For decades, street art was bemoaned as a symptom of urban decay and detritus — a sign the system had lost control. It was called graffiti (and still is, depending on who you ask), an insidious and foreign-sounding label that suggested the work was anything but art.
Times have changed, however; mainstream culture now recognizes that street art can be iconic, sensational and good for business. But what if it was created with the intention of being a public good, as a tool that could revitalize and beautify a neighborhood? Richmond, the capital of Virginia, decided to find out.
Now in its fourth year, the Richmond Mural Project brings internationally renowned mural artists to town to install pieces (with the building owners' permission) throughout the city. The mission: create the highest concentration of murals in the world, turning Richmond into a global destination for street art lovers.
"I thought, 'I can make a change in Richmond,'" recalls Shane Pomajambo, a Washington, DC, art gallery owner and organizer of the project. Initially, he had met with the mayor and city council members with the intention of creating an arts district within the city, but it quickly expanded into a wider effort to encourage business throughout Richmond to take part — or to "putting feet on the street," as the New York-born Pomajambo says.
With a total of 84 murals since the project's inception, it's inspired local artists as well, who have added to the impressive displays across Richmond's brick walls.
"In the beginning, most people were against it, but there has to be a tipping point, where you have enough momentum and substance. It will just take off," says Pomajambo. "The amount of murals going up is outstanding from the local side. Now there’s murals everywhere."
Below are some of our favorites, which we culled from Instagram: