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Millions of visitors over the centuries have stood on the ground floor of the Sistine Chapel within Vatican City in Rome and marveled at the ancient frescos painted on the ceiling by Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). 

From August 7-30, the Virginia Arts Festival will present a one-of-a-kind exhibition of these masterpieces at MacArthur Center in a transformed space on the second floor.

“Michelangelo: A Different View” is officially licensed by the Vatican Museums, and is a unique exhibition where the original ceiling art was photographed at high resolution and reproduced to create highly detailed panels. These true-to-life displays give visitors a unique opportunity for an otherwise impossible close-up view of Michelangelo’s brushwork. 

Virginia Arts Festival Executive Director Rob Cross began working to bring the exhibition to Norfolk over a year ago. 

The exhibition showing was postponed this spring and had been in storage at MacArthur Center for over a month due to the pandemic and related restrictions. 

It is actually rare for the annual performing arts festival to present visual art as part of its season.

“We’re always looking for things to broaden the festival,” said Cross. “We’re working with other museum curators on how to install it so that it is a very safe experience for the attendees.

Safe, indeed. Tickets are being sold in advance via vafest.org or by calling the box office at 757-282-2822. Ticket buyers must reserve a specific time to enter, and all of the precautionary obligations are required/mandatory including wearing a mask and keeping 6-feet between other visitors. Hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and the like will be on-site. 

“It’s a very safe experience for the attendees,” said Cross. 

While the visual arts community like Chrysler Museum of Art and Virginia MOCA have recently opened their doors to visitors during Phase 3 reopening, performing arts groups have been particularly challenged to return. The close proximity of symphonic musicians during normal performance and the projection of voices of choir members and opera singers make it unsafe even in rehearsal environments.

“Michelangelo: A Different View” is at least a positive step forward for Virginia Arts Festival.

“We’re thrilled that we are able to start bringing some things back starting in August,” Cross said. 

The core of the Virginia Arts Festival season is traditionally mid-April through the end of May, with a special weekend of music in June on the Lawn of the Museums in Colonial Williamsburg. The Festival’s mission is not only to present world-class arts throughout the Hampton Roads region, but to draw visitors from a 5-hour drive radius to the 757. These out-of-town guests spend money on overnight accommodations, dine at restaurants, park in city garages/lots, and may make a weekend of it and visit other cultural offerings. 

Cross sees the Michelangelo exhibition as well as providing such an impact at a particularly critical time.

“We hope this helps downtown to reopen with the restaurants and shops,” he said. “The arts are important to our community and we want to be a big part of getting that reignited.” 

In addition to the art exhibition, the Virginia Arts Festival will make use of its outdoor courtyard stage — located between their headquarters and the Hurrah Players building across from Chrysler Hall — to present the theatrical drama “A Soldier’s Play” August 5-15 in conjunction with Norfolk State University’s theater department. Cross also plans to potentially produce small classical music quartets and quintets, acoustic singer-songwriter and jazz concerts in early fall.

“People are hungry for the experience of gathering,” said Cross, “but we want to be able to do it safely. We are going to take the opportunity to use our beautiful outdoor courtyard and work with local arts organizations and local bands. A lot of them haven’t had paid gigs since March. We’re going to get people out to experience the arts and entertainment.”