With The Diamond as their canvas, more than three dozen artists spent the weekend sprucing up the old ballpark as part of the 2017 RVA Street Art Festival.
The pinks, yellows and other vivid hues of the panels along the stadium’s upper façade pop out to motorists along the Boulevard and nearby highways; inside, fans of the Richmond Flying Squirrels next season will be treated to an eyeful of imagination as they walk up the freshly painted stairs or along the concourse now featuring a series of murals.
“One of our goals was to make The Diamond a beacon for the community … taking a structure that is brown and gray and adding life to it,” said John Mills, president of the RVA Street Art Festival board. “When you look up at the sky, you see bright colors and you get a little bit of energy just from putting eyes on it. You can’t help but smile when you see it.”
While the artists did their thing on the final day of the three-day festival, visitors milled about, marveling and photographing them as they painted, or availed themselves of the food trucks and live music outside the ballpark. On a downright hot autumn Sunday, people walked their dogs, picnicked beneath shade trees or sat in the bleachers. A laid-back good time seemed to be had by all, which is also a mission of the festivals that began in 2012: bringing the community together.
“It just goes to show you art and creativity can do wonders,” said Jon Baliles, co-founder of the festival and a policy adviser to Mayor Levar Stoney.
Artists came from as far away as Brazil, though most were local, including Rachel Owens, a newcomer to the street art scene who won a spot to paint at a contest last month. She was putting the finishing touches on her first mural on Sunday afternoon in an alcove just off the concourse on the third-base side of the ballpark. She acknowledged painting on a cinder-block wall was a challenge since she’s more accustomed to oils, watercolors and digital art.
“I’m figuring it out as I go,” said Owens, 23, of Mechanicsville with a laugh.
But she also said it was exciting to be part of such an event. The stars of her mural? Bug-eyed creatures that she described as “space raptors.”
“I just wanted to do something crazy,” she said.
The backs of the suites along the main concourse also served as canvases for the artists. Richmond muralist Sir James Thornhill transformed suite No. 11 into a home for Kid Graphite, a superhero who “fights crime through art and creativity,” he said. He wields a magic pencil that can erase negativity and carries a volume titled “Book of Hope.” The Main Street Station clock tower is his lair, said Thornhill, who added that his son, Shawn, also an artist, created Kid Graphite.
“This is Richmond’s newest hero,” said Thornhill, who was painting in his third RVA Street Art Festival. “This is the first edition. We’ll do other murals with Kid Graphite around the city.”
The murals varied by artist and taste. Colors were bold and pastel, and a few of the creations were starkly black and white. Some murals were portraits, while others tended toward the abstract. Baseball was the theme for Esteban del Valle, an artist of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent who grew up in Chicago but is now based on the East Coast and has previously participated in the RVA Street Art Festival. His mural honors players who grew up in the islands. He pointed out the banana palm trees in the background.
“Kept the palette tropical,” del Valle said as he gently brushed a little sky blue paint on his scene as he hurried to finish.
First time ever painting a ballpark?
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Definitely.”
It was also the first ballpark for Pittsburgh muralist Brian Gonnella. His mural had the look of a postcard, as it was titled “Greetings from the River City,” and featured the downtown skyline, the James River and the tourism slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers.” Not bad for someone who hadn’t even visited Richmond before, much less painted here.
“I do these types of murals in other cities,” he said. “I’m of the opinion that it’s public art, and the public should be able to engage with it, and the thing people respond to the most is their own stuff, so you give them their own stuff, and they’ll engage.”
A couple of nights of browsing Google Earth and searching online for Richmond images provided the research he needed.
As he put away his drop cloth and cleaned up around his mural, Gonnella said he enjoyed himself at the festival.
“It was a blast,” he said.