When someone talks about street art and graffiti, many probably think of big names like Banksy and Basquiat, or of the great metropolises like London, New York, Sao Paulo and Berlin. In fact, graffiti is now a reason many people choose to travel and there are increasingly more tours dedicated to street art. Some cities seem to be more open to this change in the perception of street art, and whole projects have been implemented to give us – both locals and tourists – a collection of art on the walls.
During my recent trip to the United States, I ended up on a road trip around the Washington, D.C. and Virginia area, and was surprised by a local initiative that is both cool and colorful: the Richmond Mural Project. With the explicit goal of creating over 100 murals in five years, with collaborations from artists from all the world, almost every neighborhood in Richmond has a mural to offer. Of course, many would argue that the ‘real’ graffiti is untamed, done illegally, and without it being attached to institutions or public authorities.
Leaving this controversy aside, the Richmond Mural Project is high-quality street art, and it’s done with the support of local authorities and the blessing of the community.
Even though I was only in Richmond for a short few days, no matter where I went in the city I’d stumble on some new mural. My camera quickly filled up with snaps of buildings, of parking lots and of little hidden messages behind dumpsters and water valves.
The best way to explore these murals – particularly during the summer months – is to rent a bike or wear some really comfortable shoes. Richmond is a sprawling city and you can find street art in neighborhoods like Jackson Ward, The Fan, Museum District, Churchill Hill, and Shockoe. The project started in 2012 and still runs today, featuring the work of artists like Angry Woebots, Jaz, Pixel Pancho, Roa, and Ekundayo. Some of the works adopt icons of pop culture, like the famous cartoon Roger Rabbit, while others depict more abstract themes, animals, and nature.
The Richmond Mural Project is successful not only because of the diverse styles of the artwork, but because it’s complemented with the openness of the community, given that many murals are located in trendy neighborhoods with cafés, good restaurants, vintage stores, bookstores, and, of course, record stores. You can easily forget that you’re a tourist visiting a new city when you find yourself overwhelmed with the art. Also: because Richmond is Virginia’s state capital, some of the murals present political messages—a great way to know and understand the local political climate and atmosphere.
Indeed, you can visit all the current works – digitally – at the official website of the project, and if you’re an artist yourself, or you want to volunteer or recommend someone who should be included in the Richmond Mural Project, you can easily contact the organizers. Some videos on the website – also available in YouTube – show selected artists creating many of these murals. However, the best way to see all the details and enjoy the works themselves is to see them in Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond is a surprisingly hip city — ranked #3 in the USA for most tattoos, even! —and the countless murals and street art make it even more colorful.