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VPM Graphic Designer Contributes to The Hope Wall in RVA's Fan District

Hope Wall
February's installation of The Hope Wall, featuring designs by VPM's Jean Kane and her husband, Kenny. (Photo Credit: Jean Kane)

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tunes without the words,
And never stops at all…
          ~Emily Dickinson

Hope doesn’t just perch in our souls. Hope from all over the world hangs plastered to a wall in the heart of the Fan District in Richmond. 

Before the pandemic forced us to shelter in place, John Malinoski, VCU professor of communications design for 27 years, created a poster featuring the word “hope,” commissioned for a public site. 

The poster never went up, but when he showed the design to his colleague, Ashley Kistler, curator and former director of VCU’s Anderson Gallery, she offered her cinder block wall facing Shields Avenue for the poster. Then another friend, Rob Carter, VCU professor emeritus of typography and graphic design, heard about the poster and suggested they expand the idea to make a bigger, bolder, broader project.

And just like that hope was resurrected into The Hope Wall on Shields Avenue, near the corner of Grove. 

The concept is simple: Colleagues and former VCU students design a 4 x 3 foot poster using the word “hope;” the team prints the posters in Richmond, then they plaster each to Kistler’s red, cinder block wall for a public art display. The exhibit displays nine posters at a time, rotating every three weeks. 

Hope Wall March
Current installation of The Hope Wall on Shield's Avenue near Grove. (Photo Credit: Terry Menefee Gau)

Participation in The Hope Wall is by invitation only and Carter said very few decline. “It’s all done pro bono. They do it for the spirit of the cause,” said Carter. 

Malinoski mixes the wheat paste used to plaster the posters from inexpensive, readily-available ingredients like flour, water, and sugar. With no artist fee, the only cost is printing the posters, borne by Malinoski and Carter.

“These are cheap to print,” added Kistler. “This is all done DIY.”

But from simplicity something deeper emerges. 

“Thanks to Rob and John who taught for decades in the Department of Graphic Design,” said Kistler, “They have this massive international network of former students and colleagues who now have important design jobs all over.”

Since September, the team has displayed images of hope from all over the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, broadening the conversation globally. 

Posters are never censored or rejected. “It’s about the heart,” said Carter. “Nothing is wrong and everything is right.”

Even with such a wide reach, many of the designs come from local artists - one of whom has ties to VPM in Richmond. Carter invited two of his former students, Jean Kane who works at VPM as a graphic designer, and her husband Kenny who is also a graphic artist, to create posters that displayed in February. 

Every artist has their individual process, but Jean and Kenny chose to design their posters together. 

Jean & Kenny Hope Wall
Jean and Kenny Kane at the December, 2020 installation of The Hope Wall. (Photo Credit: Kenny Kane)

“Because we are married and have this life together, we wanted our posters to relate to each other,” says Jean. “My design is more of a maternal message about the next generation. That’s what hope means for me.”

Kenny’s concept was different but complementary. Hope, for him, is a powerful tool to keep negativity from moving forward.

Jean explained that the posters relate to each other, making a stronger statement about the future that Jean and Kenny hope to see. 

Just as artists have their process, so do the curators. 

“That’s the fun part,” said Kistler, “With a steady supply of posters coming in, we have a backlog. John and Rob are very careful about putting up posters in the order in which they were received.” 

They print the next nine to exhibit, lay them out in Kistler's house, and choose the sequence. Much of their decision lies in the designs’ visual impact when displayed together - such as how each poster’s form and color interact.

“It’s important that each poster maintains its own identity,” said Kistler, “But grouped together, the message becomes multi-voiced, more complex. And of course they play off of each other.”

“Then beautiful things happen, structurally,” responded Carter. “Alignments happen, which are sort of magical for me.”

The Hope Wall has been actively displaying images of hope since September, 2020 and plans to continue through August, 2021. You can see all the iterations of the exhibit from the past year at their Instagram page

As the weather turns warmer, The Hope Wall team expects to see more foot traffic engaging with the wall. It’s the perfect way to get out of the house safely during the pandemic, get some exercise, and then pick up dinner at a nearby restaurant. 

Hope to see you there.