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A Mockery of The RVA Brand
By Sam Murphy
Richmond, Virginia has experienced a lot of change and attempts at change over the past several years. One notable example? The city's branding.
The branding of RVA has been one of the more successful campaigns, as a recent article attests. A collaboration between a variety of groups, including the Martin Agency and VCU, the RVA logo has been personalized to fit many applications. But activists have recently reclaimed the logo, completing changing it to communicate their social messages.
Local activist Alan Schintzius pointed out that the RVA abbreviation had common and frequent usage that existed before it was taken and adopted by VCU and Venture Richmond. Aaron Reinhard is a local businessman who owns RVAstickers, which he says is now often confused by customers with the Venture Richmond stickers. Reinhard's company has been around since 1953.
The powers and missions behind these branding campaigns do not speak to all Richmonders. These branding attempts are seen as part of a larger gentrifying marketing strategy, which does not speak to them and does not include them. Venture Richmond has been a spearhead of the RVA logo, and involved in many aspects of pushing that logo and image of the City.
For many Richmonders, Venture Richmond is part of the problem with the City. Venture Richmond is a non-profit organization which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money from the City annually. Their CEO Jack Berry makes over $200,000 a year. But Venture Richmond is involved in many, many projects which are finding strong resistance within the community.
From Venture's attempts to gain tax exemption for an area near Tredegar Ironworks that they want to use as an ampitheater, to their support for the Revitalize RVA plan, the organization is currently up to it's gills in controversy. There have been claims that Venture Richmond is violating the IRS rules regarding non-profit status and need to have that status revoked. There have also been claims of shady dealings between Venture Richmond and Mayor Jones (who sits on the board), including giving them and their campaigns a free ad in a Parks and Rec publication and more.
With so many creative people in this city, it is then no surprise to find that there is a new move of Richmonders who are re-branding some of the corporate brands that are pushing a certain image of Richmond.
What seems to have started when local activist F. T. Rea posted a handdrawn sketch of a "Looting RVA" logo (below) has blossomed into a full on re-branding effort by the people in opposition to Venture Richmond, Loving RVA, the Revitalize RVA Shockoe Stadium, and more.
The motivation behind the initial Looting RVA drawing according to F. T. Rea was, "a sarcastic response to what I viewed as a propaganda piece that richly deserved to be mocked. I certainly didn't mean to say anyone is literally looting Richmond. But I did intend to provoke viewers into thinking about the motives behind the public relations campaign, itself."
Then a person who prefers to remain anonymous created this digital version of the Looting RVA logo, saying, "I don't really need or want personal attention for the redesign. I'd rather it serve as a public resource that can be continually edited and revised to bring attention to the poorly thought out stadium plan by the mayor and his and Venture Richmond's ongoing attempts to privatize the city."
The Looting RVA theme caught on amongst anti-stadium activists. Others began referring to Venture Richmond as Vulture Richmond. To some this is an apt description of how the organization functions and effects the City. Inspired by this, Quail Bell Magazine associate editor and activist Mo Karnage created the Vulture Richmond logo, below:
Aaron Reinhard produced black and white versions of the Vulture Richmond logo on stickers for distribution amongst activists involved in the campaign against a Shockoe Stadium.
Prolific media maker Alan Schintzius has played a major role in the visuals for the anti- Shockoe Stadium crew. What seems to have started with the re-appropriating of pro-stadium materials for anti-stadium purposes has developed far beyond yard signs and into the realms of stickers and billboards. All of his efforts plus those of others are compiled on the Shockoe Resistance page.
The "I Support Shockoe Ballpark" signs that were taken by Alan, Mo, and others were illegally placed in medians and public right of ways near Pine Camp on Northside the night Chris Hilbert was holding a 3rd district meeting there to discuss the Revitalize RVA plan.
The crude repurposing of the liberated signs is reminiscent of a long practiced culture of subverting and modifying corporate advertising. Often seen in graffiti and wheat pasting on billboards, anti-capitalists, feminists, and others have been taking signs paid for with corporate money and modifying them for a more radical use for years. In the instance of these signs, no laws were broken except by the people who originally placed them. But civil disobedience in the name of political speech and subvertising has a long tradition in the United States.
The weekend of February 22nd and 23rd, wheatpasted posters saying "Dwight Jones is Selling Our City" popped up across Richmond. These minor acts of vandalism are a low cost way of getting out the message against the Shockoe Stadium, privatization of Monroe Park, and tax breaks for Venture Richmond.
Alan Schintzius has been working on a tactic of raising the funds for billboards, and has had a billboard up for over a month now. The tactics differ from legal to illegal. Some are playing within the rules, and others see no chance of competing with corporate giants within that frame work and so are seeking alternative methods of sharing their message.
Alan Schintzius also created the OUR RVA logo. OuRVA turned out to be an already copyrighted logo. Copyrights are one of the potential legal snafus that can ensnare people who are rebranding or subvertising.
From satirical to sincere, activists are subverting corporate and government branding campaigns in Richmond. The power in this is of taking the success of the money and efforts of the larger and better funded groups, and turning it into something useful for the opposition.
The (in)famous Adbusters seems to have coined the term Culture Jamming to describe the whole phenomena including both subvertising and vandalism of corporate advertisements. Watching this phenomena play out on a local level is both interesting and an testament to how organically this resistance occurs. The tactic of Culture Jamming is being used by artists, graphic designers, activists, and more to fight against increasing corporate rule and privatization in Richmond. Only time will tell if they successfully Jam that Culture.
#Advertising #Activism #Design #CivicEngagement