Portsmouth already has the pieces in place. Now it’s time to mark the gateways, fly some banners, create a website, engage the community, attract more art and artists, and promote the new Portsmouth Arts and Cultural District. Maybe even give it a new, snappy name?
Karen Burgess, a member of the Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission says, “Portsmouth already had all the elements of an arts district but was not being formally recognized as one.” She and other members of the Commission have been working on the proposal for an Arts and Cultural District since 2012.
They spent several years studying other successful arts districts across the country. They reached out to Portsmouth city officials from the Economic Development Office, the Planning Department and Portsmouth Museums. One of their goals was “to engage the community in the early stages of development.” They went out to speak and get feedback from community groups, artists, civic leagues, businesses, and faith organizations. They developed a vision and a mission statement.
There are already five museums in Portsmouth, including the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center in the beautiful old Courthouse and the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum.
Already within the newly designated Arts District are Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center, historic sites and homes throughout Olde Towne, the Commodore, a restored classic movie theater, the Portsmouth Pavilion, where Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds will perform on September 21, lots of fabulous public art, and Orzo Studio.
There are many other elements of a great arts district in place. Portsmouth already allows artists to live above their studios and shops. Karen Burgess would love to see more small shops and “other arts-related businesses expanding” into Portsmouth. There are some great old buildings downtown that would be perfect for artists.
Portsmouth has a beautiful waterfront. The new seawall is almost ready. The Legend Brewing Company Depot has a great patio right where the ferry docks at High Street Landing. You can’t have an arts district without at least one brewery.
There are all kinds of excellent restaurants in Portsmouth. I love HomeGrown, where the chef selects his produce for the week at the Saturday Olde Towne Farmers Market then walks across the street to his restaurant and creates a menu. Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar has live music and a big patio on High Street. The Bier Garden reminds me of my time in Germany. There are many fun places to eat and drink, all within walking distance in the new Arts and Cultural District.
Portsmouth also hosts some quality arts and cultural events. The Seawall Art Show sets up on High Street every August. The Umoja Festival of African-American Culture is free to everyone each May at the Portsmouth Pavilion. There is an “Antiques to Flea Market” every first Saturday of the month in the Middle Street Garage, just off High Street. For a full listing of Portsmouth events, go to here.
Portsmouth has people who believe in the importance of art and are dedicated to the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural District. Karen Burgess believes that “through the arts, we maintain relationships with members of our community and our neighbors. We strengthen our arts and cultural identity.”
Barb Vincent has been working as an artist and supporting public art in Portsmouth for years through Support Portsmouth Public Art.
The Circle of Sail, a large-scale piece of public art commissioned by SPPA, has been approved by City Council to be one of the gateways to the Arts and Cultural District.
Barb says, “Public art not only creates conversations (and don’t we need more of that!) but awakens our curiosity and stimulates our minds. Whether it’s just fun or challenging, it’s a good thing. Art is the heart of Portsmouth.”
Gayle Paul is the Curator of the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center. She has worked to bring art to Portsmouth that touches the heart of the people who live in this region. The Art and Cultural Center is currently displaying photographs entitled “Portsmouth and the Great War.” They are also exhibiting Susan Styrk’s beautiful works of art and science, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”
Gayle says, “In every community that I have lived, the arts always bring positive growth and new energy. People want to live and play in areas that have a positive feel and impact. I see the designation of the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural District as an opportunity for future collaborations amongst the businesses and our ability to sponsor shared events and attractions.”
Nancy Perry, Director of Museums for the city of Portsmouth, is working with the city departments, the Museum and Fine Arts Commission and anyone else who loves the arts in Portsmouth.
“Downtown Portsmouth is already a Arts and Cultural District in everything but name,” Nancy says. “We don’t have to build it. We need to define it, market it and add to it.”
Nancy says that the next steps are to approve some gateway pieces of art, like the Circle of Sail on the waterfront side, develop some guidelines for public art and artists, create a website with all the information in one place, and fly banners to define the area.
Everyone involved wants there to be even more pride in the city of Portsmouth, make Portsmouth a “ prettier place,” not just downtown, but in the neighborhoods, and make Portsmouth a destination for art.