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“We Need to Talk About…”: Richmond Artist Sparks Conversations on Racial Equity With Public Art

An artist works on a scissor lift to paint a mural on the side of a building.
"Mending Walls: The Documentary" follows the Mending Walls RVA Mural Project, which took place in Richmond, Va from June 19, 2020 through October 30, 2020. The film airs September 16 on VPM PBS. (Photo from Fuel)

If you walk around Richmond, you can see public art embedded into the city with colorful portraits, larger-than-life animals, and dreamy scenes covering walls and buildings. Hamilton Glass, an artist and community activist, chose murals as the megaphone to raise awareness about local organizations that serve, empower, and advocate for racial equity. He created the Mending Walls RVA Mural Project in response to the community unrest following the murder of George Floyd. 

Through the project, Glass aimed to use public art to build up communities and create spaces where community members can feel they have a stake in their surroundings. He brought 30 artists of different cultural backgrounds together to create murals that honor citizens’ frustration and spark important discussions about individuals’ lived experiences. 

Glass hoped the artists’ collaboration would represent society’s need to grow empathy and healing through personal connections with each other. In 2020, he received recognition as a Richmond History Maker for his efforts towards ”Advancing our Quality of Life” in the community. 

A map of Richmond shows the 16 spots where the Mending Walls mural projects are located.
You can see all 16 murals created for the project around Richmond. (Screenshot from Mending Walls RVA Mural Project)

The 16 murals focus on food justice, mental health, criminal justice reform, and housing. Glass hopes the murals will introduce viewers to issues in their community and build empathy. The murals also inspired a lot of conversations, captured in “Mending Walls: The Documentary,” a Best of Festival nominee for the 2021 Richmond International Film Festival.  

“Mending Walls became an outlet for me, the artists, and the community to share in collective frustration, grief, but also hope,” said Glass. “I’m excited for an audience to see the documentary because there were so many powerful things happening at once due to the crazy pace of the project.”

Two artists work together to paint a colorful mural with a young Black boy's face surrounded by pinks, purples, yellows and oranges.
Hamilton Glass and Matt Lively worked together on “In Conversation” on West Broad Street. (Photo from Mending Walls RVA Mural Project)

Pam and Todd Hervey are multiple Emmy winners for their broadcast work on public television and have a long history of non-profit partnership. They are also extremely tied to the local art community through VPM’s “The Art Scene,” and wanted to share how creating art is able to connect people — both the people making it and those who see it.

“Our intention in documenting the Mending Walls project was to reveal the healing journey behind the art,“ says documentary producer Pam Hervey. “It isn’t just about creating public art. It’s about Hamilton’s vision for creating community-wide compassion for each other, understanding that our experiences make us who we are, and growing empathy between artists, organizers, and volunteers. If this documentary inspires one person to have those hard conversations with another, then we’ve achieved our goal in making it.”

Watch the premiere of “Mending Walls: The Documentary” on September 16 on VPM PBS.

To learn more about the Mending Walls RVA Mural Project, follow them on Facebook and Instagram

19RED also produced an 18-episode podcast on the Mending Walls RVA Mural Project available now on all major podcasts distributors. The podcast is an intimate conversation between Hamilton and the artists of each mural about their process, their creation and their important conversations they had throughout the work. This podcast will release its second season this month. 

Mending Walls: The Documentary is produced by 19RED, a division of Fuel, and presented by VPM.