The public art movement is growing in Leesburg

For a decade, a handful of volunteers worked to convince Leesburg City Council of the value of investing in public art.

Council members resisted allocating taxpayers’ money to such projects. But dedicated members of the local arts community, undeterred, continued to launch projects, at their own expense, in hopes of eventually gaining buy-in from city leaders.

“I think the desire has always been there,” said architect Tom O’Neil, chairman of the city’s committee on public art. “But get [projects] before them makes the difference.

And that’s exactly what COPA members and Friends of Leesburg Public Art, a non-profit organization established in 2012 in part to host the Leesburg Arts Festival, did.

Art projects now dot the town center including a mural inside the Town Hall parking lot, a sculpture garden at Raflo Park and the new LOVEworks sculpture which will be installed along the W&OD trail near Crescent Square in May.

FOLPA has also held pop-up art exhibits in addition to the annual downtown art festival, and is always working towards its next event or creative idea.

“With the formation of FOLPA several years ago, we tried to take it on board,” said O’Neil, also a FOLPA board member. “Getting direct funding from the city wasn’t going to happen, at least not until we showed them that it could make a difference in bringing people downtown. Then it might be easier to board them.

The projects and events that have started so far have been attributed to fundraising efforts and grants from FOLPA, as well as donations from many community partners. Area businesses donated paint and supplies, artists and students contributed for little or no pay, and passion fueled the entire operation.

“I think what you noticed last year was the fact that we did these things,” FOLPA President Suzanne Stipek said. “They’re small scale, pretty much noncontroversial, and people are like, ‘wow, that’s great. We need more of that.’ I think the more the city sees this helping, the more we will hopefully see in capital budgets.

Just last week, the city council, albeit narrowly, approved a new mural project in its Liberty Street parking lot. In December, Sagetopia LLC, a graphic design studio on Liberty Street, asked COPA for permission to paint a mural on the side of a city-owned building in the parking lot. The one-story white cinder block building is used as a support facility for the Department of Public Works and Capital Projects.

Liberty Street Mural Design [Town of Leesburg]

The commissioners approved the mural’s design at their February meeting. But the fresco will not receive any public funds. The city’s only role will be to power wash and touch up the wall to prepare it for painting.

Another mural on the South King Street Bridge near the W&OD Trail is in the planning stages.

A mural outside the city parking garage along Loudoun Street also remains a possibility. This project is in limbo as the city plans to implement a master plan for the City Hall property.

But murals are not enough, Stipek pointed out.

“Just putting up a mural isn’t going to bring the arts into the community. You really have to involve the community in the planning. They have to be invested in what you do for it to work,” she said.

The two arts organizations are collaborating on a master plan to identify public art opportunities across Leesburg.

“The idea was to go beyond downtown,” O’Neil said.

While nothing on either of these projects is finalized, two potential investment projects that could see an artistic twist are the painting of the water tank at the Inova Loudoun – Leesburg medical campus and the retaining walls of the Leesburg Bypass / Edwards Ferry Road interchange.

Both arts groups are also busy planning events to showcase and foster the local arts scene. In addition to its fifth annual Downtown Arts Festival in September, they are planning an Arts Festival in Leesburg Village on June 3-4 and an inaugural Arts in the Alley Festival on July 29, to bring the alley to life. between City Hall parking garage and King Street shops.

“We bill it more like a street fair,” Stipek said of the one-day festival. “A lot of performing artists, visual artists and artisans. … We seek whatever we can find.

Although the city does not spend money on public art projects, it tries to help them, according to the city’s senior engineer, Anne Geiger, who also serves as COPA liaison. She said city staff helped secure permits for art projects, prepared spaces for work and helped negotiate with developers to clear the way for projects.

For example, Crescent Place developer Leonard “Hobie” Mitchel worked with the city to make space available and prepare spaces for the LOVEworks sculpture and the Raflo Park Sculpture Garden, which sits across from the development. .

With the cadre of dedicated volunteers, artists and art lovers, the public arts community hopes to see the City Council sustain its efforts with financial support in the years to come.

“I see momentum,” said Donna Torraca, FOLPA board member and COPA member, of the public art movement in Leesburg. “Hopefully the council will see that there is interest and people are enthusiastic about it, they will be even more supportive.”

Mayor Kelly Burk, a longtime supporter of public arts, said she couldn’t speak for all city council members, but she thinks the time has come for them to decide whether they want to put aside funds to support the arts.

“What these groups have done is phenomenal. … And at some point people will have to decide if we want to continue this way or if we want the city to financially support public arts,” she said, adding that she also works with foundations to get more private funding.

The mayor encouraged people to stroll downtown and attend upcoming events to see displays of local creativity.

“There is a movement and we should help support it,” she said. “Public art is an integral part of a strong and vibrant community where people want to be.”

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Norma D. Ross