RVA Mag wanted to find out how local venues are surviving during the ongoing pandemic. In the fifth of a multi-part series of articles, we catch up with Gallery5 to learn about their latest art shows and live music online.
For avid live music-goers in Richmond, one local venue is a particularly essential, one-of-a-kind place to see a show. Gallery 5, or G5 as some patrons affectionately call it, is a nonprofit art gallery, music venue, and community space. Rivanna Youngpool is the venue’s chief talent buyer and organizer, along with a dedicated team of volunteers. Youngpool sat down with RVA Magazine to explain how the venue is getting by, and re-directing their focus during the pandemic.
As a nonprofit, Gallery 5 operates uniquely from private businesses, simply because profit is not the end-all-be-all goal. As long as the space curates events and provides creative content for the community, they are achieving their ultimate goal. Gallery 5 is a highly sought-after platform for local bands, and some of the most popular local shows in town happen on its stage — or at least they did before COVID-19. One perk of a multi-purpose art space is that when one door closes (in this case, the front door of the venue), another opens. Attention can be redirected to other creative outlets, and that repurposing is exactly what Youngpool and her team have done.
“We haven’t really been focusing on music so much,” Youngpool said. “Through COVID, we’ve been able to re-think our operations a little bit, and also zoom in on the fact that we are not just a music venue. We are also an art gallery and community space. We’ve been doing things like Patreon, and we have a virtual art gallery that we’re taking submissions for.”
The venue’s team has a keen ability to adapt with the times and pivot on a dime. Through Patreon’s crowdfunding platform, fans of the gallery are able to donate an amount of their choosing (usually monthly), helping the organization keep creating content. Rather than Kickstarter and GoFundMe, Patreon allows supporters to donate to general purposes rather than specific projects, like an album or a film.
“We’ve been focusing more on our community work, our gallery space, and being present in new virtual ways,” Youngpool said. “Pretty much 100 percent of the way we were operating before doesn’t exist anymore… This has allowed us to open up new doors and experiences. It’s been nice to have this time to zoom in on that, because when we have shows going on, it’s harder to focus on the other community participation aspects we want to include in Gallery 5.”
The experience of quarantine and the pandemic varies greatly from business to business. A lucky few have been hardly affected, while some have had to change operations or close down entirely.
Some businesses may save money on office space, realizing now that they work just as efficiently from home. Others may function competently with a fraction of their staff. Some may work with new safety and health regulations. With a diverse group of thinkers, curators, and creators, Gallery 5 is carving out a new path as well.
During the great live music shutdown of 2020, the venue has embraced live streams as a platform for entertainment. Like many venues, these events prevent familiar shows in a new, virtual manner.
“We’re going to do a new kind of virtual show. We have a Quarterly Variety Dive, and it’s a show with burlesque dancers, magicians, music, and different talents,” Youngpool said. The new variety dives are set to begin at the end of August to keep Gallery 5 in the public eye. The team has put together a few Instagram and Facebook live shows, but this will be their first ticketed live show since the pandemic began.
Live music shutdowns have forced venue staff to think outside the box in new, unprecedented ways.
“I had to think of every single aspect of walking up to the gallery, going inside, and every single step that somebody attending a show would have to go through,” Youngpool said. Gallery 5 will do live concerts in-person again one day, hopefully soon, but those shows may look different than they did in the pre-COVID era. “Possibly, we will work with reservations and do smaller groups at first.”
The pandemic will have greater implications, and possibly long-lasting effects, on the live music scene in Richmond and throughout the country.
“Touring will look a lot different,” Youngpool said. “I’m sure you’ve noticed the loss of venues in different cities. Not so much in Richmond, but that’s always a possibility — and a scary possibility.”
Shifting perspectives for a moment, Youngpool focused on the impact that this time is having for musicians, and for people on an emotional level. There is sometimes a disproportionate focus on businesses and the economy when speaking of the pandemic’s effects, but on a micro level, many people are taking it one day at a time. Coping with this changing way of life has pulled the rug out from under many musicians.
“I think everyone has been restless, not having as many band practices,” Youngpool said. “A lot of friends I have, and people I’ve worked with in the past, are definitely missing the community of music.” This community has all but lost its meeting places. They do, however, stay connected and check in with each other. Youngpool shared two opposing perspectives for artists, exercising the voices of both a realist and optimist. “It’s had a really rough impact on all musicians,” she said. “It’s also a great time for creating.”
The Gallery 5 team has also continued to work together during this isolating time. “All of the little projects we have going on have been pushing us along,” Youngpool said. “We still meet weekly, virtually of course, and come up with new ideas.” Their ability to adapt with the times has allowed the venue to keep pushing forward. “We’re [finding] new ways to engage with the community that don’t require everyone in the same room. I think that has been optimistic, and motivational, because we are still able to create space and community without the physical building.”
This community space continues to bring people together as a meeting place for the inspired, enthusiastic, and creative youth of Richmond. Against all adversity, Gallery 5 has found a way to be a place for artists when they need it most.