November 5, 2015
Norfolk’s first official arts district, the NEON district, or “New Energy of Norfolk,” has introduced spirit and energy to a once-neglected area of this coastal city in Virginia. Artists have revived the outdoor walls of buildings & warehouses with rich murals, and quirky art installations are positioned on the corner of almost every block. The Glass Wheel Studio and Work/Release are new Norfolk art spaces that allow artists to create and showcase their work. Nifty restaurants, retail shops and a comedy theatre dot the streets of the district, and the city’s grand Harrison Opera House stands tall at the north entrance.
To the west of NEON sits the heartbeat of Norfolk’s expanding art scene, the famed Chrysler Museum of Art. The stately cultural institution opened its doors in 1933 with a small collection that grew significantly years later when American automobile heir Walter P. Chrysler Jr. donated his private collection. Currently, the museum houses 30,000 objects, including one of the world’s largest collections of Tiffany glass.
Adjacent to the museum is the ultramodern Chrysler Glass Studio. Opened in 2011, the studio is an educational glass-making facility that accommodates both students and master glass artists from around the globe. Free demonstrations are offered daily and there’s a fully-equipped hot shop where beginners can learn to make a paperweight, Christmas ornament, hanging sculpture or terrarium.
After leaving the studio, take a stroll along Mowbray Arch, which overlooks part of the Elizabeth River, until you reach Stockley Gardens. Each May and October, the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival takes place in this tree-covered green space, drawing crowds from all over of the state. Hundreds of artists set up white tents amongst the flowers and shrubs to sell jewellery, pottery, paintings and more.
Just a few steps away from Stockley Gardens, you’ll find the historic Ghent District. Throughout the 1960’s and “˜70’s, students, writers, bohemians and musicians helped to make Ghent an artists’ haven. Fast-forward to 2015 and the main thoroughfare, Colley Avenue, 21st Street and Colonial Avenue, is still a hub of creative energy; eclectic shops, galleries, and antique and consignment stores are abundant in this area. Ghent is also home to the NARO Cinema, a small-town movie theatre that opened in 1936 and still offers viewings of the newest foreign films and independent features.
A few miles north of Ghent, tucked away amongst natural woodlands, is The Hermitage Museum and Gardens. The Hermitage is a historic river home-turned-museum with an extensive art collection and modern exhibition galleries. Last year, internationally acclaimed British artist Bruce Munro’s eleven-piece outdoor light sculpture display lit up the sprawling 12-acre estate. A more recent exhibit was “Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami”, where large-scale installations of the Japanese craft were placed throughout the museum. Hermitage’s permanent art collection consists of century-old oil paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and most notably, the Asian collection, comprised of bronze ceremonial pieces, Chinese snuff bottles and Imperial Jade.
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Written by Erin Filarecki