Personality: Dr. Cynthia O. Richardson

Spotlight on president of the Petersburg Area Art League

5/3/2019, 6 a.m.
Cynthia Owens Richardson, president of the Petersburg Area Art League, wants the nonprofit to be a mecca for people to …
Dr. Cynthia O. Richardson

Cynthia Owens Richardson, president of the Petersburg Area Art League, wants the nonprofit to be a mecca for people to explore, experience and be inspired by art.

PAAL, located in the city’s Old Towne, focuses on empowering the community through the visual arts. Along with an art education center, PAAL’s space includes a downstairs gallery for the public and upstairs gallery for member artists wanting to exhibit their work.

PAAL also offers workshops and classes and participates in Petersburg’s “Friday for the Arts,” with new monthly exhibitions every second Friday.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Richardson moved with her mother to Petersburg in 1984 to join the administration of Chesterfield County Public Schools.

Exploring her new community, Dr. Richardson saw the Art League’s building and remembers saying to herself, “I love art. I would like to be involved with the league someday.”

A few years later, she happened to be at PAAL looking at some artwork and became friends with Russell Kvasnicka, the organization’s president at the time.

“He invited me to join PAAL and to be on the board,” Dr. Richardson says. “That was right down my alley.”

She has been on the board for four years. She was first elected as board secretary, then moved up to vice president. She became board president last year.

An art lover who creates jewelry and other craft items, she is eager to help PAAL become more integral in the community.

Art has always been part of her life. Growing up, Dr. Richardson’s parents encouraged her to develop and express her creative side. They exposed her to the arts by visiting galleries in Columbus as well as taking trips to New York to the Guggenheim Museum.

“I love painting and crafts and music. I’ve been playing violin since I was a child,” she says.

For the last 15 years, she has designed jewelry using different techniques, such as kumihimo, a form of Japanese braiding that has been around for thousands of years.

“The samurais used to braid these bracelets to hold their swords,” Dr. Richardson explains. “I use seed beads, which is a form of weaving. One piece of my jewelry may have a thousand beads in it.”

She also crochets, sews and knits sweaters. “I am always doing arts projects and seeking ideas to take my work to the next level because once I master something, I want to do something else.”

Now retired as director of planning and administration for Chesterfield schools, Dr. Richardson says her new goal for the 200-member arts group is to raise enough money to expand program offerings.

“In the past, PAAL’s members had a lot of money to give, and we had a lot of money from endowments,” Dr. Richardson said. “Unfortunately, those people have passed on, and we now have to find new ways of funding.”

To that end, PAAL is hosting its 11th annual Ladies Luncheon scheduled for 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22. The event will feature hair stylists and a therapeutic masseuse talking about how those small, personal services benefit women’s physical and emotional health.

“PAAL is for everybody, “Dr. Richardson said. “We are not just serving artists but serving the needs of the entire Tri-cities Area. We are here to inspire and move the community to take part in the arts and the organization.”

Meet arts advocate and this week’s Personality, Dr. Cynthia O. Richardson:

No. 1 volunteer position: President, Petersburg Area Art League.

Date and place of birth: April 17 in Columbus, Ohio.

Current residence: Petersburg.

Education: Bachelor of arts in clinical psychology, The Ohio State University; master’s in city and regional planning and master’s in social work, The Ohio State University; and doctorate in educational leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Family: Spouse, John A. Richardson Jr.

When and how I got involved with the Petersburg Area Art League: I have been a member of the PAAL for four years. I was a member of the Southside Virginia Arts Council, and when that organization dissolved, I was asked by the president of PAAL to join.

Why I wanted to serve as president: I wanted to continue to lead PAAL in a positive direction and serve the citizens of Petersburg.

PAAL’s mission: To “empower the community through the visual arts and performing arts” via our three Gallery Spaces and Art Education Center. PAAL offers workshops and classes and participates in Petersburg’s “Friday for the Arts” with monthly exhibition openings every second Friday.

When PAAL was founded: PAAL was founded in 1932 by Anna Mercer Dunlop, who was considered the dean of Petersburg artists. She wanted to create a legacy of art in downtown Petersburg.

Number of members: More than 200.

PAAL’s top challenge: To raise money so that we can continue to maintain a variety of youth and adult art classes, a dynamic and engaging exhibition program that is now in its 16th year and our upcoming special events such as “Music in the Art Park” and new cabaret theater events.

How I plan to meet it: By increasing our membership and having fundraising programs like our 11th Annual Ladies Luncheon.

Dream for PAAL: To be an overall community center for the visual and performing arts.

Relevance of art to the growth and development of youths: It gives them the opportunity for expression that is also tied in with their academic requirements.

Outlook at start of day: Positive, knowing that with God, all things are possible.

A quote that I am inspired by: I have two — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13, and “That which does not destroy me makes me stronger,” Friedrich Nietzsche.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I love to travel in my RV.

Favorite artist: Claude Monet. His paintings remind me of being in a dream.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn.

Quality I most admire in others: Truthfulness.

Greatest source of inspiration: Going to the ocean and watching the waves.

Favorite recreational activity: Dancing.

Biggest chance I ever took: Flying in a helicopter over Hoover Dam and Lake Meade.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: To never let anyone intimidate you and to know that “wherever you go, you belong there.”

At the top of my “to do” list is: To go to the French Riviera.

The person who influenced me the most: My mother, Marion E. Owens.

The book that influenced me the most: “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach.

What I’m reading now: “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness.

Next goal: To expand my jewelry design business, Cyn’s Rich Jewelry Designs.