During the second weekend in September, members of the community will have the opportunity to view and contemplate art while enjoying the outdoors and mingling with neighbors in what local artist James Yates calls an “out of gallery” experience. “Yard Dreams” is a collective of installations in the front yards of select homes along Belmont Avenue running east of Avon Street. There will be a reception on Saturday afternoon in front of one of the homes, and a map on the “Yard Dreams” website (yarddreamspvcc.com) shows the location of each installation.
The project is the nocturnal brainchild of Yates. He describes a dream he had two years ago in which he was walking in a neighborhood and looked up to see that the artist Christo had created an installation that spanned all the yards along the street.
Yates says, “I woke up and thought, ‘That’s a great idea. I’m going to steal it.’ So ‘Yard Dreams’ is happily named.”
He shared his idea with a friend who lived in Belmont and suggested they combine the art installation with a neighborhood block party. After securing the community’s approval, “Yard Dreams” was born.
Curated by Yates and sponsored by the Piedmont Virginia Community College Art Gallery, this year’s collective showcases the work of 16 artists with installations in 13 front yards. The event has grown organically without theme or direction, and the artists have the freedom to imagine whatever they like to fill the space they have been given.
“I never ask for a proposal with any events I do,” Yates says. “I just want to see if their work is great, invite them to join and allow them to do what they feel is best for the event.”
After neighborhood families volunteer their yards for the project and Yates provides the addresses, the participating artists decide where they would like to showcase their work and they reserve their desired location on a first-come, first-served basis.
Some of the art is dependent on the environment the yard provides, such as a piece by Fenella Belle and Stacey Evans titled “Allee of Dreams,” an installation of blue silk panels strung from trees that embraces the ethereal nature of dreams. In a piece called “There’s No Place Like…” Beryl Solla, the director of PVCC’s art gallery, and collaborator Angi Curreri explore the concept of home. Other installations vary from a steel-and-twine sculpture that invokes cobwebs, a garden of tubers and beets that produces music and trees intended for planting to revitalize the city’s green canopy.
One of the most elaborate installations is a collection of eight works curated by Bill Bennett, sculptor and professor of art at UVA. One of these is a project titled “Yard Dreams UNearthED: Art/Archeology” that entails an excavation that will take place on Saturday afternoon. Neighborhood elementary school students will work with UVA archaeology students to unearth a bronze-and-concrete monument called “The Tentacle,” buried beneath a mountain of adobe bricks, each containing a small artifact. Bennett explains that it is a small version of a large public artwork that the UVA sculpture community is creating at Baker-Butler Elementary School.
Yates credits Solla’s partnership in bringing “Yard Dreams” to fruition. They also work together on PVCC’s “Let There Be Light,” a show of artists’ installations using light, now in its 10th year and drawing as many as 3,000 people.
“She goes way out of her way to make these kinds of things happen,” says Yates.
Yates began curating at a young age. “It started when I was a kid and me and neighborhood kids would get together and just make stuff,” he says. “We made a miniature golf course. We made a big cart that was just a weird contraption with wheels. We were always doing stuff and making stuff together. We dug a hole deep under my house. We made a spook house and a magic show. I have a history of doing events involving people, interactive events, since I was a kid. Then I went to art school and kept doing it.”
After living in Charlottesville for more than 15 years, he is still drawn to the collaborative aspect, in sharing performance space and organizing interactive installations that bring the community together—in Belmont and beyond.