people and answer questions. So if you don’t understand the art or you want to know more about the artist, this is your chance to feel comfortable doing that,” she explained pointedly. “It’s a great opportunity to practice looking at art and asking about art.”
The thought of starting an art collection may seem intimidating, but Caroline believes this opportunity to discuss art in an approachable setting will ease some of that anxiety in potential buyers. “The difference with the gallery experience is that you really should be able to ask the gallery owner a question about the artist and learn more about the content of the work or the process of making the work.” She continued, “What we want is for people to realize that they are welcome. These galleries can’t exist if people don’t take the time and energy to walk in.” She finished her thought with a wide smile, “We want to welcome new traffic and people who are curious.”
After the interview, I stepped out onto the street and, looking up at the skyline, I was reminded of something that she mentioned in summation of the event. “The whole point of this fair is to create a spark,” she told me. Staring up at that stalwart steel tower, I imagined an electric current crackling through the air, emanating from its zenith and striking a bolt of energy through the uneven asphalt of Scott’s Addition, infusing the already buzzing Richmond arts community with a fresh jolt of inspiration.
The CURRENT Art Fair will be held on October 21–23 at Hohman Design, admission is free. There will be a VIP preview party on Thursday, October 20 ($50 admission), as well as an after party at Studio Two Three on Saturday, October 22. For full schedule and tickets, visit currentrichmond.com.
Photography by Brian Brown