Idea Factory, Rivanna River art exhibition feature collaboration

FLOW is a new arts festival that combines creativity-in-action and a heightened awareness of the natural world. The festival, including musician Gina Sobel, takes place along the banks of the Rivanna River in Darden Towe Park and Riverview Park. Publicity photo FLOW is a new arts festival that combines creativity-in-action and a heightened awareness of the natural world. The festival, including musician Gina Sobel, takes place along the banks of the Rivanna River in Darden Towe Park and Riverview Park. Publicity photo

This week two different organizations are bringing together people from various backgrounds to look at our community through a creative lens. One event will take place in a moonlit warehouse while the other will be on the sunlit Rivanna River. Here’s what they’re all about.

Idea Factory
1740 Broadway St.
September 29

Aidyn Mills, the donor relations manager for the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, has spent the last year and a half researching how to get people in their 20s, 30s and 40s—referred to as “next gen” —civically engaged in the community. A cultural anthropologist by training, Mills learned that while the demographic may not necessarily have excess financial resources, next geners don’t lack the enthusiasm, talent or time, “if directed in the right way.” Piggybacking on the CACF’s mission to help individuals “make thoughtful decisions about their philanthropy,” Mills has used her research to develop a program called Imagination Foundation that hits the sweet spot between structure and flexibility. The launch event, “Idea Factory,” will take place in a Woolen Mills warehouse and features an art installation by Claude Wampler and a sound installation by MICE.

So what is it exactly? Mills says she wanted to educate the audience by using a format other than a PowerPoint presentation. The whole concept is based on drawing from the diverse talents, skills and perspectives all community members have to offer. “The basic foundation is creative collaboration,” Mills says. “How do we all work together in addressing or approaching specific social [and environmental] challenges?” For instance, she asks, “Have you ever thought of asking your local mailperson what they think of urban infrastructure? I mean, who else knows the lay of the ground better than a mailperson?”

Idea Factory is only the first in a series of events focused on creative collaboration. There is no promise, Mills says, of solving all of our community’s problems in one night. “I think as organizations and institutions, for very good reason, we’re focused on outcomes and quantitative deliverables,” she says. “And I wanted to reside in the space of imagination for a while. I don’t think as a society we do that enough.”

Mills wanted a physical space that reflects this concept. Enter the empty warehouse. “Already that first step is pushing the bounds of how we do things,” she says. “And that’s what I’m trying to encourage our community to do.” She compares the warehouse to a blank canvas. The act of people coming together, she says, paints a picture of “what a resilient community can look like.” Rather than focusing on quantifiable results, Mills says, “The fact that we can come together and think and practice empathy and listening and creative problem-solving and critical thinking—that to me is an achievement. Let’s celebrate that!”

Darden Towe Park/Riverview Park
September 30

Deborah McLeod, director of Chroma Projects for the last 10 years, was brainstorming a collaboration with the county when Dan Mahon, outdoor recreation supervisor with Albemarle County Parks & Recreation, proposed an art project on the Rivanna River. McLeod, who says, “I love the idea of going to the river, to see the river as a source of cleansing and a sacred aspect,” didn’t hesitate. The brainchild of McLeod and Mahon is FLOW, a dynamic art exhibition on and along the banks of the Rivanna that features a flotilla boat parade, art installations, live music, dance, theater, plein art painting and underwater photography.

The art installations both incorporate and represent their natural surroundings. Compared to typical art festivals, McLeod says, FLOW “is more conscious of environment.” For instance, local sculptor Renee Balfour has sourced invasive vines collected by Rivanna Master Naturalists volunteers to create a bower that will drape into the current. Alan Box Levine’s sculpture uses colored string to explore how trees communicate through their roots. Jum Jirapan will demonstrate suminagashi—a printmaking process that involves painting on water to create a marbleized effect—using silk fabric. McLeod’s own sculpture, a literal interpretation of the riverbed, consists of a rusted bedframe supporting a makeshift aquarium.

Meanwhile, along the riverbank, painters will paint the landscape plein air. McLeod says, “It will be interesting for visitors to see how two people looking at the same view will see it very differently.” Musicians, including Terri Allard, Michael Clem and the Chapman Grove Gospel Singers, as well as Front Porch students and teachers, will perform. Local dancer Some’ Louis will both dance in the water and use it as a percussive instrument, while Katharine Birdsall will lead a dance group along the walking path. Actor Megan Hillary will perform a piece of theater about Queen Anne, the river’s namesake, and Alexandria Searls, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, will demonstrate underwater photography in the Rivanna.

“The way it’s designed,” McLeod says, “is that you experience an art happening and then you go through nature and there’s nothing, so your sensitivity is heightened to nature and what to anticipate next.” FLOW’s sponsor, Rivanna Conservation Alliance, will have a booth, as well as the Rivanna Master Naturalists. “So it really is a confluence of art and nature,” McLeod says. “This is part of my hope that this is a kind of going to nature to be healed and to get some of this anguish out of our systems.”

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