Art for Everyone: Festivals Support Local Artists, Non-Profits 

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Ian MacRae, founder of the Virginia Street Art Festival, at the giant ice-plant mural that won artist Nils Westergard first place among world murals. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Festivals Support Local Artists, Non-Profits 

Before the leaves turn, the festivals begin. This year, three events that temporarily swell the rural population by thousands have collaborated on their marketing. The “Art for Everyone” campaign promotes the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival, the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Art Show in Waynesboro, and the Rockfish Valley Foundation’s Plein Air Paint Out. “It made sense for us to get together, since we know people go back and forth all weekend,” said Ewa Harr, the director of the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival.

Ample space and individual tents keep art lovers safe at the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival.

That Festival was well-established when artist Meg West moved to Crozet in 1985. West had worked as a graphic designer after her graduation from the Philadelphia College of Art, and she soon found a vibrant artist’s community in her new home. That wasn’t all she found appealing about the area: “I love Crozet,” she said, “and the mountains around us.” On her 40th birthday, she said, she did a little soul searching and realized she wanted to spend the rest of her life painting.

Meg West finds community, recognition and brisk sales at the Crozet Arts and Crafts show. Submitted photo.

West had definite ideas about what she wanted to paint, and where. “I’m a localist,” she said. “I paint scenes that catch my eye in the landscape here and nearby.” It’s not always easy, she acknowledges, considering the bugs, the rain, the heat and the cold. She’s painted in hot sun and with a rug and cardboard underneath her feet in the snow. The beauty of her immediate neighborhood as well as the mountains and waterways nearby means she’ll never run out of material. 

Her dreamy landscapes, mostly in oil on canvas, were well received from the start. She also accepted commissions from neighbors and patrons who wanted to capture the beauty of their own surroundings. But there was a third piece essential to her growth as an artist. “The Crozet Festival is now the only one I choose,” she said. She’s found that the local artists who are accepted do very well and depend on the well-organized and well-attended festival for a significant chunk of their yearly income.

There’s another reason the festival is popular among local artists and artisans: “Well, we see and visit with each other,” she said. “But also, for me, it’s really rewarding when people recognize exactly where I was when I painted a particular scene, and they stop by and discuss it.”  

Ewa Harr, director of the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival. Submitted photo.

The benefits of the exposure offered by the juried exhibit extends beyond the fall and spring weekends, Harr said. “All through the year, people will call for help tracking down an artist they liked, perhaps to make another purchase for themselves, or to find a gift.”

The spring festival was a very profitable one for artists, West said. “People were just so thrilled to get out. Many of us were blown away by the volume of sales.” Like the spring festival, the October event will include individual tents for artists to avoid crowding, and plenty of open space.

The Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival is October 9 and 10. It benefits the Crozet Park, and will include food trucks, music, wine and beer. Buy tickets and find more information, including artists’ galleries online at crozetfestival.com.

Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Celebrates 50 Years

Late on October 8, tents will begin to pop up in the middle of downtown Waynesboro, sheltering thousands of fine crafts and works of art for the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Art Show. Although it now attracts thousands from all over the country, it began as a hometown art show, a way for a group of dedicated Waynesboro artists to display and sell their work. Piper Groves, director of the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, believes the first festival, in 1970, was at Waynesboro High School. “The art show predates the Art Center,” she said. As the festival grew over the years, the artists saw the need for a permanent space for studios and exhibits and created the art center. The center now occupies a space on Waynesboro’s Wayne Avenue, and will move next year to a renovated space on Main Street.

Piper Groves is the director of the Shenandoah Art Center as well as the Virginia Fall Foliage Art Show. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

There were big plans to celebrate last year, Groves said, but in the end, it proved impossible during the pandemic. The long-ago show for a few local artists has grown immensely, bringing 15,000 people to the city of about 23,000. Artists love it because of the friendly atmosphere and the attention to organization. It’s considered one of the best art shows in the state, and there are always more applications from artists than there is space. Applications are carefully juried to maintain the quality of the show and as is the tradition, the jurors—respected local artists—remain anonymous. 

It’s not an easy feat to pull it off, said Groves, who also directs the festival. Each year, she organizes 50 to 60 volunteers to help with the planning and execution. Wind and rain, flooding, heat and cold have sometimes interfered, but by the end of the day Sunday, cash awards of $10,000 will have been awarded for works in a dozen different categories. The cash, Groves said, is much appreciated, but artists report good sales at the festival, too. Organizers never forget the original focus on local art, and there’s always a section for new artists, and a display of local works inside the Center.

It would be hard to measure the economic impact for the city, but motels are booked months ahead of time, restaurants fill up, and there’s a great deal of foot traffic in and around other downtown businesses. This year, food trucks will dispense street food and beer, and musicians will serenade art lovers throughout the weekend. Groves said that each of the three concurrent festivals—Crozet’s, Nelson County’s, and Waynesboro’s—will promote each other with fliers and posters. 

It’s an inside joke that the foliage giving the festival its name never quite appears this early in the season except at the very highest elevations: “People seem to always forget that,” Groves said. “But our hope is that they’ll get an early glimpse of it up on the mountain tops and come back again in a few weeks.”

The art show’s Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. There is no entrance fee.

The third piece of the “Art for Everyone” campaign is the Rockfish Valley Foundation’s “Plein Air Paint Out,” which features artists painting Nelson County scenes in a number of locations. It’s another ideal outdoor event for fall, with the county’s numerous artists painting in strategic locations along a beautiful trail. For details about the paint out, see Rockfish Valley News, and visit www.rockfishvalley.org.

Big Art Transforms Waynesboro’s Downtown

We might see empty warehouses, old smokestacks, abandoned factories, but Ian MacRae sees massive canvases. He’s the founder of the Virginia Street Art Festival, a celebration that’s transformed many of Waynesboro’s blank walls into fresh, original art, both edgy and traditional. The sixth annual festival concluded last month but for all we know, a muralist or two might still be hard at work touching up the last bits of an urban masterpiece somewhere in the shadows of Waynesboro’s giant industrial structures. 

MacRae, the founder of E-N Computers, had been interested in street art for a while, and his interest grew when he bought a building in the part of Waynesboro once served by the two major railroads that hauled materials for the steel and furniture industries. “It was the machine age,” MacRae said, “and when industry left, there were a lot of large buildings.” 

This mural was painted by an unknown artist at an unknown location during the Virginia Street Art Festival. Photo: Terry Ward.

MacRae points out that Waynesboro has a skyline, although of a different configuration than cities known for their skyscrapers or monuments. To those who regret the departure of big industry, the skyline could be seen as a bleak one. Smokestacks and multi-level warehouses, the remains of brick storage facilities––many with no or few windows––are reminders of the early 20th-century plants that drew on the ample waters of the South River as well as the C & O and Norfolk and Western lines. 

“What happens to those structures when industry leaves?” MacRae asked. “They’re often underused and fall into disrepair.” He saw street art as a way to encourage imaginative new uses for the structures. To get the ball rolling, MacRae offered his E-N Computers building to serve as the first canvas. It was meant to be a low-key event: he invited five artists who were already his friends. What happened next provided the insight that led him to the festival idea.

“The artists brought their families and friends,” he recalls. “Then neighbors started coming out to watch, listening to music, bringing out food. It felt like a festival.”

So, the festival was born, and kept getting better, drawing world-class muralists. MacRae singled out one of them, Nils Westergard, for special thanks. He’s the one whose multi-story mural on the side of Waynesboro’s old ice plant was ranked the world’s best mural of 2019 by the publication StreetArt360. Westergard, who’s also a filmmaker and painter, works all over the world and has become a friend, MacRae said. He dodged power lines, worked with substandard equipment, painted much of the mural with an extension pole while stretched in an uncomfortable position, and charged nothing. “It was an amazing display of athleticism as well as artistic talent,” MacRae said. “He really pushed the boundaries.”

Other celebrities followed, including one anonymous artist from out of town whose identity is known to no one, including MacRae. He did, however, manage to find the mural (the location is also undisclosed). Festival Artistic Director Terry Ward, who formerly taught art in Crozet, said the Crozet Gazette has one of the first published photos of the poignant image. MacRae said the mural, at the entrance to a sunken garden terrace apartment, features a child reaching out for a balloon just beyond her reach. It’s another reminder that art can be uplifting, he said.

There’s a complete photographic record, including directions for a walking tour, at vastreetarts.com. 

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