Richmond’s Broad Street Arts District is in Good Hands


“We opened about a week ago,” said the woman seated behind the wooden desk in the back of the store. The store’s contemporary interiors contrast the historic exterior of the building that’s located along the section of Broad Street called the Arts District. The dark, moody interior space of instantly sucks you in; an eclectic mix of snacks, design and art books, unique gifts and pastel-tone sweatsuits hang colorfully against trendy matte-black walls. is my version of a reimagined corner store concept,” explained the woman who introduces herself as Kaya. “Think of it as your neighborhood bodega where you can pick up snacks, beer, wine and some cool apparel,” Kiana says. She follows my gaze to the art mounted on the side wall, “yeah, and we sell local independent art too.”

Kaya, who co-owns the retail concept along with Le Levi, is in good company. The Arts District is home to plenty of Richmond’s art galleries, restaurants, hotels and independent boutiques. The Arts District is also where Richmond’s First Fridays Art Walk is held; a monthly open-house-style event where businesses extend their hours and invite people to gallery-hop, immerse themselves in music, sample delicious cuisine from local restaurants and pop into beautifully designed retail spaces.

Anthony Bryant, First Fridays Broad Street Richmond, VA
Photo by Kimberly Frost @kimberlyfrost

“Art and creativity have always thrived in this corridor,” explains Anthony Bryant, owner of Little Nomad, a modern, globally inspired children’s apparel shop located in the area. Bryant is also the newly elected president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which produces First Fridays. “Growing up in Richmond, before there were malls, downtown was where people went to shop. It was like a gathering place; you almost always ran into someone you knew.

Back then, the First Fridays Art Walk was kind of like this cultural explosion, everyone was outside and doing stuff. There were different artists—famous world class artists side by side with a sophomore from VCU, and that was the beauty of it. It felt like it was for everybody. I loved the feel of everyone being out and about. It had a cool vibe to it, downtown was the hub, and the hope is to bring that back,” says Anthony.

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First Fridays takes place between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month and is really ramping up on April 7th this year. “You can expect to see lots of people outside, expressing their art through different mediums,” says Bryant. “There’s going to be vibrancy and good mix of young people, older people; some interesting things happening in Gallery 5 which is like the main hub for the art walk event. They’re gonna have fire performers which is something the gallery is known for. Different artisans will be stationed along Brook Road selling their goods and showcasing their talents. We want people to feel like this is where you go to experience good food, diverse people, music, culture, and art.”

Janine Bell, First Fridays Broad Street Richmond, VA
Photo by Kimberly Frost @kimberlyfrost

Janine Bell, founder of the Elegba Folklore Society and the new Vice President of the Downtown Neighborhood Association also has a long memory of the area, having been there since the 1990s. Bell believes what sets downtown apart from other areas in the city is grounded in history, especially neighboring Monroe Ward and the historic Jackson Ward communities which have storied legacies of culture, art, and creativity. ”The Arts District is in the heart of the city,” Bell explains “in Richmond, the architecture itself is art—and Richmond’s story, the good, the bad and the ugly exists in the built environment, so to be able to walk the streets and go into these spaces and witness how they’ve been readapted for what we’re doing now and how we’re evolving in the 21st century, is really cool.”

“Art is welcoming. It invites an exploration of diverse and eclectic experiences. Whether you’re coming from the West End, East End, Northside, wherever, the arts district is a place where everybody can find something that’s appealing to them; it’s a cross-section of various cultural expressions, not just a singular one. The Arts district is a welcoming place for all people,” Bell says, “It’s important that we foster a sense of vibration of color, expression and exploration which gives people a chance to take a new look, at not only the city but of themselves in it.”

The DNA operates as a membership-based organization with a mission to advocate for policy changes that support businesses in the area. For Bell and Bryant, it’s important for retailers to have a voice and a hand in the decision-making process at the DNA. “We want businesses and residents in the arts district to feel a sense of ownership, so it’s our goal to ask for their opinions, and have them taken seriously so we maintain the eclectic vibrancy of the area,” says Bell. “We want to work with retailers, organizations, and businesses in the district to make sure anyone and everyone feels a kinship to the area whether they own a business or are participating in events like the art walk,” Bryant says. “Our goal is to work with Richmond Regional Tourism, Venture Richmond, and the Richmond Police department to make sure that everybody knows that they are welcome.”

Anthony Bryant, First Fridays Broad Street Richmond, VA
Photo by Kimberly Frost @kimberlyfrost

Bryant acknowledges that there are some challenges such as consistent foot traffic, and vacant and boarded up buildings which detract from revitalization efforts; however, the DNA is on a mission to work with area stakeholders to maintain an appreciation for diversity and create a safe space for everyone who lives and visits the area. “We hope visitors who come out and experience First Fridays will enjoy some favorites like Quirk Hotel’s rooftop bar or the swanky, mid century modern dining room of Bar Solita. But also get to check out the new and exciting additions in the corridor like Penny’s, the amazing wine bar and restaurant that just opened,” says Anthony, “and we’re happy to welcome Ms. Bees which is taking over Saison’s old spaces. Virginia Mercantile is now open and sells local gifts. And we are super excited to have Art Supply in the area too.”

“The art walk is a great opportunity to see everything,” Bryant says. “When you’re driving through you don’t really see everything, you know? We’re going on six years at little Nomad and there are still people who come in and ask how long we’ve been around.” Bryant chuckles. “No matter how slow you’re going you really don’t see what’s on the street so walking it will give you that opportunity to come up on these new gems that are on Broad.” is one of those new gems that hopes to welcome new faces during First Fridays. Kiana, a graphic designer, and painter, uses the store as both her office and as a showroom for her own creativity. A few of the art pieces hanging gallery-style on the wall are hers. I ask her what she plans to do with the empty space in the back corner of her store. “I’m waiting on a shipment of local wines and beers. That will eventually fill this space. I want to offer unique selections my customers will enjoy,” she says with a smile. I take her card, confident that her purple and white painting with a raised, almost invisible image of a pistol pointing at the words “made you look” will find a new home in someone’s collection. All it would take is someone walking by to notice it.

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Give Richmond Arts District @richmondartsdistrict

Clarissa Bannor

Clarissa Bannor

Clarissa Bannor is a Ghanaian-American writer whose work weaves together her passions for culture, art and creative storytelling. She's a newish transplant to Richmond and looks forward to adventurous weekends around the city.

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