The need for safe, outdoor places for people to gather and a desire to have the arts play an important role in those spaces have come together in two innovative “neighborhood spots” in Norfolk.
As part of the Open Norfolk initiative, Arts for Learning artists are offering free workshops in dance, hip hop, scat singing, and more at the spots located in the Norview and Broad Creek neighborhoods. Today from nine a.m. until noon, drop in for a workshop in African Fusion dance by Jasmine Marshall at the Broad Creek spot, 1200 Roberts Road. At the Five Points spot at 6123 Sewells Point Road, you can enjoy Joél Casanova’s hip hop workshop today, also happening from nine until noon.
“Each and every one of the instructors that have been on site has been very engaged with the community and really knowledgeable about what they’re doing,” says Hillary Gentry, project manager for Open Norfolk. “Arts for Learning has a variety of different programming, which is really fantastic because it meets the needs of various people.”
Open Norfolk began as a way to help businesses adapt to Virginia’s COVID-19 rules that allowed restaurants to offer outdoor dining. With funding from Cincinnati-based YARD & Company, Open Norfolk helped map the outdoor areas that could be utilized and provided signage and seating to restaurants. The program then moved to its next phase of creating neighborhood spots, based on the growing evidence that outdoor spaces are much safer environments in this COVID-19 crisis.
The neighborhood spots offer resources and programming in four areas: health and wellness, recreation and fitness, education, and arts and culture. Pop-up food pantries, a mobile barber, an educational program on bees, and fitness boot camps are all part of the services offered at the neighborhood spots, free for the community to enjoy. The Arts for Learning workshops are a vital part of that programming.
It’s more than just food and beverage that fill our soul,” Gentry says. “Having a well-rounded experience in our spaces is something that we really value. We recognize that arts and culture is something that our brains need to fully develop.”
So what’s next for Open Norfolk? With the news that Norfolk Public Schools will be virtual learning only for the first nine weeks of the fall, the neighborhood spots may have a role to offer children and youth who will be missing in-person interactions. If funding permits, Open Norfolk could provide safe spaces for students to gather and have fun, whether it’s enjoying the arts or playing kickball. Gentry notes that staff members at the neighborhood spots are careful to follow all CDC guidelines for safety and adults are always on site to supervise.
For a schedule of upcoming Arts for Learning workshops and other events, visit the Open Norfolk website. And enjoy this snippet of A4L’s Joél Casanova from last week’s Broad Creek spot.