Dreaming Big At IX Art Park

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Dreaming Big At IX Art Park

by Ken Wilson – 

The Wizard of IX can help your dreams come true.

Independent filmmaker Brian Wimer was first the “instigator” of the IX Art Park, nestled between Monticello and Elliot Avenues in Charlottesville, then he was its “executive director,” and now he’s officially its “Wizard.” And why not?

As Wimer notes with the combo of calculation and imagination that have made the park a center of creative ferment and freewheeling community, “I figured that I was a little bit more like the dude behind the curtain pulling a couple levers and pretending it’s magic.”

If the moniker seems a little fanciful, well, maybe you don’t know the place. Head over on a Saturday morning for the Craft Cville Pop Up Market, or a Wednesday evening for the traditional Chinese exercise practice known as Qigong and the Latin dance party known as Bachata Fusion.

Enroll the kids in C3Brix Lego Camp, July 23-27, when they can help build an entire Lego city with Master Lego Brick artist Cody Wells. Go hear the Little Graves power trio combine punk, post-punk, grunge, prog rock, psychedelia, and noise with musique concrete, samples, and field recordings, July 13, or make 2018 another Summer of Love at Vibe Fest, July 20.

Celebrate the 2nd Annual Charlottesville Day with art, games, food, and music, and write on the chalkboard wall with the fill-in-the-blank “Before I Die I Want To” questionnaire. Is the name making more sense?

Situated on the 17-acre, former grounds of Frank IX and Sons Textile Factory (just a block from Rayon Street), now an eclectic mix of retail, office and arts spaces, the funky, sculpture and mural-bedecked two-acre park includes a covered stage, an “interactive drawing space,” and a grassy parkland with lounge chairs and picnic tables.

A “makerspace” with industrial grade equipment accommodates craftspeople. A nightclub-style room in an adjacent former warehouse with a stage, dance floor, bar, plus an art gallery can hold 199. Parking and bathrooms? No problem. Food trucks and a leave-one, take-one library? Of course.

That’s what it all looks like. But the spirit of the park, as articulated by its wizard, is what makes it a model for building community and realizing dreams.

“My work in indie film taught me to create alternate realities,” Wimer says. “What’s a script but a story with roles, costumes, scenery and music, complete with challenges and unexpected outcomes? The IX Art Park is about transformation. It’s an invitation to a choose-your-own-adventure that lets you be whatever you want to be. That’s why we say ‘Dream Big.’ It’s all about participation.

“While we always need volunteers, I prefer partners in this experiment of community creation. What dreams do people have and how can we fulfill them? Bring an event, a workshop, a skill set or a desire to learn one, and apply it in our open-ended arena for opportunity.

“What’s life like with a winter farmers market? Or access to imaginative child care? Or almost continuous cultural events, from art to theater to dance to opera, that integrate a global mindset, incorporating a whole spectrum of traditions and ideologies, all within a walk or bike ride from home? IX can be seen as a lab for ideal living.”

Much of what it takes to make the park the haven for imagination that it is, Wimer says, “is just talking to people and opening a door, giving invitations, meeting interesting people and saying ‘What would you like to do in this space?’

“So if somebody says ‘I’ve always wanted to do a giant fabric installation,’ I say ‘Yes, how do we do that?’

“When we first opened in 2014, I printed up a bunch of name tags. They didn’t say ‘My Name Is,’ but they said ‘My Dream Is.’ That was a little bit of instigation to get people to dig a little deeper into themselves, saying ‘What is your life missing, what have you always wanted to do?’

“Maybe there is a place at the park for you to do that, whether you create art or make music or make food or just gather people together with a community meeting. You know, is there an organization you wanted to start? And it was fascinating how many people just said ‘Wow, nobody’s ever asked me what my dream is.’

“Sometimes we’re locked in a paradigm of self-limitation that doesn’t have to be there,” Wimer says, citing as an inspiration Burning Man, the annual experimental festival in Nevada.

“People go out there and completely reinvent themselves and give themselves a new name. That’s role-playing—that’s saying all of a sudden ‘I want to be a pirate.’ ‘OK, you’re a pirate!’ And guess what. I know several pirates now, I know circus clowns, I know people who have just chosen things that make people say ‘You can’t do that.’ But no, these people have chosen to be that—and they are.”

Even the wizard marvels at “how much we’ve done with so little.”

What are his own big dreams for the future? “We’ve been trying to diversify our venues in terms of who we’re appealing to,” he says, “so the Salsa and Bachata Fusion nights have an appeal to the Hispanic population, and reggae and funk have larger appeal to the African-American population.

“Our desire is to give a venue to a lot of the underserved communities in Charlottesville”—a goal all the more important with the closing of certain other spots around town—“and we’ve really seen the fruition of that.”

“One day quite likely the whole place will be developed into something. It’s our mission to keep it from becoming overdeveloped, or developed into something that doesn’t serve all the needs of the community. Development doesn’t have to go upward. We need to develop inward, as well.”

IX Park is open to the public from dawn to dusk, 7 days a week, and later for events.

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