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Mending Walls RVA - Telling History and Engaging Difficult Conversations through Art

Mending Walls - New Growth
Artists Charles Berger and PT Carroll paint their collaborative mural, New Growth, for the Mending Walls RVA art initiative. (Photo credit:  Brenda Soque)

As a result of the recent protests over the killing of George Floyd and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, local artist Hamilton Glass saw an opportunity - not just for bold new art in RVA’s public spaces, but also for deep, authentic, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race, social justice, and equity in Richmond.

Hamilton Glass and Matt Lively
Hamilton Glass and Matt Lively paint their collaborative mural.

With the support of The Community Foundation and The Virginia Museum of History and Culture (VMHC), Glass reached out to fellow artists to collaborate on a new art initiative called Mending Walls RVA, in order to create collaborative murals throughout the city by pairing two artists from different backgrounds. 

At a recent town hall led by IPower Richmond, Glass and a number of the artists involved in Mending Walls RVA spoke to the importance of the work they are doing and the sometimes challenging process to create art with another person - particularly one with a vastly different point of view.

The challenge of working together is the point of the project, says Glass. “In these very different pieces of art we have very different points of view, and those points of view are a reflection of the very different experiences we have. We as humans need to be empathetic to those different experiences to deepen our discussions about racial justice.”

The artists are inspired by Mending Walls RVA’s motto, “We need to talk….” Specifically, Glass hopes these pieces will inspire people to talk to one another about racial injustice, how we got to where we are in our city, and where we can go in the future - no matter how difficult the conversations become.

We need to talk

In fact, the process of creating the artwork requires the collaborating artists to open up to each other and have uncomfortable conversations themselves. In this way, they model the authentic dialogue they hope to encourage. Glass says that the artists “are really going through tough conversations. It’s hard enough to collaborate with another artist who has different style from you. But when you add the issues of Black Lives Matter and everything that’s going on right now, it adds another level of complexity.”

The VMHC features Mending Walls RVA as a pop-up exhibit, paired with a few selections from their recent collaboration with Virginia muralists, Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia. Glass and several other Mending Walls RVA muralists also participated in Fresh Paint. This new exhibit is another opportunity to deepen the partnership between the museum and the arts community by telling history and engaging important conversation through art.

A Time to Rise
A Time to Rise, a collaborative mural created by Austin Miles and Nico Cathcart for Mending Walls RVA.

Artist Austin Miles said she hopes through her participation in this project that “people will have these conversations and do the work - in their homes, with their friends, in their community.” She also hopes to gain empathy herself and to spread awareness through education. 

Mile’s mural partner, Nico Cathcart, echoes what Miles says, but she also hopes this project will inspire action rather than optics. She says, “It’s easy to look at something and say that it’s really cool, but I want people to think and have conversations and do the reading and look at the wonderful resources we have within our city.”

When asked what conversations he hoped Mending Walls RVA would start, Andrew Talkov, Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs at the VMHC, said, “History is a story and there is no one story of our past. We not only need to do our homework about what led us to today, but also be open to hearing other people’s versions and interpretations of history, so that we can build empathy and understand one another.”

Say their names
Say Their Names, a collaborative mural by Silly Genius and Nils Westergard for Mending Walls RVA. (Photo credit:  Brenda Soque)

Currently, Mending Walls RVA includes twenty-eight local artists creating sixteen murals throughout the City of Richmond. The project is accepting artist submissions HERE. For a look inside the project and to hear from the artists, listen to the Mending Walls RVA podcast, available on most podcast platforms. Also look for a documentary about the Mending Walls RVA project to release in Spring, 2021. Both the podcast and the documentary are produced by 19RED. To learn more about Mending Walls RVA and where you can experience the art, go to mendingwallsrva.com.