By Jeff Maisey
Cities across America are now tapping into the performing and visual arts to breathe new life and vibrancy into downtown areas. It is a trend taking hold from Nashville to Asheville, but certainly no surprise to Rob Cross.
As the Virginia Arts Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary season with a series of jazz concerts scheduled this fall at the Attucks Theatre, and then spring-boarding into 2016 with a dazzling array of performing artists, Cross can take a bow as a visionary who was ahead of his time.
“It is really shocking how quickly time goes by,” said Cross, the festival’s only executive director. “We’re going to blow it out this year by bringing back some of the artists who have been important to the festival in our 19 years.”
Cross will expand the outdoor programming of the festival this year as well as engage the newly emerging Arts & Design District on Granby Street north of Brambleton Avenue.
“We’re going to tip our hat to our history but keep pushing ahead while making the festival and our city every year,” he said.
The organization began as the Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival. The original mission was to bring the world’s finest performing artists to Hampton Roads while showcasing local arts organizations such as the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to visitors traveling within a 5-hour’s drive of the region. In addition to improving the quality of life for local residents and corporate giants like Norfolk Southern, the economic impact on the region has made city funding well worth the investment.
“We have increased tourism to Hampton roads during the shoulder season of April and May,” Cross said.
Education outreach has also been a focus since the beginning for the festival organization.
“Almost every artist who comes to the festival, if they are appropriate, will do workshop master classes or student matinees,” said Cross. “Those fundamental things haven’t changed. What we’ve tweaked is the length of the festival. We’ve really zeroed in on partnerships with major institutions like the Chrysler Museum, Symphony, Stage Company and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.”
Though the lineup of the upcoming season is under wraps until late October, the Virginia Arts Festival is co-presenting with Norfolk’s Seven Venues a stellar multi-media production of symphonic music, video and film dubbed Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage on February 9 at Chrysler Hall.
20th Anniversary Virginia International Tattoo
As a vital component to the Virginia Arts Festival, the Virginia International Tattoo is also marking its second decade. Director Scott Jackson plans to expand the Tattoo by including an International Bagpipe Competition. The Tattoo is based on similar events in Edinburgh, Scotland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, but has a decidedly patriotic theme saluting the US military servicemen and women as well as their families.
25th Anniversary for Virginia Symphony Orchestra Music Director Joanne Falletta
The Virginia Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 2015-16 Season in September with an eye towards February, the official quarter-century mark for maestro JoAnn Falletta’s tenure with the organization. Read more on page 62 from writer Montague Gammon III.
Todd Rosenlieb Dance 10th Anniversary
Contemporary dance phenom Todd Rosenlieb will stage two performances in November at TCC’s Roper Center to celebrate a decade in downtown Norfolk.
10 Years for Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts
Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts is in its 10th year and has unveiled a dynamic schedule of internationally acclaimed artists ranging from the Munich Symphony Orchestra and Moscow Festival Ballet to the B-52s and Patti LaBelle. Bravo.