Richmond art project couldn’t be critical of Trump. It still was.

Photo Credit: James Ken Butler

By Kathy Chouteau

Richmond residents in recent days have been speaking their collective truths in a way the city had never seen before — except when it comes to criticizing President Trump by name.

A new compelling art project that ran for five days ending tonight captured the attention of the community in a number of ways.

Artist Christy Chan’s “Inside Out” video art installation transformed seven word statements submitted by Richmond residents into larger-than-life projections on a five-story wall of Richmond City Hall, adjacent to the Guillermo the Golden Trout sculpture along Barrett Avenue.

Of 1,100 submissions, 100 were used in the installation and they included statements such as “Being an immigrant is my superpower,” “Who will fight for us when we are all gone?,” “I’m not from here but I’m here,” “No more celebrity presidents” and “Never give up.”

Noticeably absent from the projected messages were mentions of President Trump by name, although many alluded to him indirectly and to his administration’s immigration policies.

Chan said that’s because, just before her art project’s launch, the city requested that any statements “critical of the current president of the US and mentioning him by name be removed.” The project was funded by a city art grant and was displayed on a city-owned building. According to KQED, which broke the story, city officials said they wanted to be cautious about making political statements without buy-in from the Richmond Arts and Culture Commission and Richmond City Council, and there wasn’t time for that process to play out given the summer schedule.

Chan decided that instead of banning the statements entirely, she “chose to display them covered with thick red bars, symbolizing the omission of perspectives.”

“I believe it’s important that our community know that voices critical of President Trump exist, even if they could not be projected in the work,” she said. “Otherwise, my project may create or contribute to a false illusion that there is no dissent or fear in the community here about the impact of the current president. Moreover, Richmond is one of the most diverse communities in the Bay Area, with a third of our residents born in other countries.”

Read Chan’s full statement on the topic here.

Despite the restriction, and perhaps with help from it, Chan’s art project shone brightly and clearly in the community. On Saturday, the community gathered in the Richmond Art Center’s courtyard to celebrate the launch of her art installation, complete with beer served up by Origin Beer and pizza from Extreme Pizza. Chan and Richmond Art Center Executive Director Ric Ambrose provided brief remarks before the projections began their 75 minute rotation upon the wall at approximately 8 p.m./sunset.

The crowd filtered out of the Richmond Art Center’s courtyard and into the parking lot and other areas alongside Barrett Avenue to get a closer look at the projected messages.

Chan’s work “is the first video art installation to be exhibited as public art in the City of Richmond,” City of Richmond Arts & Culture Manager Michele Seville said in an email.

In creating her video art installation, Chan reached out to all corners of the Richmond community online and via workshops at NIAD, RYSE Youth Center, Kaleidoscope Coffee and local churches. Via these community forums, Chan tapped into the Richmond consciousness and welcomed residents to “Share your funny. Share your weird. Share your sad. Share your truths,” while providing prompts such as “Tell us your life story in 7 words” and “What change do you wish to see?”

Chan, who can see the Richmond Civic Center from her living room, has been eyeing the wall that would eventually play host to her art piece for some time. It sparked her interest when she moved to Richmond one year ago, and from there, her artistic vision took flight.

Learn more about the artist here.