’This goes way beyond placards’: Monument Avenue exhibit re-imagines Confederate stretch

Exhibit reimagines Monument Avenue

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The conversation over understanding and including Virginia’s African American history has arguably never been louder, in recent times. Much of that conversation has suggested adding placards or signs to Richmond’s Monument Avenue, detailing the African American experience.

Monument Avenue is now the focus of a new exhibit at the Valentine Museum, dedicated to completely re-imagining one of Richmond’s most recognizable stretches.

Imagine the J.E.B. Stuart statue wrapped completely in the rope that erected it, perhaps the Confederate general would be hidden by sprawling magnolia trees. The Robert E. Lee Monument would be sandwiched between two statues of equal size, commemorating some of Virginia’s most prominent African American figures.

"This goes way beyond placards,” said Burt Pinnock, director of the non-profit Storefront for Community Design, which helped curate the exhibit.

The Valentine Museum is showcasing 70 ideas from across the country, and even internationally, that reinterpret a stretch of Richmond that many say celebrates Virginia’s dark and painful past. The transformations showcase African American contributions and sacrifice in Virginia. Some even add other aspects of the Commonwealth’s history, including Native Americans.

“It was really a response to Charlottesville in many ways,” said Valentine Museum Director Bill Martin.

The exhibit, called “Monument Avenue - General Demotion, General Devotion,” is a partnership between the Valentine Museum, VCU’s Middle of Broad Studio and the Storefront for Community Design nonprofit.

It comes after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission recommended removing the Jefferson Davis statue and adding signs. The commission also supported a museum exhibit and even a cell phone app, illustrating the complete history of the monuments and Virginia.

Martin says the Valentine’s Monument Avenue exhibit explores what Richmond's future could hold.

"The Valentine has always been involved in making sure the history of our city is used to really begin to think about what the future could look like,” said Martin.

The redesign pitches a range of underground museums to monuments being converted into a climbing wall. One design would completely melt down the bronze statues, transforming the metal into an illuminated path commemorating the countless slaves shipped to Virginia in bondage.

“It adds a new layer of context… to tell a very deep story,” said Pinnock.

An artist's conception of a recontextualized Monument Avenue.
An artist's conception of a recontextualized Monument Avenue. (Source: NBC12)

But Martin says that the ideas don’t necessarily have to be taken literally.

"This is an idea that reflects what an artist is thinking about, that can maybe inspire the city and the region to do something,” said Martin. "In every single proposal, there's an idea that I think should be considered."

The exhibit’s grand opening is Thursday and admission is free. Guests are invited to vote for their favorite Monument Avenue interpretation.

Currently, Virginia’s war memorials are protected by state law. Legislation to allow individual localities to remove or modify war monuments was defeated during this current General Assembly session.

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