Need Space to Paint? 17th Street Studios is a Painter’s Paradise

by | Apr 9, 2024 | ART, COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY NEWS, DOWNTOWN RVA, PAINTING & SCULPTURE

Down in Shockoe Bottom, a small project is merging the worlds of art and community in a way that speaks to the city’s evolving needs. Sarah Salo, a Richmond-born artist now navigating the bustling fashion industry of New York, finds herself at the intersection of this change. Amid the cramped quarters of her Brooklyn apartment, Sarah’s longing for the space to just create finds an echo back home.

17th Street Studio Story_Sarah Salomonsky_Daniel Salomonsky_Chrystal Neal_photo by Kimberly Frost_RVA Magazine 2024
Sarah Salo, photo by Kimberly Frost

At the core of this narrative is an unused basement on 17th Street in Shockoe Bottom, an area teeming with history and a budding sense of renewal. This space, co-owned by her father Daniel Salomonsky, a local developer, and his wife Chrystal Neal, a well known creative community supporter, is set to become a communal haven for Richmond’s painters. The vision? To provide artists with the room they need to flourish, countering the dwindling availability of artist spaces in the city.

17th Street Studio Story_Sarah Salomonsky_Daniel Salomonsky_Chrystal Neal_photo by Kimberly Frost_RVA Magazine 2024
Daniel Salomonsky & Chrystal Neal, photo by Kimberly Frost

“I did some digging and realized there’s not a ton of collaborative studio space around here. Sure, there are ceramic studios and big names like Crossroads Art Center and Studio Two Three, but nothing really for painters and folks into two-dimensional art. So, this whole idea sprouted from a chat with my dad about this building he’s got. It’s a residential spot, so what can you really do? You can’t turn it into a restaurant or anything, and ceramics are out because you need all this special ventilation and kilns.

That got me thinking about my own cramped painting sessions in my tiny Brooklyn apartment, constantly worrying about paint getting everywhere and kissing my security deposit goodbye. So, why not create a painting-focused studio right here in Richmond? When I checked out the space, it just clicked. It’s got this cool cement vibe and loads of natural light, even if it’s kinda basement-like. And with the art scene slowly creeping into this part of town—there’s even a clay studio across the street—we figured, let’s jump in and be among the first to really open up the art scene in Shockoe Bottom,” Sarah added.

This initiative is more than just an allocation of square footage; it’s a belief that art is a pivotal force in community building. The planned studio will not only offer 24-hour access, on-site storage, and parking but also aims to weave a tapestry of local creativity, connecting artists with galleries and the broader community through exhibitions, art focused talks and collaborative events.

Sarah’s narrative intertwines personal experience with communal aspiration. Her dual life in New York and Richmond offers a lens into the contrasting worlds of art creation. In New York, space is a luxury, with artists often confined to tiny, costly studios. Richmond presents a different picture: a city with a vibrant art scene yet an acute need for collaborative spaces tailored to visual artists, particularly painters.

The envisioned 17th Street Studios space in Shockoe Bottom is a response to this gap, promising a sanctuary where artists can work, interact, and inspire. It’s about transforming a basement into a hub of creativity, where artists can claim their spaces yet remain part of a dynamic, interwoven community. The facility plans to include private studios, general work areas, and even vertical storage for canvases – thoughtful touches that underline the project’s commitment to nurturing the artists.

17th Street Studio Story_Sarah Salomonsky_Daniel Salomonsky_Chrystal Neal_photo by Kimberly Frost_RVA Magazine 2024
17th Street Studios flyer, photo by Kimberly Frost

Sarah had this to say, “I think it’s really about building a community too. Creating in a vacuum has always been a struggle for me, especially as a painter. I have many friends who are painters, yet there aren’t many places where you can feel part of the community without attending large events, unless you’re a muralist. Having an open space where people can make it their own is vital. We want this to become a home for the 30 potential members we envision here, a place where they can shape the space to their liking, fostering a real sense of community and collaboration.”

This endeavor is as much about art as it is about heritage and future. Shockoe Bottom, with its historical richness, is on the cusp of a potential renaissance, and could art play a pivotal role in its transformation? By attracting artists and fostering a vibrant creative ecosystem, this small project aims to play a part injecting a new vitality into the neighborhood.

Daniel added, “A healthy neighborhood is beneficial for everyone down here. Integrating more art with the restaurants and retail stores contributes to a vibrant, thriving commercial area. We, in the business community, recognize that Shockoe Bottom once had a strong sense of community, and feel that sense is returning. This initiative should add to that coming back. Artists naturally form tight-knit, supportive communities, and fostering this environment seems like an excellent opportunity for everyone involved.”

For Sarah, the project is a bridge between her worlds, offering a respite from New York’s frenetic pace and a chance to contribute to Richmond’s cultural fabric. It’s a reflection of her journey, from a Richmond native seeking broader horizons in New York to a catalyst for artistic collaboration in her hometown.

Their shared initiative is a narrative of connection – between spaces, people, and art. It’s about leveraging the power of creativity to invigorate communities, making art accessible, and fostering a sense of shared purpose. As this studio takes shape, could it represent a start of something in Shockoe Bottom? Time will tell, but it feels like a step in the right direction.

You can find more information at www.17thststudios.com

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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