District Branding

Keeping in step with the 3-year inititive, RVA brands another district to promote the city's vibrant creative force.

If you didn’t head down to Shockoe Bottom this past Saturday make a point to head down there. Soon.

The area surrounding LaDifference has a new identity. Wonderfully designed by JHI, the Shockoe Design District boasts a colorful array of art, design and hand-crafted products. Ten Thousand Villages has opened a new location to counter it’s long standing Carytown store. Rounding out the mix is a photographer, custom jean maker, custom shirtmaker and a new locally made craft gallery.

The Market Umbrella is best known for it’s South of the James Market at Forest Hill Park but through the holidays they will have a large, indoor space on Virginia Street. Event spaces, gallery space and vendors galore, they hope to see it thrive and continue past the holiday season.

The concept of a design district isn’t new. Fountainhead Properties has been working towards a similar goal in the Manchester District but it wasn’t until Andy Thornton, owner of LaDifference, who coordinated the effort with other local merchants and City Hall to brand the Shockoe area. Despite recent issues with various clubs down the street, area merchants are pushing hard to take control of their image. Coinciding with the i.e.* initiative from the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the Shockoe Design District seeks to promote the creative energy and innovation with the area. It’s no coincidence that the district is also the gateway to Manchester which houses the largest artist collective in the city.  Andy clearly states that the new district belongs to everyone.

For years the city’s marketing efforts have been based in tourism, promoting Richmond’s history to surrounding states while significantly neglecting it’s own citizens. The VMFA‘s recent  Picasso exhibition proved that people all over Virginia will come to Richmond. The greatest number of exhibit visitors came from the northern Virginia, DC area. Far exceeding anyone’s expectations and thus causing marketers to rethink.

How does all of this effect Richmond’s creative community? It may not have a tremendous impact initially. Richmond certainly isn’t known for its long term goals because it rarily makes any or any that make sense. Ideally the Shockoe Design District will resonate throughout the state to further establish the vibrant creative community housed here. So for us locals it garners more exposure, more opportunities and hopefully more business.

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Kim Spencer is a designer, artist and college professor. She currently serves as vice president on the board of AIGA Richmond and previously served as chapter president and new media coordinator. Kim is the founder and resident creative of Protozoa Design. Kim's background originates in fine arts earning a BFA in Crafts from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1997. In 1999, she returned and earned a second BFA in Communication Design. In addition, Kim holds a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Film Studies from the University of Richmond. Kim spent the last seven years with an in-house team in higher education but as the work became more repetitious and considerably less creative she decided to strike out on her own. With over a year in planning, Protozoa Design opened its doors in January 2011. The creativity has over flowed into identity, print collateral and exhibition design. Now coming full circle, she’s found her way back to furniture design. Kim also teaches in the respective graphic design departments at Virginia State University and Virginia Commonwealth University. She resides in The Fan with her husband, son, four cats and extensive Star Wars Lego collection.

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