Chris Dovi authored a broad (pun not intentded) background piece on the downtown arts district debate in the month’s Richmond Magazine. It’s a typical Richmond story of not being able to get both feet moving in the same direction.
Richmond again seems close to recognizing the cultural beacon that continues to transform Broad Street downtown. But leave it to Richmond’s leaders to fully explore ways to miss a prime opportunity to leverage its arts and cultural offerings as an economic development tool. As usual, politics and egos are all that stand in the way.
In February 2011, Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ administration explored the idea of establishing an arts district, borrowing — but also deviating — liberally from an arts district framework developed over the previous two years by the Downtown Arts District Task Force, a group of area stakeholders that included artists, gallery owners, city and civic leaders.
Jones’ staff proposed to have Richmond City Council designate about 65 blocks that included First Friday’s current footprint as well as an area stretching past the statehouse and descending to capture the Richmond Ballet on distant Canal Street and reaching to include the Hippodrome in Jackson Ward.
But just as the administration was poised to promote their plan, the process once again hit the skids.
Riding the brakes was City Councilman Charles Samuels, in whose district the First Fridays Art Walk area lies. He announced his own proposal, this one for a much smaller arts district confined to about 27 blocks in and around the First Fridays Art Walk area. Those who support Samuels’ plan say it falls closer to the recommendations of the task force.