The Theory Of Mural Return

by | Sep 15, 2022 | ART, STREET ART

RVA Street Art Festival celebrates the tenth anniversary of its first event in 2012 at the place where things began: the abandoned power plant along Richmond’s Canal Walk where that first festival took place.

The jury’s still out on whether time really is a flat circle. After all, if True Detective season one character Rust Cohle were really tapped into some sort of deeper mystic truth, wouldn’t True Detective season two have been better? Having said all that, there’s an ancient Greek philosophical concept called the theory of eternal return, which was originally proposed by Pythagoras — the guy who also came up with the concepts of the transmigration of souls, and the equation you use in geometry class to find the length of the sides of a right triangle. It was Pythagoras’s contention that “after certain specified periods, the same events occur again.” In other words, there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s tough to make an abstract concept like that one fit into the everyday realities of day to day life here in Richmond, VA, but there is at least one bit of current local evidence that Pythagoras was onto something. The RVA Street Art Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary by returning to the site where everything associated with it began: the abandoned power plant building along Richmond’s Canal Walk.

This is the first new RVA Street Art Festival in five years; the last one took place at The Diamond in 2017. Co-founders Jon Baliles and Ed Trask were intending to do another one on Dock Street in 2020, but, as Baliles told Style Weekly, “We all know how that planned out.” 2021 went a similar way, as the Delta variant laid waste to the Richmond Street Art Festival’s fall plans. But now, finally, the Richmond Street Art Festival is back — for real this time. The official celebration starts tomorrow, Friday September 16, and continues through Sunday, September 18.

Really, though, things have already begun — and they had to begin with a bit of bittersweetness. See, no one ever expected the original 2012 RVA Street Art Festival murals to last an entire decade. Instead, they’ve become one of the most noteworthy examples of public art the city has to offer. As Baliles told Style, “You can’t have a promotional video promoting Richmond that doesn’t have footage of that site in it. It has become an iconic spot in the city.”

Hamilton Glass talking with the members of the Art 180 mural team at the 2012 RVA Street Art Festival. Photo via RVA Street Art Festival/Facebook.

That makes it a little difficult to return a decade later to paint over all the old stuff. And yet, some of the artists involved in the original festival feel that replacing the old murals with new ones is entirely appropriate. “It’s an evolution,” said artist Hamilton Glass, who had a mural in the original 2012 festival and is returning to paint another one this year. “And I think public art should be transitory. We don’t stay the same so I don’t think art should stay the same.”

Mickael Broth, another “legacy artist” who returns from the original class of 2012, has already gone over his original mural, painting a replacement mural that was officially unveiled during the April announcement of this weekend’s festival. “He didn’t like what he did ten years ago and wanted to do another one, and we thought it would be a cool way to show everyone that there’s new art coming,” Baliles told Style Weekly.

In the ten years since the RVA Street Festival and the Richmond Mural Project (which RVA Magazine was involved with in its early years) brought dozens of new murals to the city over one remarkable summer, Richmond’s public art scene has exploded. The original RVA Street Art Festival paired local artists with well-known creators from other parts of the country. However, this year’s tenth-anniversary show features only Richmond-area painters, including Chris Visions, Nils Westergard, Wingchow, Sean McClintock, Auz, Emily Herr, Eli McMullen, Naomi McCavitt, and Dkane, as well as legacy artists Trask, Glass, and Broth. Lining up a stacked local roster like this one might have been tough to do in 2012; it’s much easier now.

For Richmonders looking to get out of the house and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city this weekend, the tenth-anniversary edition of the RVA Street Art Festival is the hottest ticket around. Not only will visitors get to watch artists as they go through the real-time process of creating their murals, they’ll be able to listen to live music, check out a variety of food and beer trucks, and cop some art and festival merch. Best of all, it’s free!

Festivities kick off at 3 pm on Friday, September 16, continuing until 7 pm that evening; they return on Saturday, September 17 from 11 am to 7 pm, and on Sunday, September 18, from 11 am to 6 pm. The place to go for all this is 1201 Haxall Point, along the Canal Walk in the heart of downtown. Even if you don’t want to return eternally, you should at least make it out for all three days.

Top Photo: RVA Street Art Festival attendees take in Ed Trask’s original festival mural, 2012. Photo via RVA Street Art Festival/Facebook.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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