Everyone in the city is aware that the First Friday of every month means the city opens up for a demonstration of arts and culture without any equal in the region. The go to obviously is the collection of galleries on Broad Street in the Arts District near Jackson and Monroe Wards, however there are celebrations all over the city from around the University, to Carytown, and for the last few years an enormous one on the south side of town that we here at the mag feel has gotten over looked. It’s called Manchester Manifest, and it represents an explosion of counter culture and underground arts that Richmond claims to embody, so it’s time that we take a closer look at just what this event does, and what it means to our city.
First of all, what is happening this Friday down on Hull Street? If you make your way to 1309 Hull St for this First Friday you will find four blocks of Hull Street completely blocked off for the festivities. On those streets independent vendors will be lining the way for festival goers’ perusal and examination of the crafts and items made by local creators and craftspeople. Numerous food trucks will be present as well for when attendees grow peckish for dinner or desire a midnight snack. With a collection of indoor and outdoor bars, dancing areas, games and four live DJ sets, it seems like there are endless ways to have a good time on Hull Street this Friday. But what exactly is Manchester Manifest, and where did it come from? WelI went to meet with Ra-Toine Fields, also known as Rosetta, at Common House on Broad Street to discuss just that.
I arrived early and was ushered inside. When Rosetta came in to greet me he had a heavy textbook in one hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder. It only took a few questions to figure out that Rosetta is on track to receive his Phd in a few years while also serving as an organizer for this giant monthly event. Truly a powerhouse human being, and once we had settled on the roof with 360 degree views of the city around us, Rosetta began to tell me just where this event came from, and the journey it has taken him on over the last few years.
Started in 2016 as a yearly festival called Manchester Manifestival, the origins lie on 12th and Bainbridge at Brewer’s Cafe, where Rosetta brought the idea to Ajay Brewer and several other people who ended up helping him realize his vision, and with whom he worked for several years. In 2020 Rosetta described a schism in the organization as a “split” having occurred, and as he put it “because it was my brand, because it was my program… I just continued to catalyze [on] it, and continue to answer the call of the community.” This led to Rosetta restructuring as a veritable south side answer to the First Friday celebrations on Broad Street.
After restructuring, a location for this burgeoning celebration needed to be finalized. “The goal was always to take it to Hull Street… someplace that was rooted to the culture and history of Richmond. That area of Hull Street is really important to black businesses [and] black entertainment,” said Rosetta, “it rests and exists on Hull Street between 11th and 14th. It grew from there when I realized there was a gap in First Fridays.”
With the eclectic exception of Gallery 5, the Broad Street celebrations focus on gallery art and street music. What exactly sets Manchester Manifest apart from that? When I posed the question to Rosetta, he wanted to emphasize how eclectic their whole lineup has been. “It’s open format… it could be anything.” He went on to list everything from opera performances, to hip hop and DJs, and even a partnership with the Party Liberation Foundation, “those people have come in and shown the beauty of diversification in Richmond… We’ve had fire spinners out there, EDM, techno, hip hop, and jazz.” To Rosetta, this no holds barred freedom of expression represents Manchester Manifest and continues as the soul of this event.
Often it can seem for young artists that there is nowhere to enter into the scene, and that coming up against gatekeeping, although not always the case, can be incredibly discouraging. Rosetta seeks to break that down completely. “Answering the acts of artists and vendors and creatives, because unfortunately to do something and to be a part of First Fridays a lot of times you had to know a business or know someone… It wasn’t as open format as I [thought] it should be… When you’re talking about a creative city everybody should have the opportunity to present their creativity or make money off their art or their craft.” With a sliding scale of vendor costs, from free up to just $150 for food vendors, Manchester Manifest remains free for attendance and incredibly affordable for any business or vendor looking for a platform to showcase their wares. Because of this community aspect and care for the culture of Richmond, it’s not surprising that in all the years of Manchester Manifest there has never once been an instance of violence.
Manchester Manifest finds itself in one of the most rapidly growing and changing parts of the city. The area was mostly industrial for many years with large warehouses that dominated space that were later reclaimed by artists as studio spaces, and now in those lots stand shiny new apartment buildings and offices. How does an event like this adapt? “One thing that I’ve noticed is that there needs to be a balance of perspective. I think a lot of times, when change happens, we have a way of clinging to nostalgia too much, and [you] have to understand how you can change with that change, because it’s inevitable. Especially when thinking about things that are related to the support and sustainability of art… it’s about finding the points and opportunities when you can plug in,” said Rosetta.
This is the last First Friday of the year for Manchester Manfiest, and as Rosetta puts it, “it’s been a tough year.” With ambition on the mind they kept building up, so much so that the area couldn’t quite contain them. In the past this year they have been unable to attain the permits to shut down the streets, and because of this hiccup numerous venues pulled out. “I don’t know if the city was ready for that [expansion],” said Rosetta.
Rest assured, everything will be lining up perfectly for this last celebration of the season, with the streets shut down this time around and so many attractions in this one spot, Rosetta hopes it will send off this season with Style. “We’re looking to remind people about the true essence and nature of Manchester Manifest by having a solid amount of vendors, the good food, and the vendors being involved, but just having a good time at the end of the night… we pretty much just have a big party in the street,” he said, and then continued with a beautiful thesis to sum it up suitable for a Phd candidate: “We understand we had a tough year, but this is what we’re really about.”
Rosetta has been approached by other cities to bring the event to them, and he is exploring the idea as the other municipalities seem very eager to have the explosion of arts and culture that Rosetta has brought to Richmond. He expressed his desire to keep it here, but also mentioned the downsides of the push backs that have come from being in the city. “We’re doing this, but it has to be sustainable… If I keep losing money, stress, and arguing with people about parking spots, I don’t have time for that… I’ve had people ask me to bring it to Petersburg, and I’m kinda interested to do that.”
Manchester Manfiest will be back next year looking at a June to October season, and has eyes on incorporating officially as a non-profit organization as much of the work they do already seems to fall under the umbrella of non-profit work, and being eligible to apply for certain grants wouldn’t hurt either. One other major step in this off-season is that Rosetta hopes to sit down with Venture Richmond with the idea that they could provide much needed infrastructure that comes along with a major events company. As Rosetta puts it, “for the six or seven months that we’ll be off; just building.”
Here’s hoping it will only come back bigger and better than ever. If you’re an artist in this city, you must support these kinds of events that bring the scene and the people in it to the forefront of Richmond’s consciousness. As Rosetta puts it, “the artists run this city, and once we realize that…”