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Richmond Mourns Loss Of Community And Cultural Advocate Jim Wark

CEO of Virginia Voice Jim Wark interviewing interviewing Cat Anthony of Sportable, Richmond Adaptive Sports & Recreation.
CEO of Virginia Voice Jim Wark interviewing Cat Anthony of Sportable, Richmond Adaptive Sports & Recreation in 2017. Wark, a longtime musician and cultural advocate in Richmond, passed away February 7th, 2020 after a recent diagnosis of cancer. (Courtesy: Virginia Voice)

An open-house celebration of Jim Wark’s life is scheduled for this Sunday, February 16th from 5:00-8:00 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen. The family is holding a private memorial outside of Richmond.

Community members across Greater Richmond are mourning the loss of Jim Wark, a non-profit leader, former publisher of Style Weekly, beloved musician and educator.

Wark was CEO of Virginia Voice, which provides over-the-air reading services and programming for people with blindness and vision impairments. VPM is a longtime partner with Virginia Voice, providing transmission of Virginia Voice’s signal to residents with a special radio receiver. 

In 2018, Wark helped launch an innovative new program called “Live Audio Description” to increase access to the performing arts. Volunteers are trained to provide live, play-by-play descriptions of theatrical performances. Their visual accounts of the show are heard through a wireless earphone worn by blind and visually impaired people in the audience. 

“It's in our wheelhouse to do this because what Virginia Voice is about is providing equitable access to things that are not easily accessible to people with vision impairment,” Wark told VPM in 2018. “And live theater, it allows people with vision impairment to decide to or not to go to the theater; in other words to have the exact same rights that everybody else does when it comes to these shared cultural experiences.”

Live Audio Description expanded to more plays, the Richmond Ballet and is expected to be offered at the Science Museum of Virginia and the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

Wark wanted the community to think about access beyond “ramps and railings,” the design changes required by the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

“I think the arts is a great place to look when looking for ways to increase access,” said Wark. “And sports, a lot of things we think of as amenities, but they’re really much more than amenities, they’re the things we share as a community and as a culture. So inclusiveness, I think, in arts performances, in sporting events, in government meetings, I think there’s room for improvement across the board.”

Wark previously worked at the early childhood nonprofit Partnership for Families, in sales at the Richmond Times Dispatch and as the publisher of Style Weekly. He also taught in Richmond Public Schools and played a sizable roll in the Folk Festival from its early days run by national organizers.

“Jim’s fingerprints and passion are all over the event that we know and love so well,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page. “When the festival asked, Jim said yes. Every single time. He once donned a toga to usher in the oysters for the Virginia Folklife Stage’s oyster shucking contest. And in one of his proudest moments, Jim was a Richmond Folk Festival performer in 2016 when he was asked to sit in with Rockabilly artist Jason D. Williams, whose lead guitarist was ill that day.”

A longtime musician, Wark played with Janet Martin, The Taters, Rock and Roll Jubilee, Chrome Daddy Disco and many other bands.

“The first time we played together he took a solo on a song he’d never heard and was riffing to the lyrics!” wrote BJ Kocen in Style. “I knew from that point on, I needed Wark in my life.”

Wark was 60 years old and died after a recent diagnosis of cancer.

This is a developing story. If you'd like to share your memories of Jim with VPM, please contact us at [email protected].


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