In September 2014, the Tom Tom Founders Festival launched the Founding Cville project which highlights local artists, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “whose groundbreaking and original work has impacted Charlottesville and the world.” Collectbritain is republishing the eighteen profiles of each of the inaugural Founders.

Gabe Silverman, Architect & Developer (in memoriam)

Gabe Silverman was an architect, real estate developer, and patron of the arts. He arrived in the early 1980s from San Francisco, and left an indelible imprint on the City through his built projects, and the creative culture he helped incubate. His passing in the winter of 2013 resulted in an outpouring of testimonies from entrepreneurs, artists, performers, and non-profits for both his generosity and for the encouragement he offered creative endeavors. There were tangible offerings; Silverman often provided reduced-rent or free studio space to artists, but of perhaps greater consequence was his generous spirit which gave license to budding creative entities to chart their own course. His most visible projects include the Michie Building, the IX complex, the Main Street Market, the thriving, purple-hued retail complex on West Main and the Main Street Annex. In a broader sense, Downtown Charlottesville’s current prosperity and cultural vitality is a tribute to Silverman’s vision and persistence.

This profile was compiled in part with Gabe’s daughters, Taije and Kia. The following are reflections on Silverman’s legacy from the Live Arts theater and tributes posted on Cville News. For an opportunity to hear “Gabe on Gabe,” This long-form interview with Coy Barefoot is one of the only extended recordings of Gabe. The 30 minute interview details both Gabe’s personal history, his vision for Charlottesville, and a recounting of some of the projects.

John Gibson, former Artistic and Executive Director of Live Arts

Gabe Silverman woke Charlottesville up, insisted that the place was worthy of not only a past, but a future. Until him, there was the University and Monticello and the stuff in between. That interstitial limbo was the town. Many of its people lived in red brick Jefferson Country, or else in that scruffy no-place with a handful of sublime bookstores and one great restaurant. I was lucky enough, for 18 years, to live in Silverman Country. It was jerrymandered, non-contiguous – most of Downtown, the IX, a good stretch of West Main, on out to Batesville, dibs and dabs here and there. Instantly recognizable – Babar and rebar, cigarette butts, artists, rock stars, poets, crazy-ass street people, conduit, and toy robots. It was thrilling – one day a gas station, the next a bakery, and maddening – when would the long-promised drywall arrive? It was never dull.

Most towns never get a single visionary. Charlottesville got two: one by accident of birth, one by wild chance. The place it is now can only be read in those two lights. Poised between Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Silverman. Lucky place, lucky us, lucky him to find a place that fit his crackpot, faraway, breathtaking gaze. Tango on, old friend.

Will Kerner, Live Arts Cofounder and Board President

A visionary, a maverick, a rebel. Gabe was more than a dreamer – and he was a fantastic dreamer! – he was a doer. Consistently expanding his vision, while also expanding ours, he led downtown Charlottesville from the 20th century into the 21st. Would Live Arts have come to exist without him? We will never know – it’s pointless to speculate – but this much is certain: he nurtured our vision for the theater in the incubator of the Old Michie Building, and encouraged us to realize our dreams. Without his support it is doubtful that Live Arts would have had such a strong start, or risen to such heights.

Gabe thought far enough outside the box to let us throw the raves that gave birth to Live Arts in the Old Michie! Late night, seat-of-the-pants, barely-insured, quasi-legal dance parties. And that was only the beginning. In his trademark fashion he put those of us doing the raves together with those doing theater, birthing the collaborative that became Live Arts.

We have all lost a great friend, a man who lived and breathed what he believed, who strove to make this town an extraordinary hub of culture and ideas. We will miss him, but the legacy he has created lives on.

Katie Swenson, Former Director of the Charlottesville Community Design Center

Gabe Silverman was a rare kind of leader. There was no trace of the hierarchical kind of leadership with Gabe, but rather he engendered a subtle sacredness around his work, which drew people into creative collaboration with him. He never drew a master plan for Charlottesville that I know of, nor gave a lecture, or panel presentation on his vision for Charlottesville. Rather, he put his energy in sync with other people’s energy, helping them do what they perhaps wanted to do, but he could actually make happen. He built dance studios for dancers and choreographers, theaters for actors and directors, yoga studios for yogis. He made micro-business spaces for local entrepreneurs and micro offices for start ups. Each discrete project started to knit together a new version of the town. And as he did that, people thrived, the community thrived, and as the momentum built, people got a taste for what it meant to thrive as a town, as a community, and the town took off. Because Gabe’s world was not hierarchical, not exclusive, there was no limit to the creativity and collaboration possible.

Christian DeBaun, Director of The Charlottesville Photography Initiative

He really cared about Charlottesville a lot, possibly more than any person in this city since Thomas Jefferson. He was a vocal supporter of the arts, and I was always impressed with his intelligence, humor, and complete generosity. In the winter of 2010, Gabe was able to rent me the basement of 300 West Main street for an amazing low price. This was so that we could grow our group, the Charlottesville Photography Initiative from the modest headcount of 80 people it was then, to the 509 people we have as of today. He let us use the space rent-free for 6 months until we could get on our feet, and helped us renovate the space so that we could build a home for photographers in Charlottesville.

Waldo Jaquith, Blogger and Director of U.S. Open Data Institute

The last discussion that I ever had with him, just six weeks ago, began with me telling him that I needed a small office space for a new business, and concluded with him having persuaded me to use that business to anchor an incubator-style coworking space that he’d provide the space and funding for, in order to establish a downtown hub for socially aware tech firms. He had that sort of effect on people. Before we parted, he emphasized that he didn’t just want to make a small change in Charlottesville: “I’m going to die, you’re going to die, so how do we use this to create a lasting change in Charlottesville?”

Lydia Vann

Gabe Silverman was one of the pillars that made downtown Charlottesville so special for me and so many. Beautiful inside and out. Charismatic. He was a force for putting creativity and hard work together to make things that were good for people. And doing it in a way that celebrated the art of business. He was like a father figure in that his actions and methods inspired me to build things too. He connected with people not on their status or wealth but on their energy. He gave wings to young entrepreneurs.

Bill Rice

Gabe was a throwback to the days when developers had an eye for the future and the way to take a property, upgrade it, and turn it into a contributing business model to the city. God knows City Hall fought him on whatever he and his partner Allie wanted to do. But they found a way to persevere. Their models of excellence are all over Downtown and West Main.

Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, Founder of CLAW and Cofounder of Category 4

Gabe was the Lou Reed of Charlottesville real estate development. There will never be another like him. He profoundly affected my life as an artist and member of our community. Just about everything I’ve been a part of here is connected to him. He was always providing our poor theater company, Foolery, with free (ever-shifting) rehearsal and performance spaces in his empty buildings. He made it possible for PEP and Zen Monkey Project to use the IX for our carnivals. He was our landlord when I co-owned a web design firm, Category 4. My last real interaction with him was at ACAC in the weightlifting area. We chatted briefly then he took my arm and we tangoed in front of the astonished and amused clientele. I closed my eyes and followed.

Founding Cville culminated in an award ceremony at Tom Tom’s Fall Block Party
with over 6,000 in attendance | Credit: Tom Daly Photography