It’s been 10 years. If RVA Mag was a child, he or she would be getting in trouble for scribbling doodles on wooden desks in the back of class.
It’s been 10 years. If RVA Mag was a child, he or she would be getting in trouble for scribbling doodles on wooden desks in the back of class. It’s a magazine, both in print and online and it is as active and wily as any middle schooler.
Born from the brain of R. Anthony Harris who saw room for something more focused on Richmond’s alternative youth and arts culture and the supporting businesses wanting to reach that audience.
It was not easy. For Harris, a visual artist with a degree from VCU’s Communication Arts & Design department, getting in the swing of running a business was the first challenge. Then came creating content, distribution, mailing subscriptions, promoting, and everything else every month for four years until it switched over to quarterly in 2010.
Looking back to 2005 at cover images and stories, essentially launching in tandem with Gallery 5, there was a pretty insane buzz around what was to come from this new commitment to alternative arts in RVA.
And the term “RVA” itself was born on these pages.
photo by Ian Graham
“Back then, we had to explain to almost everyone that “RVA” meant a new progressive and accepting Richmond, VA and that’s what we stood for. We worked First Fridays almost every month under a little tent with a stack of magazines talking about what the city was becoming to anyone that would listen. I had a lot of help from co-founder Jeremy Parker and a few friends getting the word out but those were some long hours of hustling something completely new to the area.”
Folks like Parker Galore, Ian Graham, Christian Detres, Ben Muri, Marisa Browne, Kathryn Whitney, Tess Dixon, Peter Szijarto, Ken Howard, Todd Raviotta, Adam Juresko, Chris Lacroix, David Kennedy, Michelle Dosson, Adam Sledd, Brandon Peck, Jeff Smack, James Callahan, Mickeal Broth, Dan Koen, Team 8, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Necci, Holly Camp, Joe Gavin and others were right there with him, often taking up roles within the mag for pennies on the dollar because they believed in the publications message.
But starting a movement like this, creating a new name for a city with enough history buried in it to necessitate multiple museums, wasn’t easy physically or financially.
Harris remembered completely running out of funds before printing the fourth issue.
“The first couple of issues back in 2005 felt like we were on our way to something BIG. We had a great opening event with Gallery5 to kick things off and there was this crazy buzz about what we were doing.”
By the fourth issue, Harris and friends had completely ran of money to pay for the print run. Luckily, a business owner friend gave him a loan to pay for the issue.
“He gave me the money on a handshake and it took me two years of working full time at a sushi bar while creating this magazine every month before I made my last payment back to him,” said Harris. “I remember paying him, us shaking hands on it and him saying “Congrats, you are a real businessman now” and my reply being “That means I am not mopping anyone’s floors anymore.”
But it wasn’t all working corners and slinging mags, there were a lot of parties. An event planned in November over a brunch with Christian Detres, working with Todd Schall-Vess of The Byrd Theatre, turned into a city-wide event in just over a month. Working with the Carytown Merchent’s association, that 2006 NYE event wound up with 7000+ people in attendance.
photo by David Kenedy
“Everyone dancing in the streets and on the rooftops having the best time, you can’t beat that,” said Harris. They returned to Carytown the following year, this time with over 23,000 people.
As time passed, the reality of modern publishing hit RVA Magazine like anyone else and a legit website was formed in 2009. Using the insights they had as young creatives, RVA Mag managed to break into social media early on to launch them into a new realm.
Between that and an ever willingness to change their print mag to match their audience, RVA Mag became a flag for Richmond’s fledgling arts community to gather around. As great as things were for the next few years, when the economy tanked in 2009, independent publishers were struggling.
Between the economic downturn and and the rapid growth of the RVA arts community, Harris wasn’t sure where RVA Mag fit in the city’s future. The city had embraced the ‘RVA’ tag and began using it to brand itself far and wide. The energy spent over the first five years was not looking readily available for the next five. It was around this time RVA Mag‘s now-President John Reinhold came on full time. Did Harris think they would make it?
“No, not at all. They tell you to make a 5 year plan when you start an enterprise. Well at the end of our 5 year run the city of Richmond was becoming all the things we were promoting – fun, diverse, creative and the city had started using the term “RVA” to brand itself, so it felt like we had our time and RVA Magazine was not needed anymore. Plus, I had completely burnt out and managed to burn out everyone else around me by driving them so hard. My mind started wandering toward having a family. I had met someone special and we had a wonderful son that changed my life forever, so I had less energy to continue. I was done and so was everyone else
I took a few months to myself and applied for job at Martin Agency. In the interview, the guy told me he had started a company that failed and took the job at Martin. I looked at him and thought, there is my future, working for someone else on their dream because I couldn’t finish mine. It was depressing.”
He continues, “A few days later, I was talking to John Reinhold and he asked me what i wanted to do. He was still stoked about the magazine’s potential and promised me that if I wanted to keep going that he had my back. We have been friends since I was 14 and he understood what the project meant to me. That night as I was sitting by myself, my mind wandered to something a publisher of the now-defunct local paper had told me a few years before “Once you leave it, you can never come back, so you better be ready to walk away forever. There is nothing like working on your own thing and there isn’t a day I don’t miss it. A week later, I had pulled myself together and got back to work.”
John Reinhold had joined less than a year before as a salesmen and saw the end of one era and the birth of another.
“At that time around 2010, it was just Tony and I doing most everything,” said Reinhold. “We still had passion for it, and believed we could make it through.”
A deejay in his spare time, Reinhold spun parties, sold ads and devoted whatever he could to keep the project alive with Harris.
“In the end we plugged in and worked the street literally, as I would go door to door showing off the magazine and making connections,” Reinhold said. “Its because of the support of a amazing few clients we were able to continue on and grow.”
At this point Reinhold and Harris put their heads together and realized they needed to make a real life commitment to what had been three parts joyride and one part serious business. It was around this time another opportunity presented itself – a weekly EDM party at what was then called the Hat Factory. The night was RVAlution.
photo by Erik Fox
“Bringing many creative types, producers, deejays, and performers has always been a highlight for me,” said Reinhold.
And these RVAlution parties were just that – a successful mix of art, music and dance that included Parker, Reinhold and Conway Jennings with the Party Liberation Front, Brain Drain party producers Audio Ammo Doddie Braza, Bobby LaBeat, Long Jawns of Gent & Jawns.
photo by Erik Fox
They provided the soundtrack while burlesque troupes, fire performers, silk dancers and others entertained the sell out crowds of 1,500+ people every Tuesday for two successful summers.
“This made quite an impact on me and formed strong friendships that last today,” Reinhold said.
Those parties, and the atmosphere inside the halls of RVA Mag itself lead to more than enough bizarre stories.
“One time I tried to find a donkey for a owner for a Cinco de Mayo event on a whim,” said Reinhold. “I have dressed up as George Washington for the Fourth of July, I have thrown a Christmas party at a penthouse over the city, Threw two giant festivals, oh and I have tried so many good new beers – yeah lots of that.”
photo by Kim Frost
“Former owner Adam Sledd wanted to interview the Queen of England when she came to visit Richmond,” said Harris about a particular article which still makes him laugh today. “We were never going to get that interview, so Sledd asked Brandon Peck to dress up (or did he volunteer?) as the Queen and ran the best fake interview. After reading it and checking out the photos I remember laughing for days.”
But it wasn’t all shenanigans. In-between beers and parties, RVA Mag stayed focus on Richmond as a diverse and artistic community. Reinhold remembered one event, Sustain RVA, a project with Renew Richmond.
“I was working with Becky Crump, who brought us into this fun event. It was dedicated to picking up trash, building gardens, and re-using what we could,” said Reinhold.
Part of the project involved using trash to make art for a show, so members of the staff Dan Anderson, Harris and Reinhold teamed up with friend/designer Trish Brumett and sculptor James Robertson to form ‘The Wizards of Waste’ complete with logo and banner.
“We cleaned up the area around Bryan Park where I would disk golf some times. It needed it very bad. We happened to have local sculpture James Robertson as a part of our team,” he said. “Working with him, we used the pieces of metal and beer tops to make these really cool giant boots. The event following this and art show was amazing with lots of good teams and creative elements. We ended up winning 1st place in the art show with those huge cast boots.”
But for Reinhold, it was less about placing with trash-boots and more about working with a team on such a positive event. “It was a great way to get people thinking about our community.”
But times change, editors, contributors, designers and artists came and went. New partners came in, the Richmond Mural Project launched, GayRVA was purchased, a new office space on Monument, and the folks at RVA Mag continue to expand into new mediums to reach as much of the Richmond community as they can.
“Its because of the people who read us, the businesses who support us, the artists and writers and photographers who populated our pages with words and images – its because of them we’ve gotten this far, and you can see them in every page of every print mage we’ve ever done,” said Reinhold.
“It feels good to know we made it this far,” said Harris. “Thank you to everyone who has checked us out and to everyone that has ever worked with us. Its appreciated.”
Thank you to the following.
Parker Galore, Ian Graham, Christian Detres, Ben Muri, Marisa Browne, Kathryn Whitney, Tess Dixon, Peter Szijarto, Ken Howard, Todd Raviotta, Adam Juresko, Chris Lacroix, David Kennedy, Brad Kutner, Michelle Dosson, Adam Sledd, Brandon Peck, Jeff Smack, James Callahan, Mickeal Broth, Dan Koen, Team 8, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Necci, Holly Camp, Kevin Gallagher, Hunter Haglund, Rich Holden, Ben Halliwell, Eric Shell, Joe Gavin, Randy Blythe, John Campbell, Tony Foresta, Ward Theftt, Johnny Mac, Aldo, Shannon Conway, Jon Yamashita, Thea Brown, Justin Browne, Evan at Kulture, Jimmy Conway, Conway Jennings, Pete Humes, Chris Bopst, Brandon Crowe, Jonathan Martin, Lander Salzberg, Jason Henry, Hamooda Shami, Todd Schall-Vess, Robbie Player, Gabe Ricciopo, Chris at Need, Randy O Dell and Patrick, Todd at Weezies, Fred and Katie at Salvation, Amanada Robinson, Prabir Mehta, Bizhan K, Dave Brokie, Bob Gorman, Octavion X, Cain McCoy, Marc Cheatham, Black Liq, Doug Nunnally, Jimmy Budd, Hayden Fisher, Jake Crocker, Trish Brumett, Jimmy Foster, Josh Kadrich, Rachel Whaley, Dan Anderson, Bryan Woodland, Ashley York, Ryan Mckee, Dane Jefferson, Ben Scott, Yoseph and Benyam, Justin Adly, Kevin Wilson, Akasha, Micheal Nighttime, Reef Cleem and Mel, Deanna Danger, Anna Wittel, Drew Snyder, Meghan Worsham, Hoody, Brandi Roach, Doddie Braza, Long Jawns, Joe Davenport, John Sachs, Pat Hull, Alice Gentry, Tyler Williams, j Roddy Walston, Logan Davis, Kevin Johnson, Teri, Lindsey Spurrier, Laura Spears, Mary Heffley, Justin Khoury, Ronny Lopez, Josh Ligerfelt, Kristina Headricks, Addison Herron, Doug Spooner, Justin Dray, Heidi Cregge, Bryan Unger, Micheal and Austin York, Charlie Glenn, Robbie King & Becky Farrell.