Impact of Public Art

Bold, eye-catching public art can transform the spaces we live in. It can take a formerly non-descript space and make it stand out as something special to be remembered. So when you think of the art piece it also brings to mind the place. There’s no telling how many Virginia Beach visitors and residents alike (be honest!) have gathered under the 34 foot, 12.5 ton bronze King Neptune statue that presides over the oceanfront to have their photos taken. This is placemaking.

According to Wikipedia, “Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.” Placemaking gives the potential for art in the community to act as an economic anchor. When we work to redevelop places, we invest in design to enhance the experience, but it can also create jobs for people in the neighborhood.

Examples of successful placemaking are all around us. In Virginia Beach, the ViBe Creative District, located near the Virginia Beach oceanfront between 17th and 22nd Streets from Pacific to Parks Ave, is a community hub for artisans of all disciplines from culinary, music and traditional art to leather working and woodworking. Residents and visitors alike can also immerse themselves in interactive arts experiences and classes while exploring exhibitions at District anchors the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Virginia Beach Art Center. The District is set off by colorful murals everywhere you look- on the sides of buildings, crosswalks, fences, even utility boxes and sidewalks.

Public Art Virginia Beach Foundation’s first-ever project, The Wave by Jeff Laramore inspired a new district forming along Laskin Road. Dubbed “The Artery,” this strip between the iconic King Neptune sculpture and the Laskin Road Roundabout is becoming a mecca for collaboration and art-inspired events. It debuted last summer with a party featuring local artists at work, live music, and games. The Artery’s new logo, designed by Malbon Creative, features symbols representing the Laskin Road Roundabout and King Neptune’s trident with the words: “Enjoy. Beach. Culture.”

Our sister Norfolk’s official arts district, NEON, (New Energy of Norfolk) draws from the neighborhood’s history with the automobile industry as it moves into a new and vibrant future. Long-time cultural institutions like the Chrysler Museum of Art and Harrison Opera House anchor the District while studio-based ventures like d’Art Center and the Rutter Family Art Foundation provide artists a place to make, create and show their art.

Creative placemaking harnesses the power of arts and culture to allow for more genuine public engagement. Done right, creative placemaking can lead to both a better process and a better product. The end results are streets, sidewalks and public spaces that welcome us, inspire us and move us in every sense of that word.