If you’ve spent time in downtown Leesburg lately, you may have noticed the feel is a lot more urban hotspot than suburban county seat. With a thriving dining and live music scene, sidewalks are bustling with tourists and locals seven days a week. And a flourishing arts scene is part of that fresh vibe, with new galleries popping up and the second annual Arts in the Alley festival slated for Sept. 22.
This year, organizers have moved Arts in the Alley, which debuted last July, to a prime fall weekend, with a schedule full of art of all kinds and plenty of fun.
“We really want it to be a family arts day—performing and visual,” said Barbara Wilson, president of Friends of Leesburg Public Arts (FOLPA) which organizes the event.
The event, centered around the alley leading from King Street to the Leesburg parking garage and the nearby Leesburg Town Green, features a slew of visual artists selling their work, along with demonstrations from ceramicists, sketch artists and textile artists—and a surprise installation from Fine Gallery owner Kaeley Boyle. The day also offers a full schedule of performances at the Town Green Stage, including the Loudoun Chorale, Last Ham Standing comedy improv and last year’s crowd favorite, the Bharatanatyam Dancers Indian classical dance group. A second stage for solo singers and songwriters will be set up behind Kings Court Tavern. For families, the event includes kid-focused puppet shows from Blue Sky Puppets and a Paint the Mayor event for children with Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk at 11:30 a.m.
For Wilson, it’s a chance to remind locals and tourists that Loudoun’s arts scene is as vibrant as its agri-tourism sector.
“It’s important to support local growers, but at the same time it’s also important to support local artists to support creativity within your community,” Wilson said.
She envisions Arts in the Alley as fall sister event to Leesburg’s popular spring Flower and Garden Festival. Organizers plan to eventually expand the arts festival to two days, with a goal of fostering community connections while supporting local artists.
“Festivals bring people together,” Wilson said. “You’ll see people you haven’t seen in years.”
This year’s festival also features the Windows on Leesburg Arts auction, a FOLPA fundraiser featuring hand-painted vintage windows and shutters painted by top local artists including ceramicist Chris Cooley, sculptor Jeff Hall and painter Leanne Fink as well as community groups like the Leesburg Elementary School Art Club and VSA Loudoun’s DaVinci Art Studio. The auction, scheduled for 4 p.m., will be hosted by Leesburg’s newest gallery, Art Sweet Art.
Located in the former Weathered Elegance antiques space near the corner of
Market and King streets, Art Sweet Art will officially open next month, combining great art and gourmet Belgian chocolate. Leesburg-based sound engineer David Mercado has leased the space since the spring of 2017, but until this fall had put gallery operations in the hands of Belgian sculptor Kevin DeLandtsheer, known for his stunning metal and glass chandeliers. But the combo gallery/chocolate shop has stayed on Mercado’s mind and comes to fruition at the gallery’s official opening Oct. 12. Mercado is partnering with Tryst Gallery owner Jim Sisley to curate shows in the new space and has signed a deal with high-end Neuhaus Chocolate, continuing the corner’s Belgian theme with Delirium Cafe across the street.
Mercado, a Puerto Rico native and son of a U.S. Navy civil engineer, moved to Northern Virginia at 11 and has lived in Leesburg for the past decade. He has run the Soundview Services audio/visual production company since 2001 (Mercado will also be doing the sound for Arts in the Alley performances), but visual art has always been a parallel passion.
“I’ve always been a lover of art,” Mercado said. “I’m very interested in the revival [of downtown] and my contribution to it, which has been supporting the arts… Now we’re entering a new phase.”
And as the downtown gallery scene grows, there’s also been a surge in outdoor public art in Leesburg. FOLPA’s popular sculpture garden at Raflo park and sculptor Mike Clay’s bicycle-themed LOVEwork sculpture across the street along the W&OD trail draw tourists and locals alike for photos and lunchtime strolls, while Kevin Dunn’s bicycle mural brings vibrant color to the town parking garage. FOLPA is planning a memorial to longtime Leesburg businessman and civic leader Stanley Caulkins, who died earlier this year at 92, and Kaeley Boyle’s train mural on South King Street Bridge is also planned to move forward this fall.
For Wilson, the value of public art lies on both a human level and as driver of economic development.
“It is proven that [public art] brings people into a town or city,” Wilson said. “It’s accessible. … If you take an average person, not the typical person who’s going to walk into a museum, perhaps they’re walking the dog in the park and look at a metal sculpture and say, ‘What is that?’ And maybe someone else is standing there. … All of a sudden these two people who have never met are drawn together, questioning a piece of abstract art. … It promotes that kind of empathy and dialogue.”
Arts in the Alley takes place Saturday, Sept. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in downtown Leesburg. For more information and a performance schedule, go to leesburgpublicarts.org.
The Windows on Leesburg Arts auction is from 4 to 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at Art Sweet Art, 2B Loudoun St. SW. The gallery’s official reopening is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12. Find more on the gallery at sweetartleesburg.com.