The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Illumination of Broad Street
Art and Imagination Reclaim Downtown

The parade of Wearable Art down Broad Street, as recorded by photographer Jay Paul.
This is model Rickita McKinty with designer Kevin Blow in his design, "Untitled: Optica." The outfit includes 33 eyes with lights in their pupils and ostrich feathers.

I haven't seen much pop up blog-wise or in the regular media about what was a historic event--or rather, one of a series of them this past year on Broad--more discussion of Rodney Monroe and the rain. Well, that's too bad. Even Sissy Spacek was there.

My bias is obvious, because I emceed the Wearable Art component of the evening, (with at times less grace than I would've wished), but, apparently this caused no untoward distress. At least I hope so.

Yes, there was rain in the early hours but it cleared off and during the 9:00 to 11:00 stretch the street filled up, the video and audio projections on the walls went on, the Hot 8 Brass played and a man-powered contraption designed to project the spirit into the sky lumbered around. Every gallery was open and some very fine art on display-and will remain so for the rest of the month, and some longer--and would be a credit to any other city, of a greater population.

I stood at the center stage with Jake Crocker at one point when we took in the fanning search lights--for once not indicating the location of a strip bar--the glowing columns of light, the bright pools of activity along the street, the whirling psychedelic patterns on the trees, the great knots of crowds--and he said, "This is like some huge, outdoor Vegas club."

For a massive, first-time event, held when weather conditions threatened to wash out the whole production, InLight Richmond went well as we might've expected.

There's many thoughts and observations I have about this spectacular but time presses.

Here's the bottom line take away we should have, though. Events like InLight, First Friday and Broad Appétite are transforming Broad, its wide ungainliness, its semi-charming, semi-off-putting grittiness. Add in the Folk Festival, the proliferation of markets, and the other street festivals all over town, Richmond is reclaiming its public spaces.

This is an historic transformation. From the latter 19th century and more than halfway into the 20th century, Richmonders divided Broad right along the streetcar tracks; the "bad" north side, with its saloons, vaudeville and burlesque houses, nickelodeons, motion picture and legitimate theaters. Behind them, were Jackson Ward and Navy Hill, predominant black neighborhoods. The "south" or good side was where the major retail bustled, and the colossi of Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimer's. Of course, further east, down in Shockoe, form 1905 to about 1920, on Council Chamber Hill and into Shockoe Valley, was the tenderloin and immigrant tenements.

But like many U.S. cities, the vibrant retail center came to an end in the 1980s, and Richmond has struggled like others to redefine what this corridor can now mean to its citizens. The most successful responses have come from the entrepreneurs, the artists, and the makers and creators. Almost every public-private effort has failed or been mired in over-spending, planning mishaps and outright corruption.

Seeds grow where they are planted. Whether 1708 Gallery or Gallery5 on or near Broad, or Plant Zero in Manhester south of the river, they've been followed by restaurants, lofts, apartments, coffee shops and boutiques. What Richmond now needs downtown is a large grocery, or even department store--a regional based, original Big Store. Where'd you put it now, though, is a tough question.

Now, I'm not saying one event is a cure-all, but the momentum built by several of them creates a cumulative effect. And I've not heard much mention of this by any of the mayoral candidates. I don't understand why; except that the people are (almost) always ahead of the leaders. Whether a candidate was present during the evening, I do not know; there was a Mark Warner for Senate event at Quirk, though. Otherwise, I saw some of those Get Out The Vote petitioners, but no city job seeker out on the hustings. Kind of disappointing, if this was the actual case. Where are these people?

The production team that dismantled the Monroe and Broad stage, due to rain, then put together again and set up the sound and lights--those guys were some of the true heroes of the night.

Meanwhile, I danced with an Art Cheerleader to the cheering of a crowd, watched a beautiful woman in an 1830s style garment shoot flames, and experienced my Partner In Art For Life's video creation get projected on two brick walls.

As I stood there and watched the procession of models moving in their often confining creations and confections--including this marvelous Klimt-in-motion with a headdress of antler-like branches adorned with glowing lanterns-- I marveled. The Klimt had some trouble getting up the stairs--the branches got in the way of the handrails--and this true living work of art--needed to be assisted in her ascension.

This was a metaphor of Richmond's possibilities, and how often the biggest thing that gets in her way is herself. She just needs a little help, sometimes, to get unstuck and moving.

I ended my evening on a WoBSoC front porch railing, yakking with Mark Holmberg about Blue Shingles.

It just doesn't get much better.

More later.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home