The School of the Arts harnesses the power of design for dialogue, healing, and education
RICHMOND, VA ⎯ mOb (middle Of broad) studio, the experimental design lab of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts (VCUarts) and its community partner, Storefront for Community Design (Storefront), are organizing a national competition for design submissions that reconsider Richmond, Virginia’s historic Monument Avenue. The Avenue is punctuated with statues depicting Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and has been the focus of recent discussions about the city’s image. mOb and Storefront will seek proposals for the landmark avenue, creating a unique vehicle for engaging in a community and nation-wide dialogue about the role of sculpture, monuments, and public spaces in creating a socially just environment.
The call for entries for General Demotion/General Devotion is scheduled for fall 2017, with the design competition and exhibitions happening in the spring and fall of 2018.
Along with the national competition, the project will include an opportunity for Richmond high school students to imagine future monuments; community workshops and public discussions led by designers, historians and educators to consider the future of the city’s confederate legacy; an exhibition of the national competition entries; and a publication of the final entries.
General Demotion/General Devotion is being supported in part by a $30,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will fund a continuing effort by mOb and Storefront to provide a community forum for the discussion of difficult, racially charged current events in a city with a tumultuous past. The project is directed by Camden Whitehead, associate professor of Interior Design, accompanied by project liaisons Kristin Caskey, associate professor of Fashion Design, and Ryan Rinn, executive director of Storefront for Community Design. General Demotion/General Devotion is one of only 18 fall 2016 project proposals selected for funding by the NEA from the state of Virginia.
“Design has a unique role to play in the consideration and reconsideration of our urban landscape,” says Whitehead. “Design and architecture have the capacity to introduce nuance and subtlety into a complex public dialogue that often reverts to polarization. Thoughtful design can allow seemingly incompatible or contradictory positions to coexist and enrich public dialogue. One of the responsibilities of an urban university like VCU is to raise these difficult issues and lead a constructive, inclusive discussion about how our environment and our art express our values and beliefs.”
General Demotion/General Devotion grew out of a weeklong charrette that the mOb studio undertook in the fall of 2015 with guest architect Burt Pinnock of Baskervill. At that time, mOb students were asked to consider a prosthesis or alteration to the Robert E. Lee Monument (applied digitally) that would change the meaning of the statue, allowing a more nuanced and broader interpretation. The works were presented at Richmond’s First Friday Art Walk, accompanied by a panel discussion including historian Calder Loth, educator Melanie Buffington and columnist Michael Paul Williams, and led by Bill Martin, director of the Valentine Museum.
The mOb studio, located in a storefront in Richmond’s downtown, combines students from the departments of Graphic Design, Fashion Design and Interior Design at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. The studio partners with the Storefront for Community Design to provide design services to individuals or groups that would not normally afford or have access to design service.
Storefront was founded in 2011 by a group of city planners, residents, architects, designers, and community activists. Storefont is active in all nine City Council districts and runs three primary design programs: Design Session – matching clients with design and planning professionals; Design Education – furthering quality design through partnerships, lectures and classes, and; Community Engagement – meeting communities needs by facilitating access to resources to improve the quality of design and quality of life in the City of Richmond.
About VCU School of the Arts
VCUarts is a comprehensive art school within a major, urban public research university. Currently ranked the No. 1 public school of art and design by U.S. News and World Report, it offers 15 undergraduate and 10 graduate degree programs in fine arts, design, performing arts, historical research and pedagogical practice. Distinguished faculty members are internationally recognized in their respective fields and contribute significantly to the stature of VCU and are committed to mentoring the next generation of artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, scholars and engaged citizens of diverse communities around the world.