Saturday mornings in the Turner Pavilion are a beloved time for many locals and visiting friends in Harrisonburg. In the early morning hours, farmers and crafters roll up and start unloading their wares for the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, and soon after, the smells of coffee, baked goods, and breakfast sandwiches fill the air as people happily meet and greet each other.
There is now a new activity in town, called Art in the Park, that will add to this Saturday morning atmosphere once a month. Behind the Smith House (311 S. Main St), underneath a grove of walnut trees and near two brand spanking new picnic tables, the Arts Council of the Valley has begun to set up its “wares” too. Through partnerships with local organizations, the Arts Council hopes to shed light on social issues and to use the arts as a vehicle to explore those ideas with families in collaborative ways. If you walk past the banner proudly sporting the new ACV logo, you’ll find a kid-friendly world of art supplies and those with a desire to share some creative ideas set up and waiting for you.
The first Art in the Park event, held in June, dealt with issues of water quality. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality gathered some fresh critters from the North River and set up touch tanks. This allowed kids to see what kinds of animals can be found in healthy waterways and served as an inspiration for art the kids then created. Using straws, salt, markers, and crayons, adults and children meditated on a different set of water qualities. What makes markers bleed? Why does salt create those funky speckles? Why do crayons resist water? Lastly, kids had the chance to explore the gallery and discover how artist Nan Covert tackled the subject matter of water through her paintings.
Brick by Brick, July’s Art in the Park, was an even more powerful event. Blake Somers, a local ten-year-old, was so in awe of the Northend Greenway‘s presentation at the Ignite Harrisonburg Spring 2012 Series that he decided to present his own idea. Still struggling with the loss of his grandmother from cancer, Blake decided to do something positive and encouraged the crowd to imagine a large breast cancer ribbon made entirely out of Legos placed along the Greenway. He wrapped up his PowerPoint with a humble “Thank You” and took his seat while everyone clapped loudly and cheered. That night, he took home the Audience Choice Award.
In an effort to support Blake’s Lego drive, the Arts Council decided he should be the next visiting artist for Art in the Park. The Northend Greenway jumped on board to share their progress and teach us all what a greenway is about. So there Blake was that rainy Saturday, coaching everyone on how to deal with the wily ways of Legos, as well as sharing his story with news reporters AND talking about why the Greenway was so important. He wore many hats that day, and I’m not saying that because it was wet outside!
Using the Smith House as shelter from the rain gave everyone a chance to dry out as well as take in Nicole Martorana’s photography exhibition, “What Remains of You and Me.” The exhibit focused on the stories behind buildings and places, and some people played “I-spy,” pointing out details they spotted within the photographs.
We all left uplifted and well-versed in the structural qualities of Legos, though no one seemed happier than Blake toting home his donation of Lego loot. Some of the pieces created during the event are still on display at the Smith House, if you’d like to take a look. The house is also an official drop-off spot for Lego donations Monday through Friday from 11 AM until 5 PM.
So a month flies by pretty fast and it’s that time again already! The next Art in the Park is this Saturday, August 25th from 9 AM until 12 PM.
What will we be making this time? What kinds of techniques might unfold? How does art-making tie into the world around us? How can we use art for social change?
Guess you’ll just have to show up and find out!
For more information on Art in the Park and other Arts Council of the Valley programming:
Call (540) 801-8779,
or find them on Facebook.
Sarah Murphy is a local artist, member of the Northend Greenway Arts Education Committee, and member of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Promotions Committee. You can find her pretty much anywhere downtown on any day of the week.
Photo courtesy of I Love My Burg