In August, Venture Richmond received approval to paint a “Black Lives Matter” street mural on East Grace St. But in September, they chose to withdraw their application. What happened?
Since the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police began back in May, cities around the country have taken visible steps to recognize the movement that has spearheaded these protests. In some of these cities, that recognition has taken the form of a mural spelling out the message “Black Lives Matter” on city streets.
Richmond was supposed to get its own “Black Lives Matter” street mural. On August 17, Venture Richmond obtained permission from Richmond’s Public Arts Commission and City Planning Commission to create just such a mural on East Grace St. But last week, they withdrew their proposal. What happened?
The mural’s initial approval came as the culmination of two months’ work by Venture Richmond, artists Hamilton Glass and Ed Trask, and various community groups. At the time, Venture Richmond deputy executive director Anedra Bourne said in a press release that the group hoped to create a unique mural and not just mimic the solid yellow murals in other communities.
The project received vocal support from business leaders, artists, and other community members in the city, including Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, Reverend Benjamin Campbell, Carmina Drummond of the Martin Agency, Moses Foster of the West Cary Group and the Downtown Neighborhood Association. Bourne said Venture Richmond had plans to involve community members and artists in the creation of the mural.
However, the plan to install the mural changed after conservative City Council candidate Mike Dickinson learned of Venture Richmond’s application. Following their lead, Dickinson applied for permission to place a “Baby Lives Matter” mural in front of the Planned Parenthood offices on North Hamilton Street.
Dickinson’s application, filed on September 1, led the Richmond Planning Commission to hold a closed session with their attorneys. The result of that meeting was an announcement that the Planning Commission would reconsider their approval of the “Black Lives Matter” mural at an upcoming meeting. With that announcement, Venture Richmond chose to withdraw their application.
As far as Dickinson was concerned, he had made his point.
“I think it’s best if government just stays out of making roadways and other public areas political art displays, because then you pick and choose, and government shouldn’t be doing that,” he told Virginia Public Media.
Dickinson claimed that his had just been the first of several public campaigns around Richmond to push for murals featuring more conservative messages.
“It wasn’t just me. Some people I talked to wanted ‘Dancer Lives Matter’ on Midlothian in front of Paper Moon, some wanted Blue Lives Matter, and you can’t really stop it,” he told VPM. “I think the City Attorney told [the Planning Commission] basically, ‘If you do this, you are opening a can of worms.’”
Dickinson took credit for stopping the “Black Lives Matter” mural with a post on his campaign Facebook account, one that made clear his position on abortion, Planned Parenthood, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“While we will not be able to paint Baby Lives Matter and remember the thousands of innocent babies killed by Planned Parenthood daily, I take great pride in knowing that we stopped the city from painting anything that commemorates a Marxist organization and movement like Black Lives Matter,” he wrote.
Dickinson’s other social media posts express similar right-wing views. In one post, he said that protesters “are scared of me! Because I will LOCK THEM UP!” In another, he mocked the fact that Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and derided the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dickinson’s advice on COVID-19, as captured in that post: “Live your life. If you get it you get it.”
Dickinson also praises Donald Trump in multiple posts, and touts his having received an endorsement from Roger Stone, the Republican political consultant and lobbyist who was convicted of multiple felonies during the Mueller investigation and only avoided prison when President Trump commuted his sentence.
Dickinson’s celebratory Facebook post made clear that the purpose of his application for the “Baby Lives Matter” mural was, first and foremost, to block the installation of the “Black Lives Matter” mural.
“We the people 1, BLM 0,” he wrote.
Written by Greta Timmins and Marilyn Drew Necci. Top Image: Rendering of proposed mural by Venture Richmond.