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The Wigfall program this Friday at Robinson Theater is significant for all kinds of reasons and you need to be there

April 24, 2017 7:00 am by

a guest post by Doug Paul

This Friday night, there’s an amazing event is happening at the Robinson Theater; the VMFA is doing a show honoring one of the original great artists of the Church Hill neighborhood: Benjamin Wigfall. (PS-it’s not like the VMFA is doing this all the time in other neighborhoods. This is kind of a big deal).

Honestly? This is just a can’t miss event if you’re into art and culture even a smidgen.

But I want to suggest there are a whole host of other reasons the whole neighborhood should turn out for this event.

I’m just going to put all of my cards on the table: I think we can really only judge the flourishing of Church Hill by whether or not it’s flourishing for everyone who calls this neighborhood home.

It doesn’t take much to see that our neighborhood is changing. The demographics are slowly shifting, the median income is going up, house prices are skyrocketing, and I say this with a complete bias…we have the best restaurants in town.

For a chunk of the people who live here, that’s perceived as a really good thing. For others, it’s experienced as encroachment, displacement or even as a hostile takeover. With a changing neighborhood comes some really polarizing perceptions of the exact same events.

Whoever you are reading this, you’re probably aware that it can be rare to see a real “mixing” of people in the east end. It’s rare to find events, places or happenstance conversations where the true diversity of the neighborhood comes together en force.

(Yes, that was the longest intro ever. All to set up…)

When it’s rare to find events that have the power to bring everyone together, that have cultural significance and celebration, I want to shout it from the rooftops and do a good ole’ fashioned ‘call to arms’. My friends, we are days away from such an event, an event that is significant for all kinds of reasons.

The event the VMFA is sponsoring this Friday at our very own Robinson Theater on Q Street will celebrate the life and work of Benjamin Wigfall, the renowned artist and professor who grew up in Church Hill (and went to the old Armstrong High School).

Born in 1930, his most famous work of art is probably “Chimneys,” depicting the chimneys of Church Hill in his youth. There’s a lot to share about him, but one particular story struck me: It’s not terribly surprising that a black man was being falsely accused of something in 1957 in Richmond. What is surprising is that it happened right in front of the Miller & Rhodes department store on Broad displaying his masterpiece.

Look. This is a real opportunity for us as a neighborhood.

What I want to suggest is that whether you love art or not, love the VMFA or not, love the work of this painter or not…this is an opportunity for genuine civic engagement that cuts through so many of the societal barriers that might separate us, that might keep our neighborhood from flourishing.

This is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to celebrate a significant story from our neighborhood. To celebrate the life of someone who recently died, and whose own life was marked by the same streets we all walk down together. It’s an opportunity to honor the folks in this neighborhood who literally grew up with this man and will not only be remembering his work and legacy, but their shared story together. The story of this neighborhood that we all now call home.

I think this event has the power to remind us that there are still things that can bring people of varying backgrounds, races, classes and experiences together, no matter how different we are. It’s rare even that can do this, but it’s happening this week.

Art has long had the ability to bring people together. And so I’m making a bold request: Will you come out this Friday night?

A guest post by Doug Paul. Got something to share?


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