Looking Back at RVA Magazine: How This All Started

by | Oct 9, 2020 | ART

Back in 2005, Downtown Richmond was a dangerous place. There was no craft beer scene, no street art, crime was rampant, the city had no togetherness. It took the community deciding for themselves to be the change they wanted to see — one project, one protest, one party at a time.

Along with the birth of WRIR 97.3 FM Independent Radio and First Fridays RVA in 2004-2005 came a new breed of DIY culture that shaped the downtown we enjoy today and RVA Magazine has been right there since day 1.

On April 15th 2020, RVA Magazine turns 15 years old. In celebration and reflection, we look back at the articles printed within our pages that highlight the people, problems and ideas that shaped Richmond, VA over the past decade and a half. Enjoy!

Let’s start from the beginning. The following is from RVA 1 Volume 1 April 15th 2005.

Cover for RVA 1 Volume 1 Respect, Revenge + Androids

Editor’s Note: It’s the first page of the first issue and sets the tone and intention of the mag and generally demonstrates the early, undeveloped aesthetic and attitude.

Respect to everyone creating for the right reasons.
Revenge on persons with no passion.
Androids for robots with human features.

Editor’s Note: Gallery 5 and RVA Magazine launched the same day. Quickly the gallery became the spot for every hipster and creative weirdo in town with art shows and live performances going on every night. We threw parties there a lot and the monies helped keep the magazine afloat thru those early years.

For those who want more on Gallery5 pre 2009, here are a few links.


Amanda Robinson is a woman on a mission. She wants to change how you experience a gallery situation. She wants to expose you to new art and music in an environment where creative minds can gather, exchange ideas, and have fun at the same time. To begin her mission she is opening the doors to The Virginia Fire & Police Museum / Gallery 5. This enormous structure (formally known as Steamer Company No. 5) has been in her family for close to a century and both her grandfather and great grandfather served as fire fighters here. The building is the oldest standing firehouse in the state of Virginia, built in 1849 it was one of few structures to survive the Civil War in Richmond. It was used as both a firehouse and 19th century police station. It still has the original horse drawn steam engine, man drawn hose carts, police motorcycles, fire poles, jail cells, hanging gallows, uniforms, and thousands of various antiques. 

The museum part will be revived, however Amanda has decided to focus on the arts, and reopen its doors as “Gallery 5”. Because of the buildings 19th Century architecture, design, and its traditional firehouse feel, it will be one of the most unique gallery settings around Richmond. “I envision this building to be an art center to showcase a different world of art, a place with an ever changing soundtrack. I want this gallery to encompass everything I feel so many Richmond artists are looking for. I want it to be different, the art, the music, the whole feel. There are so many unique and amazing artists in the Richmond area, that don’t have the right environment to showcase their breed of work.”

Don’t expect to walk in and see generic Thomas Kinkaid types of work or boring still life pieces. “I want the underground art of Richmond, the risqué work people are intimidated by. I want the dirty, the witty, the ever changing, the respected, the disrespected, the opinionated, the diverse, the unwilling, the unintentional, and the beautiful work of Richmond.”

Being a visual artist herself and graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, Amanda has since won several congressional, state, and national art competitions and has had her work exhibited in numerous galleries and exhibitions around the D.C. area. She also had her own successful independent clothing company called Vigilantics in which she and a partner designed and printed all of their own merchandise. Before taking on the Gallery 5 project, she gave the company and all of its royalties to her business partner to focus solely on her new endeavor. “I began to feel that the arts and my painting career held higher importance than anything else in my life. The company was successful, however it wasn’t my dream and I needed more. I made my mind up, jumped a plane, came home, and decided to give Richmond and its possible opportunities another chance. I knew one great opportunity that was impossible to fail, the resurrection of the firehouse.” 

It will be resurrected in a big way. Every First Friday, Gallery 5 will spotlight new art, musical acts, as well as various performing art groups. It has more than enough space for visual arts, multi-media and video art installations, puppet house productions, and lit showcase space for sculpture, jewelry, photography, and other small works of art. Gallery 5 will have its own in-kitchen coffee bar and lounge. Gallery 5 would also like to have monthly guest speakers on Saturday afternoons, art classes, and tutoring available. 

“I would like to see this as one of Richmond’s top art centers. There is so much potential in this one building, but we will need the support of Richmond and artist community to make its dreams a reality.”

Gallery 5 is located in Jackson Ward at 200 W. Marshall Street, directly across the street from the Richmond Dairy Apartments, and only a block over from the beginning of the “First Friday Art Walk.” Hours are Tuesday -Saturday 10:00 to 4:00 except exhibition nights other times by appointment only.  vfpmgallery5@verizon.net / 804.644.0005 

One Person Rally by Justin Adly

I don’t know what it is about Richmond, but this city begs for trouble. In the year of 2004 there were 100 murders in Richmond alone. That is about one murder every four days. Such numbers have given Richmond the prestige of being number 8 in U.S. most dangerous cities. Granted, it is in a category of cities with a population of 100,000 – 499,999, it’s still something to be proud of I think?! 

In the month of February there was one week which was bloodier than most. Five murders happened, and the most brazen of them occurred on the 1900 block of Carey Street at the BP gas station. In broad daylight a man walked up to a car, and pumped the driver and his passenger full of lead. Darryl Langhorne and James Ford, both 34, were killed Saturday afternoon, February 19th, in front of the gas station.

Francis, a cashier at that BP gas station, was working that day. He remembers the gunshots ringing out, but Francis, an immigrant from Kenya, didn’t see anything. I asked him whether he feels safe in Richmond and Francis, after taking a second to really think about it, tells me he has mixed emotions. He’s been living here for five years and had no idea how rampant murder is in this town. He sees the cops and, optimistically, feels they are helping out. In fact, when I went in to the gas station to talk with him, there were two cop cars behind the station and inside a security officer with a gun, not just the trusty flashlight. So their presence is felt.

But what are Richmond city officials doing to combat crime?  Mayor Doug Wilder has been talking about this issue and held a town hall meeting in which he sought public opinion on the issue. Along with the appointment of new Police Chief Rodney Monroe seems to be a start on breaking the old ways and working on new ways to fight crime. Monroe hopes to start up a police unit focused solely on Homicide (hard to believe there wasn’t one to begin with) and is asking the city for over twenty new motor bikes to facilitate navigation through alleyways and building compounds, as well as to get to different areas in the city fast. 

Monroe has brought up the problem of murder cases being dropped because analysis of evidence isn’t done in a timely fashion. In this age of globalization, even here in Richmond we outsource our evidence analysis to other labs, and sometimes it’s too late in coming back, allowing for killers, drug dealers, and other delinquents to go out on the streets. Thanks to double jeopardy, they can’t be tried again once the evidence is able to be used in court, because it is too late. 

What are possible solutions to not only this ridiculous murder rate, but also the high crime rate of this city? Wilder and Monroe feel that the community should adopt a role in fighting crime in their neighborhoods. Neighborhood watch should be serious about its task and cooperate with police forces. 

Monroe said that “more police presence alone won’t fix the problem. A better weapon is more community involvement.” Another thing he feels will deter criminals is better street lighting in places such as Gilpin court, as well as cleaning up trash in and around the area. 

Let us hope he gets to work on it, and starts cleaning up the streets of Richmond. But this role should not be put solely on the shoulders of Wilder and Monroe, but also on the citizens of Richmond. More community out reach programs should be set up, getting kids, who would otherwise get themselves in trouble, out of the streets doing something productive. Mentoring programs, midnight basketball, and a whole rack of other social programs should be put into effect. Crime is a loud “fuck you” to society. It is the answer to a lot of people who never were given opportunities in life, and to combat it, we must strike at the root. 

Living standards should be bettered, minimum wage should be raised, and second chances should be given to people who otherwise wouldn’t get them. 

illustration by Andre Shank

The Chronic Licking Of A Self-Inflicted Wound by M. Dulin

Early in the morning Tim Roland arrives at the methadone clinic. I meet him outside the unassuming building and he greets me in a preoccupied manner.  

“Just let me get my dose”, he says, “I won’t be much good to you until then.”

He is inside the building a half hour, meeting with a counselor as he must always do for a brief talk and then his usual dosage. When he returns outside he is much more relaxed, composed. I offer him a smoke, he begins to talk about his experience. He says that he has to come here now everyday at the same time or he doesn’t get his medicine. The methadone makes him feel better but it never makes him well.

“I can’t say really when I got addicted, only when I first met heroin,” he said.

Roland, 25, grew up in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.  He is not the product of a bad environment, a misconception of the birth of addicts. He lived in a gated community with his parents who are still married, he never worried about a thing.

“My father has a high power job with the government,” he said, “and my mother held a high position with a corporation large enough to be a government.”

His high school years were spent in  a barrage of good times. He spoke of totaling two cars and immediately receiving  new ones because his parents didn’t want him to be without. He never had to work. He had privilege and opportunity and more options then most. Excess though, can lead to waste. So one night during his senior year when a friend produced a bag of heroin and offered him a line to snort he really didn’t hesitate.

“That first time…I’d never felt more wonderful in my life, like God was breathing on me,” Roland said.

Temptation stared him in the face.  He did not just take a bite of the forbidden fruit, he bit the head off of the snake as well. Heroin quickly became his drug of choice. These were the last moments that he remembers having some control over his life. After that he says the great downward spiral began.

He talked of how quickly the drug took him over. He says that he wishes that he did not have to come to the clinic, but this is not his choice, he is an addict and the cravings make him.

This addiction drove him away from reality, dreams of a future, he became empty and could never feel full.  His parents were in denial for a long time he said. Even though they love him they are not very available, choosing instead to coddle him with money, enabling him to continue without really facing his problem.  

Roland said that he has stolen and lied to everyone around him just to get cash for a fix.  Sometimes in his stories that he tells of thieving and lying it seems that no one is immune to his actions, as if he means to say ‘Don’t take it personally.’  Responsibility always returns to the addiction and not to himself. Admitting that he is a junkie seems to make him feel better about the people that he has hurt as if he were a victim also. These people cared for the person Tim Roland, but Tim Roland had disappeared inside of a haze long ago.  

To see Roland, he appears very average, clean cut. Not the common Hollywood image of a junkie and during his lucid moments he is very upbeat. But in his head he says that the addiction is choosing the path; he is not looking at you, he is looking at your pockets for a wallet bulge, if you invite him in your house he looks at the kind of locks you have, your stereo system, anything that might have some value.

“I don’t like to be left alone,” he says, “I can’t trust myself.”

He made it to Richmond after his parents had enough and lived with a well intending cousin, whom he eventually turned on.  

“I am not Tim Roland anymore,” he says, “I’m just an addiction.”

People continually try to help Roland. They still see the human that is inflicted, but love sometimes is not as strong as a quick fix. So after stealing checks from a friend’s mother who took him in, the law was finally called in. This was his first offense. The courts took into account his addiction and he was sentenced to community service, mandatory drug-rehab meetings at a local methodist church and enrollment into the methadone maintenance treatment.  

“You have to change your whole way of life to avoid falling back down,” he said.

Roland had a good upbringing, money and opportunity. He had to make choices in life as all people do.  Only at a very young age he made a wrong choice. His choice has repercussions that he will have to live with the rest of his life. Now each day he must rise and return to the clinic just to feel normal again.

“I don’t see an end to this ever,” he said “all I can do is look back and remember the beginning.”

Note: The names have been changed and the identity of the clinic remains anonymous out of respect for all involved.

And this last gem from the back page — Urban Fable by Steven Warrick.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me

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