Q&A with Amanda Robinson, Founder of Gallery5 

Located in Richmond’s lively Arts District in Steamer Company Number 5, Virginia’s oldest standing fire and police station, Gallery5 serves as a hub for Richmond’s cultural arts scene by producing accessible events featuring various artists.  

The gallery hosts “Arts for All” programming, which includes four monthly visual and performing arts events that are open to the public at no cost and is curated in collaboration with community artists, performers, organizations and businesses.  

Amanda Robinson founded Gallery5 in 2005, and it quickly filled a void she didn’t know existed in Richmond: a place that represented Richmond’s young art scene and a platform for young emerging and underground artists.  

We had the opportunity to sit down with Robinson to learn more about Gallery5’s history, impact and goals for the future.  

How did Gallery5 come to be? 

It was initially meant to be a fundraiser that turned into an almost 20-year-long nonprofit organization. My grandfather, great-grandfather and great-uncles all worked as fire chiefs at the Steamer Company Number 5, and my father bought it in the 1970s to save it from demolition. With my mom, they eventually turned it into the nonprofit Steamer Company Number Five, the Virginia Fire and Police Museum.  

However, after facing financial difficulties, the nonprofit almost lost the building. My dad got it back, but the nonprofit racked up a large amount of debt, and the building was in a state of despair. The building meant a lot to me, and I had just graduated from Savanah College of Art and Design with a lot of energy. I thought, “Let’s have a fundraiser.”  

In a few months, with the help of Jeremy Parker from RVA Mag, I hosted a group art show in the building on April 15, 2005. It turned out to be so successful. There were over 1,000 people in attendance. And here we are today.  

How has Gallery5 evolved since you founded it? 

I decided to rejoin the organization after resigning in 2012 to start my bakery because some things have progressed while others have gone backward. My dad sold the building in 2019, and the person who purchased it decided to split up the floors and dedicate the upstairs to a separate entity. I’m trying to win the lottery, so I can buy the building back and reclaim the upstairs as the exhibition space. I also want Gallery5 to serve as more of an activist for the art community, which has gotten lost a bit.  

But things have gotten so much better. We’re older. We have a different mindset now and see the organization differently. I think we’re not as willing to take as many risks, but we are willing to develop things strategically, implement structures and consider sustainability. We did a lot when we were young, bold and daring, but now we’re thinking about things a bit more strategically. I’m very happy to now be on the board of directors and to be a part of a group of people who are motivated but also very capable. 

How has Gallery5 impacted the Richmond community? 

Gallery5 has served as a hub for Richmond’s cultural arts community for almost 20 years now. So many young artists, local nonprofits, organizations and programs, like Richmond Comedy Coalition, Art on Wheels and All the Saints Theater Company, got their start at the gallery.  

We opened our doors to programs and nonprofits when they were just seeds and figuring out which direction they were going. We just got a $10,000 grant from The Head and the Heart, who performed at Gallery5, because they know what Gallery5 has done for Richmond’s music and performers and the platform it gives to small, unknown artists. We provide a voice for Richmond’s creative community. It’s our diversity in supporters and programming that makes us a cultural hub that really represents all of Richmond. 

What is the importance of an arts-focused nonprofit such as Gallery5? 

Art makes lasting change. When you think about a school setting, children that are exposed to the arts typically do better in classes and feel like they have an outlet for emotional- and trauma-associated issues. That is the same in adults.  

Having this outlet to express your ideas, whether political or social, is something that brings us together, and it really communicates things that no other thing can. Having something for the arts community that’s not driven by money and product is authentic. It makes a lasting impact. It makes people feel happy and involved.   

What do you hope for Gallery5’s future? 

Sustainability. The reason I came back is not just because I cared about revitalizing some of the arts programming; I felt like I had unfinished business. I started the organization being very naïve. I was not business savvy in any way. Now, I run a successful local, for-profit business. Coming back and making this organization structurally sound and self-sufficient is my goal. I want it to be a place that people and businesses recognize as a grant-worthy organization, so that programs and projects will receive the type of support we’ve always needed. 

To learn more about Gallery5 and how to support its mission, visit its website or follow the organization on Facebook or Instagram.  

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