A Mural of Hope on U.S. 1

A Mural of Hope on U.S. 1

Nico Cathcart painting from the lift

Nico Cathcart painting from the lift

There’s a beautiful new lantern glowing on a blue wall and beaming toward U.S. Route 1 at its intersection with Russell Road. On April 23, Richmond muralist Nico Cathcart completed a mural ten feet above the ground on the east wall of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church next door to a 7-11 and within view of the busy highway, offering a big splash of beauty and cheer to the corridor.

The mural, 20 feet tall and 50 feet long, has a sparrow on each side of the lantern with a lily at the top and peony on the bottom. Carthcart was inspired by the church’s mission and chose these elements to bring people toward the church’s warmth and light. 

“It’s meant to be uplifting, like the name of the church, to give people a sense of community,” Cathcart said.

The completed mural on April 23. 


Rising Hope is a mission church where Reverend Kameron Wilds ministers to the “least, lost, lonely and left out,” typically people unable to support a traditional church. The church has a kitchen, food pantry and other services. On cold winter nights, unhoused people can sleep in the fellowship hall. 

The church’s philosophy: “Love unconditionally, include everyone and celebrate life.”

The Mural’s Design

After talking to Wilds and Evan Kaufman, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation’s (SFDC) Executive Director, Cathcart prepared several designs and Rising Hope chose this one. 

“This is art for people who have historically been denied access to beauty because of poverty, policy, stigma and other factors. This space is a light that draws people in,” said Wilds.

Wilds added, “We encounter so many people who are hurt, hard up, in pain and suffering trauma. These people are fighting every day. They deserve the access to art that everyone else has, noting, that Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky said, ‘Beauty will save the world.’”

How She Did It

Carthcart, 41, raised herself up on a green Sunbelt aerial lift, a vehicle she’s been driving for ten years, which has spurred some second looks, she snickered. “When they see a woman starting up a lift, many people just assume you can’t drive it,” adding, “Street art is very gendered,” observing that the field is dominated by men.

She used six gallons of primer paint and hoisted up the primary colors. “I mix as I go,” she said. On a chilly April 21, her black pants, sweatshirt and sock cap splattered with paint recalled a Jackson Pollock painting. “It’s dirty work, sunup to sundown. It’s not glorious. It has real high highs and real low lows,” Cathcart noted.

Always an Artist 

Dirty or not, Cathcart never questioned that she would be an artist, starting with a watercolor set as a child. “You don’t choose it. It chooses you,” she believes. She grew up in Toronto, Canada, moved to central New York as a teenager and attended the State University of New York at Oswego and Courtland. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and ceramics. When she moved to Richmond in 2008, she got involved in the Richmond Mural Project. “I never looked back,” she said.

She paints murals all over the United States, in 2023 hitting 23 states. Last year she was honored as one of the best muralists in the national mural awards. She was named as one of the world’s top 50 muralists in a book titled “Street Art Women.”

SFDC Initiatives 

This is SFDC’s third mural on the U.S. 1 corridor in Fairfax County.  Cathcart painted the “Fabric of the Community” on the ZIPS dry cleaning building at 6216 North Kings Highway. At its center is a bald eagle pair, inspired by a nesting pair on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The mural has local flora and portraits of an El Salvadoran immigrant and a local African American nurse, representing the diversity of the community.

“The Rising Hope mural aligns with our plans to create a stronger identity and sense of place for the corridor community and connects with our larger plan of creating an art corridor,” Kaufman said. “Small incremental changes in placemaking including our murals, new public sculpture, parklets and other targeted interventions help create a new perception of the area that begins to attract the types of small businesses and community-focused development projects that we seek.” SFDC hopes to have more murals, sculpture, unique landscaping and repurposing of hardscapes.  

“This mural is a story of resilience and strength, people refusing to give up,” said Wilds. 

“Street art is the most accessible art,” commented Cathcart. “A lot of public art ignores the people nearby. This is art for them. It’s meant to be uplifting and give a sense of warmth. It shows that someone cares.” 


Nico Cathcart, https://www.nicocathcart.com/ 

Rising Hope Mission Church, https://www.risinghopeumc.org/ 

Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, www.sfdc.org

SFDC Murals, https://sfdc.org/blog/mural-progress/ and https://sfdc.org/blog/new-mural/