HerrSuite - X - Arts in the Alley

This post is about a nonprofit I've been working with for almost two years now. Arts in the Alley has given me great opportunity to explore the media and methods of mural-painting, learn how to work with large groups of helpers, and give back to the Richmond community at the same time. 

I got involved with Arts in the Alley in my senior year at VCU, through a class called CreateAthon. I will describe CreateAthon very briefly: 24 hours, creative advertising students + nonprofits, go go go go! (Plus a whole semester planning for that momentous marathon of creation).  At the beginning of that semester, I had recently decided that mural-painting was going to be my full-time gig come hell or high water upon graduation, which made Arts in the Alley a perfect fit for me.

AitA's driving soul and spirit Jeanine Guidry and I talked and talked and talked, and by the end of CreateAthon, Arts in the Alley had a bundle of goodies including a new logo, a new website, business cards / envelopes / letterhead, and a social media and marketing action plan... AND a new member. (If you are a deserving non-profit with creative ad needs, I highly recommend applying to CreateAthon

Beyond the simple connection of mural painting, I felt particularly drawn to Arts in the Alley for their mission to bring communities together to enact change in their environment. Murals are becoming more and more popular in Richmond, most notably as a result of a handful of local painters, the Richmond Street Art Festival, and the Richmond Mural Project.  Although there is some amazing art springing up on the walls of Richmond as a result, I think in many cases more consideration needs to be taken of a mural's location or its neighbors who have to see the mural every day like-it-or-not. In contrast, AitA's goal is to bring together the actual people who live in the neighborhood in which the murals are being painted.

Richmonders painting a Richmond wall

I have a LOT of opinions about the whole relationship between muralists and the communities they enter, which will have to wait for another day. Suffice to say: this whole page on AitA's site convinced me that this project is something I HAVE to be involved in. 

So, post-CreateAthon I've been involved in four AitA events. I'll give a little blurb about each of them below, with links to the facebook albums for each one.


Bellevue Elementary School 

The second grade painters and their volunteer co-painters.

I was thrown right into co-leading my first AitA event with another newbie, Karol. Thankfully Karol has tons of experience working with kids and leading classes, unlike me who is totally befuddled by children. (I mean look at them, are you not intimidated??) So, the first event turned out great because Karol is incredible.   (No facebook album for this one, oops)


Jackson Ward / Mama J's


The completed interior of the garage

After I had my feet wet at Bellevue, I jumped all the way in with the parking garage at Mama J's - my first real, full-weekend outdoor crazy marathon of painting! This mural was a total of five walls (ceiling, three inside, one exterior front), and just one of four total giant murals that went up that weekend.  This was my own design, and I had upwards of 20 volunteers going at once more often than not! It was loads of fun and craziness, and totally hooked me. Apparently ordering people around is kind of intoxicating ;) Before we cleaned and primed, this garage was honestly a pretty scary place that employees and customers didn't really feel safe parking in. While the city reclaims anything you leave alone eventually, hopefully this will make a difference for those who park here.


Culture Xpo


Me, painting, freaking out

The Culture Expo is a big event that AitA takes part in every year now. I got to help out last year by doing a live painting in front of everyone walking by the booth. Live painting is crazy and neat and totally not what I'm cut out for even though it's so similar to mural painting in public (whoda thunk). But! It was really neat to see how excited everyone coming by the booth was about AitA's mission. 


Hospital Hospitality House


Lovely volunteers on my wall

Hospital Hospitality House had bushels of walls for us to paint, and I actually lost track of how many we covered (7 murals? several of them filling whole rooms and one up several flights of a stairwell) This was an adventure in wacky wall conditions for me, as well as fun problem-solving of how to incorporate existing architecture into the mural (answer: trees. always trees). At this point I had learned that large, simple shapes with clean edges are the best way to get volunteers used to painting, and I based my design around that. 

My favorite part of all of these events was getting to see people come to the event really nervous about their own painting ability and struggling to paint clean edges - then by the time their shift was up, they were total pros at solid colors and clean lines, and they knew it!


Arts in the Alley is a really fun way to help do a lot of do-gooder stuff: give a face-lift to Richmond communities with abandoned or neglected buildings, engage and connect the people in those communities, and give everyone involved some shake-it-out creative color time. You can go see ALL of these murals (I assume there's some way to break into Bellevue - have a child?) if you'd like, but the best part is marveling at the before-and-afters, some of which you can see in our alley portfolio.

They also just so happen to be participating in the Amazing Raise, which is taking place TODAY 9/17! AitA is run totally by volunteers, and all donations go directly to funding supplies for the next project (which could be in YOUR neighborhood!) Please consider donating - now is the best time because it helps us win bonus prizes ... check out https://www.facebook.com/events/722171174505291/ to learn more.