A global message of hope

Two people unroll a poster with red block letters and numbers, preparing to use wheat paste to install it on a brick wall

Over the years, John Malinoski, Rob Carter and Ashley Kistler have worked on numerous projects together. The former VCUarts colleagues—Malinoski and Carter are retired professors while Kistler is the former director of the Anderson Gallery—have collaborated on work, books, and exhibitions.

Their latest project involves a brick wall in the Fan, where they’re hoping to create space for hope in challenging times.

The wall is just outside Kistler’s studio, at the corner of Shields and Grove avenues. Every three weeks or so, the trio covers the bricks with a series of nine posters from artists around the globe. Each poster represents the artist’s response to or perspective on the word “hope.”

The Hope Wall started more than a year ago when Malinoski designed a poster with the same word, intended for a public site. The project fell through, but Kistler saw the poster during a studio visit and offered her wall as an alternate venue.

Malinoski responded with a challenge to Carter. “I said, ‘I’ll put one up if you put one up,’ thinking he wouldn’t,” Malinoski says. Two posters turned into four, with each inviting a fellow artist to join them.

By the end of the day, Carter had a new proposal. Carter calculated the space could hold nine or 10 posters, and he wanted to change out the posters every few weeks for at least a year.

Malinoski, Carter and Kistler started by reaching out to their own network of artists. Most were graphic designers, but over time, fine artists have submitted a poster for the wall—an added detail Carter appreciates.

“There’s always been a kind of divide between the fine arts and the applied arts, like graphic design,” Carter says. “[There have been] political struggles within university departments and schools between those two factions. This is really great because now artists are designers and designers are artists. In my mind, it’s a small step in maybe reconciling some of these differences. We’re all out for the same purpose, and it doesn’t matter how you say it.”

Beyond selecting artists to invite into the project, the trio does little to curate the space. Posters are submitted as PDFs and JPEGs, and printed in Richmond. Malinoski makes the wheat paste adhesive—historically used for grassroots communication in urban areas, particularly during turbulent times—to mount them to the wall.

By January, the Hope Wall had played host to work from 57 artists. Kistler calculates 10 more rounds before they complete the year, bringing the total number of participating artists as high as 150. It’s also become a grassroots movement, with artists spreading the word among their own colleagues, or coming across the Hope Wall on Instagram.

“I have gotten some people that I did not know just by searching websites and blogs about international posters,” Malinoski says. “Some of them have become friends, and have led to other connections.

“In our emails back and forth, I get to see how their process works, or what their thinking is, or compare them to the other person I’m emailing. For me, having looked at and admired their work from afar, it’s really nice to share in that interaction. I get to be a fly on the wall and see how they think and process through something.”

Among the participants are some familiar faces. Of the artists they’ve featured so far, 41 have ties to VCUarts, including a number of former students. Kistler says some have gone on to hold important positions in academia and the design field. The Hope Wall is a chance to showcase the homegrown talent coming out of VCUarts—and to reconnect.

“Reuniting with them after 20, 25 years over a poster, over a visual problem,” Malinoski says, “it almost takes you right back to the classroom.”

Follow the Hope Wall on Instagram for the latest installations, or visit the Hope Wall in the Fan on Shields Avenue, near the corner of Grove Avenue.