UR Downtown’s most recent exhibition, Missing Richmond, by local Richmond artist, Caryl Burtner, uses shadowboxes that display images of Richmond sites before and after their demolition. Some of these sites have nostalgic value, like Bill’s Barbeque, a favorite local restaurant that closed down its final location in 2012. Others have historical value, like Thalhimer’s department store, the site of the Richmond 34 sit-ins. In conjunction with the exhibition, President Ayers’ First-Year Seminar students studied the Richmond Slave Trail and how the former slave sites have changed along with the city. Images of these locations are displayed along with a description of the function they used to have, showing how everyday locations sometimes hold a long history. Looking at these two exhibitions together has given me a new understanding of Richmond’s history and has enhanced my experience as a student coordinator at UR Downtown.
The city of Richmond is famous for its place in early American history. However, being relatively new to Richmond and sometimes isolating myself in the Richmond Bubble, it’s easy to miss how the city is evolving. Coming to UR Downtown has allowed me to appreciate the city and allows me to see how Richmond’s present is as interesting as its past. When I walk down Broad Street during RVA First Fridays I see the city’s growing arts and music scene which brings people of all ages to appreciate Richmond’s culture. When I eat lunch on the Capital Lawn I see the city’s prominence as the state capital as well as its economic and political significance. Getting off campus to work at UR Downtown, and to spend time experiencing what the city of Richmond has to offer, has enhanced my college experience. I now consider Richmond my second home. Richmond has changed in the ways that President Ayers’ class and Missing Richmond show, but it is also culturally changing into a city with arts and music at every corner (and into a city that Huffington Post says is one of America’s Five Top Cities to Keep on Your Radar.)
Looking at Missing Richmond and watching the cultural development of the city, I’m inspired to look at how my own home, Tampa, Florida, has changed as well. During my life I’ve watched as my small rural community outside of Tampa has grown into a true part of the continually expanding city. I’ve watched how the recession stripped our downtown, and how economic regrowth has brought new life back to downtown. We’ve also lost parts of our culture; the last remaining cigar factory is set to soon close, taking away a symbol our rich Cuban heritage, and the meaning of our moniker, “Cigar City” with it.
Watching how the city of Richmond has changed and how native Richmonders have reacted to change gives an interesting look at how communities relate to their surroundings. Certain spaces invoke memories. Every city grows and changes with each generation, and I am grateful to be a part of this evolution in Richmond.