More public — and proffered — art pops up around the Richmond Highway Corridor


Muralist Nico Cathcart works on the mural at ZIPS Cleaners on Nov. 8.

Murals, sculptures and other forms of public art are on the increase around Richmond Highway as Fairfax County officials and placemaking experts attempt to create a greater sense of community and identity around the corridor.

This past week, artist Nico Cathcart, a Canadian painter and internationally recognized muralist who resides in Richmond, Virginia, started work on the long-awaited mural at ZIPS Cleaners on North Kings Highway near South Alex.

Cathcart’s design concept for the mural, entitled “Fabric of the Community,” was described by Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) Executive Director Evan Kaufman as “a piece that reflects the culture, history and environment of the Richmond Highway Corridor.” Among other elements, the design includes images of the Mount Vernon Trail, residents from the area and a Quander family quilt.

Rendering of the "Fabric of the Community" mural (Credit: SFDC)

SFDC and its sponsors provided funding for both the ZIPS project and a previous mural project at 8121 Richmond Highway. Kaufman is currently in talks with Rising Hope Mission Church on Russell Road about a possible mural on the side of the building facing Richmond Highway.

Other public art has emerged around the corridor due to special development conditions established between the county and developers of multifamily residential housing.

According to Joanne Fiebe, urban designer and senior revitalization program manager with Fairfax County, a few newer and upcoming residential properties were mandated to install public art as a condition of their approved project site plans. These public art “proffers” aren’t a requirement for all developments, said Fiebe, but they always involve art that’s publicly accessible.

One tangible example can be found at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Biscayne Drive at The Arden. To meet the county’s requirement for a public art piece on the public-facing perimeter of the building, developer Wesley Housing partnered with ArtsFairfax to help navigate through the planning and commissioning of an art piece, said a spokesperson from Wesley Housing. 

Wesley Housing leaders selected artist Reinaldo Correa’s “Tree of Light” sculpture concept from a pool of applicants and submitted it to the county with its site plan. The project was supported in part by an award from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, said the spokesperson.

Reinaldo Correa's "Tree of Light" at The Arden (Credit: Wesley Housing)

During an Oct. 26 Wesley Housing Artist Talk, Correa discussed the inspiration for his sculpture — a dogwood tree with petals representing the different seasons of life, and a light at the center that’s illuminated from dusk to dawn.

“The Tree of Light outside The Arden is a symbol of community and transformation for those who call this neighborhood home,” said Wesley Housing President and CEO Kamilah McAfee. “With the help of our partners and artist Reinaldo Correa, our vision to bring diverse backgrounds together and inspire growth was brought to life through the power of art."

Another example of a public art proffer can be found at South Alex. According to Julie Shepard, communications manager for Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, the green “A+” sculpture in front of the apartment community was part of developer Combined Properties’ proffer.

WhiteClouds' A+ sculpture at South Alex

Combined Properties development associate Alan Henderson provided an official description of the sculpture, which was developed by Utah-based WhiteClouds: “The design was inspired by the nostalgic feeling of pride and joy that every person feels when they receive an A+ on a school assignment. This design is meant to evoke that same feeling of happiness when residents and visitors enter the retail plaza. The letter A is also significant because it reinforces the ‘A’ in Alex in the name South Alex.”

More proffered art will soon be publicly accessible at The Aventon, an apartment community expected to open later this year next to Huntington Metro station. According to documents filed with the county, the Aventon Companies promised to provide up to $75,000 worth of public art at two locations on the property. 

During a recent preview of the apartment community organized by SFDC, attendees had the opportunity to view an outdoor floral mural that constitutes one of the pieces of art. The Aventon also will install some light sculptures in the park space, said Fiebe. All of the art is from Fairfax County-based artists Rodrigo Pradel, Michael Pacheco, Monica Tucker-Harley and Sarah Berry.

Floral mural at The Aventon (Credit: SFDC)

This past summer, ArtsFairfax unveiled a Public Art Locator, which enables Fairfax County residents to identify and map public art throughout the county. According to Lisa Mariam, senior director of grants and services at ArtsFairfax, 200 pieces of art have been added to the web application to date, including the piece at The Arden.

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