You Don't Say: When will the Arts District take off?

Special to the Gazette

This past Sunday morning found me hoofing it around Colonial Williamsburg's Merchant Square area at the Art of the Square show put on by The Junior Woman's Club of Williamsburg. I was on a mission of sorts; I wanted to discuss not just the art, but the art scene in Williamsburg with local artists.

The questions I asked were simple and to the point: What do you like about the art scene in Williamsburg? How has it changed over the years? What don't you like or would like to see change?

The overriding theme of the comments was positive — and hopeful. Everyone I spoke with felt the local art climate has changed for the better, and there are more opportunities to get their art in front of the public. Many pointed to Art on teh Square as well as the long-standing An Occcasion for the Arts held every October as examples of traditional town-sanctioned shows which have largely been their primary opportunities to show locally.

The more recently added Second Sundays is seen as a step in the right direction for the local arts community in that it provides more frequent occasions to show. According to John Watters, a local potter who has lived and worked in Williamsburg since 1984, it's a good beginning, but doesn't go far enough. He suggested weekly shows, perhaps in conjunction with the Farmers Market, as a viable way to greatly increase the number of opportunities for area artists to show their work.

The city's Arts District came up more than once. While there are a few true galleries and artist co-ops in Williamsburg and James City County, Mr. Watters suggested that perhaps a large cooperative gallery space close to Colonial Williamsburg would be a better fit than the erstwhile Arts District as it currently exists. He shared that he and some others felt the district did not have enough drawing power and was perhaps too far outside the tourist center of Merchants Square and DOG Street to ever really bring sufficient business in the door.

So what is the solution?

Where is there existing space anywhere in the historic district which could house a large cooperative gallery? And if there is no space, will it ever be possible to grow the Arts District into a true destination for tourists as well as locals? What would that entail beyond the current offering of questionable outdoor sculptures and the heroic efforts of the folks over at Colonial Folk Art Studio and Gallery on Bacon Avenue or the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center over on Westover Avenue, both of whom are trying to keep the vision alive?

Where were all the local artists when this Arts District idea was originally getting kicked around? I would have thought at least quite a few lived in the vicinity of their district, but they apparently do not.

I've been to several towns and cities with thriving arts scenes and vibrant arts districts drawing hundreds if not thousands of tourists daily to look at and buy the art created by local artists, have a coffee in a chichi little café or even a nice lunch or dinner in a quaint bistro. People had an idea and created a place to come to for the art and ambiance. That's an Arts District. That's "Field of Dreams." Unfortunately, in Williamsburg nothing much really has been done. We have the dream, but the field is still just a field.

Van Elburg has been a local resident for more than 30 years. He is semi-retired from a multi-faceted business career and currently teaches classes on Blues music for the Christoper Wren Association. He is a musician, a writer, and on-air personality and Programming Director for the mobile radio station, TheBluesAlley.com.

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