Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Get on the Bus

Some people get it and some people don't.

I rearranged my plans so I wouldn't miss any of tonight's "Create the Vote: A Mayoral Forum on Tapping RVA's Creative Culture," not because I hadn't just seen a mayoral forum less than two weeks ago (I had) but because the issue of growing Richmond's creative culture worries me.

You can be sure I don't want to hear candidates talking about making us over into the next Austin or Portland or, inexplicably, New Orleans, not because there's anything wrong with those places but because the thought of Richmond becoming like any of them depresses me.

When moderator Michael Paul Williams asked the six-person panel of Baliles, Berry, Junes, Morrissey, Stoney and Williams, "What's it going to take to get us to the next level?" the all-important answer came from a familiar voice in the audience.

"We are there!" community activist and musician Laney Sullivan called out, putting into words exactly what I had been thinking.

Granted, our schools aren't there and we'd do future generations a real service if we could finally fix them and put into place more art-based cirriculums to ensure that creativity is encouraged from childhood.

But the creativity of our scene, to my way of thinking, needs no self-aggrandizement, no grand scale advertising campaign, no push to have more branded events.

That's not who Richmond is and I pray (despite being a card-carrying heathen) that it's not what future mayors plan to wrestle our offbeat little DIY city into becoming.

Sorry, Jack Berry, but we're not a South by Southwest kind of a town and calling local arts groups "avant garde" makes you sound like Grandpa shaking his fist at some new-fangled sprinkler.

Tsk, task, Lawrence Williams, you haven't been inside the November Theater- a bastion of the local art scene - since you were 3 years old and it was still segregated?

And, really, Bobby Junes, it's not the folk concert but the Folk Fest you claimed to attend, albeit only on the non-rainy days of the event.

I'll admit I'm bothered, Levar Stoney, when you say that the mayor should be creative about bringing in money for the arts because I wonder if that means more backing from Dominion Power and others with questionable practices.

As for you, Joe Morrissey, I accept tonight's apology for your stupidity 27 years ago in voting against art you considered obscene at 1708 Gallery, but I can't accept a 57-year old man preying on a 17-year old employee.

What I can embrace is Jon Balile's statement that the creative community should be used to make city decisions. He's right because they are the people responsible for moving the scene forward and making Richmond the highly desirable place touted by everyone from the New York Times to USA Today.

The forum took place in front of the set for Virginia Repertory's production of "1776," providing a suitably political but, more importantly, creative backdrop for tonight's discussion. Even the timer sound that alerted candidates that they'd run on too long was a military-sounding drum roll.

Despite everything going off without a hitch, the format was deeply flawed.

Every question began at one end of the row of candidates or the other, meaning that Baliles and Williams had the unenviable task of answering two questions in a row every single time and not one of the other candidates - Berry, Junes, Morrissey and Stoney - ever had to be first out of the gate with their thoughts.

Is the audience as impressed with you when all you do is piggyback on your predecessors' answers? They are not.

I emphatically agree with Baliles that our homegrown creative spirit is what the city needs to get behind. While not quite as masterfully metaphoric as Prince's "Little Red Corvette," his comment drove the point home well. "The city needs to get out of the way and let the creative community drive the bus."

The funny part is, he had to be saying that for the benefit of audience members who aren't regularly involved in the local scene.

Because anyone who is participating knows that, in essence, the creatives have already been reshaping Richmond from the butt of jokes (How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb or, well, anything? A dozen: one to change the bulb and 11 to talk about how great the old bulb, or way of doing things, was) to a vibrant, inclusive scene that welcomes anyone wanting to be part of it.

Creatives of all kinds - artists, brewers, musicians, filmmakers, chefs, muralists, bartenders, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers - have been driving the bus for at least the past five or six years, whether the mainstream population was noticing or not.

I say that as someone who's not only been participating, but documenting the scene for 7 years Look back at my blog posts from 2009 or 2010 and you'll see a steady increase in the sheer number, much less the variety and quality, of offerings of every kind in Richmond.

All brought to life by passionate people who loved this city and wanted to contribute in a way that was meaningful to them and, as it turned out, to a whole lot more people they didn't even know.

Next level? We don't need no stinkin' next level when it comes to the creative community. We're there.

Wouldn't it be grand to elect Jon Baliles and have a mayor willing to gas up the bus and keep it in good repair so the real talent can continue driving it?

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