Virtual Art

by | Apr 24, 2020 | ART

With social distancing making art shows a thing of the past for now, Richmond’s artists and galleries are finding new ways to reach the outside world.

“Our artists do have access to their private workspaces to make art but it’s a lot quieter in the art center now,” said Glenda Kotchish, owner of Art Works Inc. “We now have one person in the office to answer the phone, emails and meet people provided they have made an appointment. It’s definitely social distancing.”

Art Works Inc, an art center located in the Manchester district of Richmond, joins exhibits and studios around the world who now must do what the artists who have filled their galleries have always done with their work: think outside the box and get creative. 

The entertainment industry has been crushed thanks to social distancing measures halting the ability to hold an audience. Concerts, movie theatres, and festivals are being put on hold, in addition to art exhibits — and Richmond, no stranger to the arts, is being affected. 

Richmond has been ranked the most artistic mid-sized city in America thanks to the number of museums, art galleries, art schools, art supply stores, and performing arts venues in town. Community engagement in the arts can be attributed to VCU’s Arts School, commonly recognized as one of the top public arts education programs in the nation.

Art by Michael-Birch Pierce. Image via 1708 Gallery/Facebook

The art studios, galleries, and exhibits of RVA are more than up to the task of continuing to operate in a way that’s compatible with stay-at-home orders. Around town, a number of new alternatives to the old way of doing things have cropped up this month.

Beginning April 24., the Glave Kocen Gallery will begin experimenting with a virtual exhibit featuring prominent local artists Matt Lively and Ed Trask, known for their murals painted on the sides of buildings. 

“We’re trying to give people normalcy, knowing that these artists are still creating new work and there’s still hopefulness these guys show in their pieces,” said BJ Kocen, owner and director of Glave Kocen Gallery. 

The virtual exhibit will run until May 15 and will feature Zoom interviews with the artists, as well as videos, photos, articles, and live shots. The art gallery is also considering uploading comedic skits on their website, with premises such as people who only come to art exhibits to eat cheese, or a husband and wife having a dispute over a painting. 

“When I saw Stephen Colbert wearing a suit and tie from his house, I thought that was a nice gesture that says, ‘Hey I’m still here and I’m still at it’,” said Kocen. “So that may resonate for people who could support Matt and Ed.”

Art Works Inc will be launching “Art at a Distance: American life in isolation,” on digital display from April 24 through May 17. Art submitted to the gallery will be curated and put together into a film posted on its website. Prizes will also be awarded to artists on the first day of the exhibit.

“This situation has caused us to rethink how we do things and has forced us to be creative and to improvise,” said Kotchish. “We plan on weathering the storm, much the same as for the 2008 recession. Our staff is small but we have powerful imaginations and a willingness to try new things.”

Image via Art Works Richmond/Facebook

Artworks curated at these virtual exhibits are still available for purchase through the galleries’ websites. Donations can also be made by those who wish to support local galleries in various ways. Art Works Inc and Glave Kocen Gallery have so far had no luck applying for government relief.

“We asked the City of Richmond to defer the upcoming property tax payment, but have not had a response. Many of the surrounding counties have done this for small business, but the City of Richmond hasn’t,” said Kotshich. “They offered the opportunity to apply for a low-interest loan, but we looked into that and the paperwork was overwhelming,”

Galleries and supporters of local art have been working to make aid available to individual artists during this time; according to 1708 Gallery’s website, $40,000 has been raised for the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund, which provides artists in the Richmond region with a one-time $500 grant. The Fund is designed to help compensate for lost work and to help with basic living expenses.

To apply for the relief fund, call (804) 353-0094 or visit One can donate to the relief fund on its Gofundme page.

1708 Gallery has also launched a program called Space Grant 1708, which will offer temporary relief to artists who have lost studio space. The grants will give artists the opportunity to use 1708’s gallery as a studio space, as well as to display work in the 1708 storefront along West Broad St.

“While we cannot currently be the hub for artistic engagement in person, we can still be the hub for artistic innovation,” the gallery said in a statement on their website.

Top Photo via Glave Kocen Gallery/Facebook

Zach Armstrong

Zach Armstrong

Zach Armstrong is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Political Science. Zach aspires to be a journalist because, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, it “uses the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.” He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and his hobbies include playing guitar and reading.

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