Southern Ambitions

An Update from the Mellon Team: Prototyping Southern Ambitions

Ana Edwards is a member of the Southern Ambitions Mellon project and a part of our Visitor Engagement staff. 

“You snooze, you lose.” A wealthy nineteenth century merchant in India expresses his satisfaction with England’s rapid investment in the cotton trade that emerged, in part, because the Confederacy overplayed its hand in the early days of the American Civil War.

“I got as far away from Richmond as I could.” A reflection on the limited, yet literally far-reaching vocational paths presented to free people of color by Christian missions and colonization efforts in places like Liberia, West Africa, in the years leading up to and following the American Civil War.

And that’s your teaser …your invitation to check out the RVA Global Tour.

The RVA Global Tour, (see this post: Meet the RVA Global Tour), is a scavenger hunt of sorts that will support the Mellon Team’s Southern Ambitions exhibition project. I am overseeing the second phase of prototyping: installing posters that connect sites in Richmond to international stories in local cafes, restaurants, parks, and museums–and seeing what happens.

Restaurants were our first choice because Richmond is flush with international cuisine and we were pretty sure there’d be one to match each of our stories. And that was true. We also know that where people eat, they linger.

Great idea, and it also took a minute to implement. Have you ever tried to get the attention of a restaurant owner who might also be the cook or floor manager or buyer or hostess … or just uninterested in another thing to do? Suffice it to say, it took a lot of drop-ins, drive-by elevator speeches, and a few beg-for-forgiveness poster installs.

But, it turns out to have been an easy sell. Jazzed by the idea of being part of a city-wide scavenger hunt, business owners also loved the idea of connecting to Richmond’s identity as a history city. Other partners were a little trickier because we wanted to identify actual historical locations and these are not always represented by cool eateries or stunning photo opportunities.

They do, however, tend to be entities with social, cultural or environmental missions that also see this project as an opportunity to enrich public engagement outside the walls of their traditional spaces. There is a Shockoe Bottom hair salon proud of its connection to Virginia Union University’s history; collections at VUU’s L. Douglas Wilder Library; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which feature works connected to West Africa and South America; a railroad trestle in the James River Park near Tredegar with unexplored connections to China; and an entrance to the Flood Wall on the south side of the river that points to England and its colonies. These are just some of the RVA locations tied to the American Civil War that can transport visitors to far away places, and back again!

So, our prototype engagement posters are up all over town and members of the Southern Ambitions team have been taking turns observing interactions with the posters from now through early November. We’ll interview our partners for their observations and make minor adjustments to the posters or their placement if indicated. So far, we’ve had seventy one unique visitors who have seen the stories on our microsite!

You can participate by searching out the posters, seeing great art, eating great food, and encountering Richmond’s Civil War history in unexpected places. Take a selfie while you explore and tag it #rvaglobaltour. And since it is a prototype, we’d love for you to tell us how you experienced the RVA Global Tour be sending an email to [email protected].