Last weekend marked the annual ritual of the UVA undergraduates move-in, when students and parents haul semester survival gear from SUVs to dorm rooms. This year, the weekend also celebrated a move of a different kind—one with less heavy lifting but far more gusto. On Saturday, New City Arts Initiative moved out of its office at The Haven in a parade of pinwheels as volunteers provided a spark of whimsy while carrying the local arts nonprofit to its new downtown home on Third Street NE.
As New City Arts approaches its sixth anniversary, this move promises to be monumental for the young nonprofit. It’s been five years since NCAI went from working in coffee shops to its first office located in The Haven, Charlottesville’s day shelter for the homeless and very poor. With that move, NCAI Executive Director Maureen Brondyke gained her first office mates as well as a partner organization that would prove vital to her work.
Executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, Kaki Dimock shared an office with Brondyke at The Haven. “[Brondyke] understood the potential intersection between her work and The Haven’s work immediately,” says Dimock. She knew that disenfranchised people are often exploited in the name of making art and worked to create a respectful, nuanced, guest-centered experience at The Haven instead. She understood that the process was more important than the final product.”
Beginning in 2011, New City Arts operated an artist residency program at The Haven. Each year, selected artists would work with shelter’s guests: first as volunteers who interacted in a general way; then, as teaching artists, encouraging creative expression. “The Haven staff—many of whom are poets, artists and musicians themselves—had always hoped for artists to work with guests in some way,” says Brondyke. “The partnership was a natural fit.”
Nine individuals participated as artists during the program’s four-year run, adapting with each cycle for the creation of projects ranging from a community quilt to a collaborative mural. In exchange, New City Arts provided the artists with affordable studio space in order to develop skills and gallery exhibitions to reach the broader community.
With this month’s move, the artist residency program will continue to adapt. Artists who are interested in working with New City Arts can apply before September 1 to be considered for the residency program, which will be held at the Third Street location. For artists who wish to work with The Haven and its guests, however, the NCAI residency no longer has the same hands-on approach. Rather, Brondyke encourages these artists to get involved with the soon-to-launch collaborative project between The Haven and New City Arts known as Housing2Home.
“New City Arts emerged as a real force in this community in the last five years in large part because of Maureen’s vision, strategy and community-building efforts,” Dimock says. “While other arts organizations have struggled or faltered, New City Arts has grown its audiences, created meaningful collaborations and expanded its programming.” This is evident in Brondyke’s planning and execution of the artist residency program, and in her strategic decision to move the organization onto the Downtown Mall at this particular time.
As galleries like Chroma Projects, Warm Springs, and BozART have all been forced to shutter or move off the mall, Brondyke hopes her organization’s new home will help reinvigorate First Fridays. “I think it’s important for the local art community to have a presence on the Downtown Mall because it draws a diverse audience,” she says. “A gallery might not be a visitor’s destination, but if they happen into it by surprise and are exposed to new work, organic arts audience development might occur in a way that an event can’t always facilitate.”
NCAI’s new location will be the organization’s first experience with foot traffic on the Downtown Mall. The space will house the organization’s office and a studio for the revamped artist residency program as well as a gallery.
Since New City Arts will also continue its gallery partnership with the WVTF and Radio IQ studio, the move actually doubles its capacity for monthly exhibitions, which will take place at both galleries beginning in September.
According to Brondyke, we can expect more artist talks and a wider variety of types of work shown—expanding to include multimedia or installation art, and perhaps even performance art. “Once we have the funding for things like a PA system and chairs, we hope the space serves performance artists, musicians and writers in new and unique ways,” Brondyke says.
For now, basic renovations and new furniture are closer on the horizon, along with a crowdfunding campaign that’s expected to launch in about a month.
The New City Arts Initiative gallery will open with “Animals and Clouds” by Dean Dass and a First Fridays reception on September 4. For details, visit newcityarts.org.
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