The big arts and culture institutions in Norfolk are coming together in hopes of growing the scene. Here are some ideas they should consider implementing.
Norfolk’s arts establishment is about to start working even closer together.
Per an email from John Rhamstine, director of Seven Venues, what is known as the Norfolk Consortium will be a relationship between Norfolk’s large arts and culture institutions, including: The Virginia Stage Company; The Virginia Arts Festival; The Virginia Symphony; The Virginia Opera; The Chrysler Museum; The MacArthur Memorial; Norfolk Botanical Garden; Festevents; Nauticus; NATO Festival; Visit Norfolk; The Virginia Zoo; and SevenVenues.
Also involved are representatives from the restaurant and hotel associations, the CACC and the City Manager’s office.
The Consortium plans to discuss new events that they “should consider bringing to, or creating in, Norfolk.”
Hannah and I both received the following invitation to a focus group about the Consortium:
“We also recognize that we don’t have patent on great ideas,” Rhamstine wrote. “While we certainly have discussed a variety of things we would like to see us pursue in the future, we would like your input and thoughts about what YOU would like to see us pursue and perhaps assist us with. There are no bad ideas. Like you we want to see Norfolk become an even greater City and destination for its citizens and its visitors. We hope you will consider assisting us.”
On that note, a few ideas:
1. Make sure the much-discussed Downtown music festival happens.
2. Consider some sort of ‘Norfolk Arts Dollar‘. This is an idea put in my head by AltDaily writer Max Shapiro. Employees of the Consortium partners can get part of their pay in Norfolk Arts Dollars at $1.20 to the dollar. All Norfolk citizens can buy Norfolk Arts Dollars at 85¢. They can be given as gifts, and they can only be spent at the businesses who are part of the Consortium. Putting money toward the Consortium is incentivized; a barrier to entry is slightly lowered. There are any number of benefits and opportunities for untapped profit with a system like this after the initial cost. Plus, it’s just fun.
The bigger problem–one that no one event or currency gimmick could solve–is the top-down nature of Norfolk’s culture. Norfolk is great at art at the institutional level. Just look at the list of partners in the Consortium, all of whom are of a quality beyond what one would expect from a city of 230,000 people. What we lack is that bohemian vibe that permeates all great art cities and which attracts artists and patrons alike. Basically, what we lack is a cultural middle class. Where are all the galleries? Where are the 200-400 person music venues? Where is the public art, the street performance, the graffiti, even?
In order for Norfolk to become the cultural destination the Consortium hopes, a five-year plan needs to be in place that will attract a different cross-section of society than is serviced by our high art institutions. Norfolk needs to attract and retain the kind of customers who today can’t afford a ticket to the Opera or the Stage Company, but who one day will. We need to make people who love art but who aren’t into museums feel like they too have a home in Norfolk. Hook a person on street art, in time they’ll find their way to The Chrysler, and with enough visitors any museum is bound to find the patrons that will take it through this century and beyond.
You won’t be creating competition; you’ll be creating customers.
To that end:
3. It’s a shame that Norfolk doesn’t have a First Friday type of art walk. What we lack in galleries, we make up for in empty spaces. Neighborhoods like Granby north of Brambleton and 35th St. are ripe for regular pop-up art nights. The Consortium should have an eye toward turning the chosen area into the Norfolk arts district.
4. Put .01% of all concession stand sales toward paying street performers in Norfolk. Norfolk will feel like the cultural capital of the region–if not the state–once you have performers on the corner all over the place on weekend nights.
5. Consciously support alternative media and bloggers. While the Pilot‘s arts and culture coverage does its part in building the impression that we live in a lively region, it is the underground and indie media that gives Hampton Roads that unique energy needed to cultivate a creative scene from top to bottom. The Consortium needs to make sure AltDaily, VEER, artinheart, Cannonball City, YourMusicShow, Hardcore Norfolk and all the local blogs make it. And if we’re not cutting it, support someone who does. While your current customers might read what’s considered the establishment press, your future customers do not.
6. On that same note, go to the future customers more often. Are all Consortium members required to take their art and culture to a local school once a month? If they’re not, they should be. Remember, we’re not shooting for first year home runs; the goal is a sustainable artistic community for as long as Norfolk stands.
7. Close down Granby Downtown for street parties that celebrate all levels of culture. It’s time to try again, Norfolk. It’s time to try to find that spirit that is just sitting there latent in our fair city, that singular spirit found in Downtown areas, one that only rises from the asphalt and which makes us dance even when there is no music.
Have some ideas of your own? Please leave them in the comments. We will make sure they get in front of Mr. Rhamstine.
The following is the Consortium’s working Vision/Mission/Goals statement:
To be a vibrant, dynamic and innovative City that is home to the best cultural, entertainment and visitor attractions in the country.
The mission of the Norfolk Consortium is to have a significant economic and community impact by working collaboratively to develop new and enhance existing entertainment events, cultural offerings and educational opportunities in Norfolk. These opportunities will be designed to stimulate tourism, hotel occupancy and visitation to the City.
- Increase guests to Norfolk and its various venues.
- Increase opportunities for and participation in educational programs.
- Develop and support programming that reflects and embraces the cultural diversity of the City.
- Create or attract new events that will increase revenue, attendance and participation.
- Identify new opportunities for consortium members to work together collaboratively.
- Earn community support.