If you live in Richmond, you may have noticed a recent influx of public art, particularly in the form of murals popping up around town. Belle Isle Craft Spirits is proud to have one of these recent public murals painted on the side of our distillery, and in today’s blog we talk with Mickael Broth, the founder of Welcoming Walls, and the artist who oversaw the artwork on our building.
You are the founder of Welcoming Walls, an organization whose goal is to create welcoming public mural art at Richmond’s main gateways. Tell us about the history of this project and where it’s at now.
Welcoming Walls was officially launched in late 2014 after my wife Brionna and I had been kicking the idea around for a few years. I come from a background in graffiti (for which I spent ten months in jail) and was always interested in the opportunities that surfaces and spaces along the highways presented. Specifically, the fact that they are seen by hundreds of thousands of people each week. As Richmond’s public art scene has exploded over the past five years, it struck us that these areas along the interstates still presented a rather drab face for the city. Welcoming Walls is bridging the gap between the wealth of culture and creativity we have in the city, and the first impression that is presented to countless motorists, visitors, and locals alike. So far, with three large projects completed, Welcoming Walls has worked with six Richmond-based artists, all of whom have collaborated to create exciting works of art that draw inspiration from the city’s history through a cultural partnership we have formed with the Valentine Museum.
Why is public art important – both to you personally and to the larger community?
Public art helps define a place as unique and vibrant. It serves the purpose of sparking conversation, fostering community pride, or simply adding a bit of color to an otherwise drab landscape. To me, public art is a chance for people to display their pride in who they are and where they come from. Like monuments and grand architecture throughout time, public art can be a symbol of the greatness of a culture. I believe that Richmond’s recent acceptance of copious amounts of public art (primarily in the form of murals) is an indication of a widespread renewal in our collective self confidence. It says to the world at large that we are a creative city that embraces energy and entrepreneurship. Many of the places I’ve traveled around the world stick out to me more for their public art than anything else.
You helped organize the mural that was recently completed on the Belle Isle Distillery. Tell us more about the thought and inspiration behind that design and the artists who completed it.
I had spoken to Alex (Co-founder at Belle Isle) about a mural on the side of the Belle Isle Craft Spirits HQ for some time. When Welcoming Walls got rolling, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. As curator for the project, I suggested that two Richmond-based artists/sign-painters collaborate on a design. Ross Trimmer, who runs Sure Hand Signs, and Emily Herr, of Herr Suite, joined forces to design a piece that would reference old Richmond promotional materials (such as postcards) and items from the Valentine’s textile collection. We had the chance to work with fantastic volunteers from Altria, with coordination by HandsOn Greater Richmond, in order to make incredible progress on the first day alone! They painted the entire 20’ x 70’ mural in only three days, in blistering heat.
What has been feedback been like for Welcoming Walls?
Welcoming Walls has received fantastic feedback since we launched the project. The biggest surprise was on the very first day of the first mural being painted. A young guy from the west coast of Canada had been traveling around the US for a month when he heard that Richmond had tons of greatpublic art. He got off the highway randomly at Boulevard, and immediately saw Andre Shank and Chris Milk working on the first WW mural! It just confirmed to us that the mission was spot on and that the method was going to achieve the goals.
What’s the future of Welcoming Walls and public art in general?
There are more projects lining up for Welcoming Walls later this year and plenty of big ideas that we’re working on. I don’t want to get into too many details yet, but Welcoming Walls is just starting to make an impact!
Besides Welcoming Walls, what’s your favorite thing going on in Richmond right now?
I’ve always loved the DIY spirit this city fosters. Every year (like it or not) there are tons of young people coming into this community and bringing with them new ideas and energy. It’s still cheap to live here so you can take risks on ventures that might not work out and you can afford to throw away some cash on things that will only last for a few months. I feel surrounded by people who are living their lives exactly the way they want to, without having to compromise or try to fit into some role they are expected to fill. One of the best examples of this is the Lost Bowl, a backyard skateboarding paradise built by skateboarders to fill the demand for something the city simply has not provided, despite strong demand for it.
After a long day of painting, what’s your go-to beverage or cocktail?
I love most alcohol equally, but cheap ass Genesse Cream Ale always does the trick for me. There’s a spot near my house that sells tallboys for a buck-o-nine! I did have a bottle of Belle Isle’s Honey Habanero recently that was ridiculously good.