VMFA on the Road

Interview by Savannah Potter
Issue 69 • November 2018 • Fredericksburg

To bring art to the most Virginians possible, this museum is reviving a long dormant outreach program. The game plan? Just keep on truckin’.

Premiering exactly 65 years after its predecessor, a brand new VMFA Artmobile will be hitting the road with a new exhibition titled VMFA on the Road: An Artmobile for the 21st Century. The ultra-sleek modern Artmobile is a far cry from its predecessor, with a glossy black and red 18-wheel trailer, interactive displays, and mobile creation studio. This museum on wheels will showcase hand-picked pieces from all over the world while it travels across the state.

The very first exhibition of the new, revived Artmobile is How Far Can Creativity Take You? The debut exhibit, beginning its tour in Fredericksburg this month, highlights the artists of the VMFA Statewide Fellowship Program. The fellowship provides financial assistance and resources to artists of all levels in the Commonwealth. The exhibit will showcase the rich history and massive impact of the Fellowship, including paintings, photography, videography, and printmaking.

Interactive elements will allow visitors to immerse themselves in the diverse history of the program and to be introduced to a number of Fellowship artists. All of the featured artists have a connection to Virginia, a commonality that is recognizable in their art. Included among the featured artists is Breaking Bad writer, director, and producer Vince Gilligan. According to Jeffrey Allison, the VMFA Paul Mellon Collection Educator and Manager for Statewide Programs and Exhibitions, Gilligan visited the original Artmobile as a young boy, which later drove his decision to apply for the VMFA Fellowship program. The program helped him attend NYU film school where he began an illustrious career. Gilligan’s interactive exhibit is a key installation of the current exhibition of VMFA on the Road.

VMFA Artmobile in 1962

Allison also remembers visiting the original Artmobile in his hometown in Southwest Virginia when he was a child. The experience left a lasting impression and made him realize how important exposure to original works of art can be. He hopes that the Artmobile will inspire visitors of all ages, from “infancy to infinity.” The mobile exhibit will be fully staffed and will incorporate educational programs for school visits. The VMFA has designed specific SOL-related lesson plans for K-12 students, art history programs for college campuses, and general tours for all visitors. The Artmobile will also stop at a number of festivals such as the Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach and the Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Bristol.

Though physically located in Richmond, the VMFA connects with nearly half a million Virginians statewide through events, lectures, and educational programs. Recently, the museum has been focusing more on community outreach, a shift that led to the resurrection of the Artmobile program. First launched in 1953, the original Artmobile brought exhibits and art education to more than two million people across Virginia before it was discontinued in the early 90s.

Today’s version is a 640-foot 18-wheeler decked out with high tech additions to enhance visitor experience. A mobile studio space was incorporated so visitors can participate in collaborative community art and take-home projects. Working with a network of more than 1,000 statewide partners, the new Artmobile will be touring year-round, visiting communities as far as a six-hour drive from Richmond.

Preparing the interior of the Artmobile

The Artmobile is a program unlike any other. In Allison’s words, the program’s possibilities are “only limited by the size of the mobile gallery.” Future themes could focus on photography, African-American art, or ancient art. “The world will be at your fingertips when the Artmobile comes to town,” he said.

On Oct. 30, the VMFA will debut the Artmobile in downtown Fredericksburg at Hurkamp Park. The public event will be held from 11 AM to 1:30 PM with speeches by Gov. Ralph Northam and VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be live music, food trucks, and paper lantern-making hosted by VMFA Fellowship winner Kendrea Wadsworth. VMFA staff will provide tours of the Artmobile as well. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch to this family-friendly community event.

VMFA on the Road will be on display in Hurkamp Park in Fredericksburg from Oct. 30 – Nov. 2 and at Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton on Nov. 10. Full schedule at vmfa.museum/exhibitions/vmfa-on-the-road.

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