Interview with Meghan Williamson

Yesterday I shared a round up from the Virginia Street Arts Festival. Today I am delighted to bring you the first of three interviews from people involved in the festival itself. First up is Meghan Williamson, VASA organiser, who tells us a little bit about the festival and it’s impact on the community.

Hi Meghan, how are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Lewis, I’m doing well, and grateful that No Grey Walls is interested in the Virginia Street Arts Festival! I live and work in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Here I help nonprofits and social enterprises launch art, environmental, and community-based initiatives, focused on local and alternative economies.

You are the ‘organizer’ of the Virginia Street art Festival, how did first get involved with the festival? 

I do a wide variety of arts, cultural, and entrepreneurial freelance work in the region. I was writing a story about Ian MacRae, the founder of the Festival and also the owner of E-N Computers, the building on which the first murals were painted. Ian and I both have a passion for playfully exploring the intersections of Waynesboro’s industrial history and its next wave of artistic and entrepreneurial expression, so he asked me to come on board.

Nils Westergard for VASA Fest 2018.
Nils Westergard for VASA Fest 2018.

How have you seen the festival change over the first four years?  

Every year the festival has been able to both take on increasingly visible and prominent mural locations and to attract additional community partners. The first year was more of a neighborhood scale undertaking, with Ian donating his building and attracting nearby residents from all ages and backgrounds to come out and celebrate for the day. This year saw the addition of many collaborating partners: the Wayne Theatre provided very public-facing walls in the heart of downtown, the Shenandoah Valley Art Center shared Main Street with us during their annual Fall Foliage Art Show, the Blue Ridge Children’s Museum provided interactive art installations, and both student and adult dance groups joined us for live performances during the Festival. Increasingly, the event is celebrated and supported by the whole community.

How much work goes into organizing an event of this stature each year?

Most of the magic is in finding good matches between artists and property owners.  We were so fortunate this year to have a major downtown anchor provide highly visible wall space. We’ve been cheered on by community residents of all backgrounds and perspectives, and that makes the work so much easier and more rewarding.

Kimchi Juice for VASA Festival 2018.
Kimchi Juice for VASA Festival 2018.

Do you feel like the festival has had an impact on the street art scene in general in Waynesboro?   

I hope and believe that it has made our art scene more open and democratic.  This art is not hidden behind gallery doors or paywalls. The mural subjects are increasingly racially diverse and draw from aesthetic traditions not often represented in mainstream art shows.  We’ve worked to include both newer and more established street artists, providing opportunities for cross collaboration and connections. When contacted mere days before the event by a stencil artist, Terry Ward, we were able to find him last minute wall space. Watching the commentary both before and during this year’s event, I think the community as a whole feels this willingness to experiment in inclusive and welcoming ways.

What are you trying to create within the community of Waynesboro with the festival?  

Like many cities, Waynesboro has seen a variety of traditional manufactures close shop and leave large industrial buildings in their wake. Yet, those spaces have become homes for artistic initiatives like the Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing, Make Waynesboro community ceramics studio, and now of course the Virginia Street Arts Festival. A key motivator behind this festival is to celebrate our City not merely for what it has been but also for all of the vibrancy and creativity it still has to express.

Participating artists for VASA Fest 2018.
Participating artists for VASA Fest 2018.

What has the reaction been from the community to the festival and the art that they have the pleasure of seeing each day.  

It’s been wildly positive, beyond expectations. My favorite reaction is to see folks who are long-time Waynesboro residents stop by and share their excitement to have this color and art in their neighborhoods. Street art has a very different sense of accessibility and engagement. This is beauty you don’t have to buy, you can simply enjoy. I think our community feels that.

This years event featured two pretty big name artists (and two who I love) in Nils Westergard and Julia Chon. What was the thinking behind having both these artists come to Virginia to paint?   

This is actually Nil’s third Virginia Street Arts Festival mural, so we were thrilled to bring him back to Waynesboro. This year we had a really fun juxtaposition of artists, with Julia Chon bringing fresh energy, merging the perspective of an 18-year-old emerging muralist with more traditional Korean aesthetics.

Nils Westergard for VASA Fest 2017.
Nils Westergard for VASA Fest 2017.

The festival is in it’s fourth year now and seems to be going from strength to strength, what can we expect to see in year five?  

Well, given the number of downtown property owners we saw scoping out this year’s Festival, I’m hopeful we will be back with bold walls and striking public placements!  We’ll be looking for both artists and walls over the course of this year, so we do hope that interested participants will share ideas or work proposals at www.facebook.com/vasafestival

Thanks for your time Meghan and hopefully see you for the fifth edition!!

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