I visited Charlottesville, Va., in June with family members. We spent two days and one night as tourists, not knowing, of course, that, by August, the city would be thrust into the center of tragedy and controversy. I am certain that the city’s residents would prefer to have avoided that kind of publicity.
Controversy aside, we enjoyed visiting many places in Charlottesville but none more than IX Art Park. It is pronounced “icks.”
We found the park by stumbling upon it. My daughter previously had eaten at Brazos Tacos, a restaurant near the park. The soft tortillas are filled with non-traditional fare such as black beans, eggs, bacon, rice, corn, and vegetables of all kinds as well as the regular taco fillings.
When finished with our meal, we walked across the lot to the park. Actually, the 6-year-old and 13-year-old ran ahead of us and climbed onto a wooden horse made like a bicycle. They found two giant sets of chimes and used the wooden hammers to play tunes. Of course we adults had to play them too.
The park is located at 522 Second St. The underground warehouses of a company once called IX Linen Company now serve as rentable space for artists who work with metal, wood, concrete, glass, mosaics, tiles, and other more basic media. A giant blackboard graces a 100-foot wall. Above it is written, “Before I die I want to ... .” Visitors pick up chalk and write what they want to do. We read their dreams. Some people said they wanted to write a novel, to see the world at peace, go to the moon, become an actor, and more. Of course we had to write something too, so I wrote that I want to become a bestselling novelist. (Remember the dream theme.)
I approached the friendly, busy manager, Lindsey Terrell, who showed me the work of an artist who had received a grant. The finished product was a 5-foot, wooden replica of the word “love.”
After Terrell and I talked, my family and I spoke with a high school intern who was painting a colorful shed. She said my younger grandson could help her paint, which he did. My son-in-law and older grandson admired a giant yellow skeleton made of metal; and they posed for photos in front of it.
People at the park were also busy getting ready for an event the next day. Workers pulled up in trucks and unloaded equipment. Two members of the maintenance crew rode around in a small vehicle. Strings of lights hung overhead.
As my daughter and I looked at free books, colorful signs, and a water garden filled with metal flowers, I thought how the cities in Calhoun County could create such a fun place.
After returning home, I enjoyed visiting the website, ixartpark.com. (The park has a Facebook site too.) I called the executive director, Brian Wimer, a filmmaker and former journalist proud of his participation working on the cute Chihuahua commercials for Taco Bell.
He said that during the months leading up to the founding of IX Arts Park, he attended the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. It is where 50,000 creative individuals and artists working with many genres dress in costumes and express themselves for a week each year. Some paint, act, or engage with activities they consider artistic.
“At first it feels weird to be in the desert with people dressed like angels, robots, or animals,” Wimer said. “Soon you feel as normal as if you were walking around the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.”
The park started in 2014. While at the festival, Wimer made new friends from Charlottesville who owned the property where the park now sits. They talked about creating a place for artists that reflected their own principles, such as creating an environment where individuals explore the possibilities for the park and for themselves.
“I believe everyone has that potential,” Wimer said. “We should all have creative outlets.”
The park started with $25,000 raised from a campaign solicited from corporate sponsors, artists, and individuals. Some people donated paint, wood, equipment, and everything else needed to get started. The results pleased the founders. Amateurs and professionals began to bond. Some people discovered hidden talents and have gone on to become professionals in their chosen genres.
The park’s purpose has evolved. The founders’ statement is to create a cultural community that applies contemporary ideas, cultural theory and practice.
Volunteers and school groups from throughout Charlottesville often contribute their time to make the park an inviting, fun place for artists to gather and for visitors to enjoy.
“The population participates and collaborates,” said Wimer. “The park has become, organically, a lot more active and gives a space for people who may have lost their purpose, and it is a place of healing. We need that now.”
Several videos are posted on the park’s website.
It shows activities at the park: singers, dramatic performances, film-makers, and others.
A second phase of IX Art Park is planned for the future and will include the addition of retail shops for artists and a semi-permanent artist-in-resident program.
The park is free and is open from dusk to dawn seven days a week and later during events.
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org