A neighborhood is how the businesses, parks, landmarks, and people who live in close proximity find a way to transcend their individual selves and create something greater than the sum of their parts. The neighborhood, in its way, is as fundamental a building block of humanity as the family unit; if we don’t extend a sense of community, a will of extended family, beyond our own blood, can we really claim ourselves part of humanity?
In a few short years a once forgotten few blocks of Norfolk has begun to coalesce around the central concept of itself. It is a shared conceit that art still matters — and will always matter. The call to arms has been a spirit of creation. The flag glows NEON in a world still learning to tune the technicolor.
More or less the boundaries of the NEON are an imaginary line drawn from the Chrysler Museum of Art, east to the Harrison Opera House, and then looping south to Chrysler Hall. While the neighborhood’s public identity as “the NEON” might be new, that this space is Hampton Roads’ fine art epicenter has long been true.
The NEON District is kinetic, so please click on the hyperlinks for latest exhibits, classes, and special offerings. Please also double check the streets on a regular basis for new creative businesses, new public art, and a growing sense of home for all of us that still let the sparks splash against the surface of our eyes.
Arts & Culture Institutions
Some of the grandest art institutions in the commonwealth are located within the narrow confines of the NEON. No matter which art form is your favorite, you can probably catch a world master’s craft on display in the neighborhood.
My happy place. The Chrysler has it all, from ancient art to contemporary to one of the finest collections of glass art in the world. They also have great education and programming departments. Keep an eye on their calendar for your next opportunity connect more deeply with the art.
A genuine opera house, right here in little old Norfolk! Up next for Virginia Opera is Romeo & Juliet, followed by Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, which was inspired by “seafaring stories of sailors and his own disastrous sea journey.”
This past week I had the great pleasure of attending a Virginia Symphony Orchestra performance at Chrysler Hall, where I have also seen David Sedaris read, wild animals in a touring production of The Lion King dance, and R. Kelly bump and grind. It’s an amazing place to see amazing performances.
The newest local art landmark to call the NEON home is D’Art Center. (Welcome, D’Art!) Along with artist studios, D’Art is one of the best places in the region for an art newbie to learn some skills, have some arty fun, and to be part of a very special arty community.
W|R has only been around for about a year, but due to its strong leadership, financial backing, and business model I believe we can already call it a local arts institution. “At eight months, we’re where I expected it to be in three years,” the mastermind, Brother Rutter, recently told The Pilot. W|R sets a high bar for cutting-edge contemporary art equally influenced by fine art, street art, and pop culture.
I am not sure Hampton Roads quite knows what it has with the Chrysler Glass Studio, one of the foremost performance art spaces in the country, and soon to be the host of the international Glass Art Society conference. I recommend their Third Thursdays, which blend music, performance, and the creation of glass art in a way that blows away (pun!) everyone from children to art professors alike.
The Push fosters one of he most inclusive and loving creative communities I have ever experienced. I strongly recommend the two courses I have taken there: sketch writing 101 and improv 101. Shows tend to be around $5. Enjoy the beer on tap and the jokes are even funnier.
Known for its massive HENSE mural, Glass Wheel Studio is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside — and I’m not just saying that to flirt. On view from February 7 through March 20 will be two shows: Dioramas for the Anthropocene by Jennifer Bueno; and Apocaloptimist: A Future True Story by Rachel Schmidt.
Still under construction, soon the NEON will boast “Virginia’s Leading Family Theatre Company” as a neighbor. Complete with a theater, classrooms, and set design and storage warehouse, The Copeland Center will be a beacon for aspiring actors and actresses in the region.
There is something electric about watching the news trucks zip in and out of the neighborhood.
Did you know that last year the Pilot won “the Virginia Press Association’s grand prize sweepstakes award for overall excellence in news,” and had “the state’s outstanding journalist of the year”? The best journalism in the commonwealth is happening in the NEON, hands down.
Places to Eat
According to Yelp, Nouvelle has the best French food in Norfolk. Beyond the delicious food they are a business worth supporting because they moved here from Austin, Texas, specifically to be part of the arts district movement. Big love to Rina and Luke!
I have liked everything I’ve had on their menu, so order anything that sounds good with full confidence. From their website: “The menu rotates weekly to provide the freshest ingredients, local when possible, and changes to compliment the various exhibitions and programming within the space.”
On slate for this summer, Bearded Bird will be a community brewery aimed at provided equipment and a home-away-from-home for the ever-growing Hampton Roads home brew community. “We want to be known as the brewers’ brewery,” said Matt Hartl, a partner in the business.
In my mind they have the best breakfast deal in town: $5 for a heaping bowl of fresh fruit, Acai, and all natural goodness. They also have my favorite lunch sandwich, the Cali peta. On warmer days Zeke’s has a super chill patio set up in the back garden area, a true urban oasis.
The largest concentration of public art in Hampton Roads shines bright through the NEON. Here is a handy interactive Google map of all the public art in the NEON District.
Not only are they one of the top tattoo and piercing studios in Hampton Roads, the guys at Fuzion Ink are creative activists at heart. They were the ones who helped get tattooing re-legalized in Norfolk a number of years back, becoming Norfolk’s first sanctioned tattoo parlor.
Along with the Parlor on Granby (RIP), Alchemy is the business that did the most to turn the arts district from words to reality. Like all creative things Alchemy has evolved; they have given up their storefront and now occupy a second floor space in Work | Release, where they are the creative engine behind all the great programming happening there. Alchemy helps the neon energy flow beyond the boundaries of the district by partnering with such organizations as FestEvents, Virginia Stage Company, the MOCA, Chrysler Museum, and many others.
Along with Decorum, Exotic Home is the place to outfit your apartment or house with furnishings that go beyond function and aspire to art. Mike Day, owner of Exotic Home, literally travels the world and brings back the best treasure he finds. It’s an amazing place.
Shout out to my personal chiropractor, Dr. Lonnie Slone, who helped eradicate my back pain. I am not a medical expert, but I do know that they make me feel good at Slone.
Another business focused on alternative healing methods, stop by Renova for a massage, new fitness routine, or to find nirvana in a float tank.
“The only contemporary craft gallery in Norfolk, VA,” OKAY SPARK is run by a real life artist, local Matthew Fine, whose work has been shown all over the country.
If your taste runs less contemporary and more into the classical nautical territory, I highly recommend Kellem Galleries, which will take you back to Hampton Roads’ ship-centric roots.
Keeping with the arts district spirit, Triumph uses its walls as a rotating gallery for local artists. They also have an in-house French bulldog, Colette, a known neighborhood charmer.
It’s not a party without posters, magnets, banners, and wall decals to promote it. Mike and his team at Norfolk Printing are good people that will treat you with fairness and respect.
One of the small business pioneers in the NEON, The Beauty Parlor is one of the premiere places to up your style game in Hampton Roads. New clients are welcome.
Gooooo Greyhound! From Norfolk to anywhere in the contiguous United States without ever having to deal with a groping from the TSA.
Bike, Tide, Bus
While the NEON does have the highest density of surface-level parking in the entire city of Norfolk, it is recommended that you bike to the neighborhood if you live anywhere close. There are plenty of bike racks, roads that don’t draw a ton of high speed traffic, and even a bike repair station at The Plot. A Tide spot is just outside the district borders too, on Monticello, and HRT bus stops are everywhere.
Best Hang Spots
What was once an auction house became an all-but-abandoned building, which became a canvas for art, which then became an urban public park… the story of The Plot continues to be told. In the nice weather months keep your eyes out for free events, like weekend yoga classes.
One of the most picturesque spots in all of Hampton Roads, it’s also where many couples have left a controversial lock of love.
Magazine Lane has been transformed into one of the more unique, interesting outdoor art galleries in the state. There are murals mixed with light, graffiti work on Fuzion Ink’s legal wall, neon art and other surprises. An early evening stroll through Magazine Lane is highly recommended.
We Also Have a Gun Shop that Happens to Be Owned By One of the Biggest Supporters of Public Art in Town
Deal with us.
Staying in Touch
The best way to support the arts district is to make the most of the arts district. I’ll see you smiling bright in the NEON.
About the sponsor of this article: Rose & Womble Realty Co. was born and bred in Hampton Roads – our owners live and work here in the Seven Cities. We are a family owned and operated business – with multiple generations working at all levels, from agents to managers. Our agents have access to the owners for guidance and advice. Our mangers meet regularly with the owners, face-to-face, to discuss real estate in Hampton Roads. Our Board of Directors members are consistently asked to speak about local real estate issues. The leadership within the company is LOCAL – not out of state – but right here in Hampton Roads.We believe that people are more important than houses – it’s our motto because it’s true. We live it everyday when we see a family close on their first house, or help a military service member move his family across the country. We live it when a new REALTOR© joins our firm or when we celebrate the 25th year of business for one of our established agents. Our administrative staffs have low turnover, which means our REALTORS© know who is supporting them throughout the transaction.