It’s National Arts and Humanities Month, so it’s a good time to ask: What is public art?

2018 a transformational month for the city

VIRGINIA BEACH — Expression through art is as old as humanity itself: Over the thousands of years of human existence, whether the canvas is a cave wall or a high tech computer, people have been expressing themselves and leaving behind creations for others to enjoy.

October is National Arts and Humanities Month and it’s a good time to ask, what is public art and why is it important to cities, including Virginia Beach?

Public art, according to the Association for Public Art, “can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

Emily Labows, the director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Virginia Beach, said the city’s spirit and diversity is celebrated through its Community-Based Public Art Initiatives.

Informational graphic outlining the impact of the arts in the City of Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Cultural Affairs Department)

“This (2018) has been a transformational year for the arts and culture in Virginia Beach,” she said. “Cultural Affairs’ focus on the implementation of the Arts Plan 2030, the city’s first strategic plan for the arts, has resulted in exciting and positive projects for the city.”

The Arts Plan originated in 2014 and through community engagement it created a vision for the next 15 years, addressing the importance of growing the Public Art Program in the city, advancing the ViBe District, and expanding the arts infrastructure

All of which are critical aspects of the city’s support of public art.

Virginia Beach’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $87.7 million in annual economic activity, which supports 2,875 full-time equivalent jobs while generating $7 million in local and state government revenues.

Those numbers come from a recent Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 national economic impact study.

That study also found that nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Virginia Beach spent $25.9 million in the local economy during fiscal year 2015.

“Without question, the arts a vital component of the vibrancy and identify of every major city in America,” said Kate Pittman, executive director of the ViBe Creative District. “From New York to Miami, the arts drive tourism, stimulate local economies and revitalize neighborhoods with the help of government funding. We are grateful for city leadership that supports Virginia Beach’s blossoming culture.”

One of the new public arts projects, this one in the ViBe Creative District near the Convention Center (Rami Yoakum/For Southside Daily)
One of the new public arts projects, this one in the ViBe Creative District near the Convention Center (Rami Yoakum/For Southside Daily)

A few of the high profile public arts projects this year that Labows mentioned were:

  • The Canoes by Donald Lipski, a 36-foot sculpture is poised on the pedestrian overlook of the new Lesner Bridge welcoming visitors into the beauty and history of the Chesapeake Bay area.
  • Terrapin Basinby Benjamin Heller, located at Pleasure House Point behind the Brock Environmental Center, is site responsive piece, set into the ground creating a basin that invites visitors to explore.
  • The new Zeiders American Dream Theater in Town Center, which will generate a new, exciting connection between the performer and the audience.

So what is 2019 looking like for public arts and humanities in Virginia Beach?

Labows said the Virginia Beach Art Center will open in winter of 2019 in the ViBe Creative District and will include expanded space for The Artists Gallery, new space for a pottery studio and classrooms, and increased studio space for resident artists.

Also, the city has partnered with Virginia Beach City Public Schools for two community Public Art projects.

“We are looking to engage two artists or arts teams to participate in two short-term Artist Residencies in two elementary schools in Virginia Beach and to produce creative public art projects that are reflective of the school and the community,” Labows said.

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