Leesburg’s public art scene is booming with murals and outdoor sculptures popping up all over town. And every piece has a story—from the historical to the deeply personal. Local culture maven Amy Bobchek wanted to dig deeper into the stories behind the work and help Loudouners and visitors alike take a fresh look at new and favorite works.
Bobchek officially launched Loudoun Public Art Tours in March. This weekend, she celebrates her first month in business while raising money for an important cause. Bobchek and her team are offering free tours this Saturday, April 30 to anyone who donates to the charity of their choice providing relief for Ukraine.
Bobchek is best known to Loudouners as the frontwoman for the band Big Bad Juju and co-founder of the BENEFIT organization which puts on concerts supporting local nonprofits. As a longtime Leesburg resident, Bobchek said she’s blown away by the town’s public art scene over the past decade. When she joined the board of directors for Visit Loudoun, she was inspired by an observation from the tourism agency’s CEO Beth Erickson about an untapped market for public art tours. Bobchek started doing research with the initial thought of supporting another agency, but when she began talking with artists, she knew she wanted to tackle the project herself.
“I’m looking at things that have been right in my path for a while that I never really noticed. I’m starting to take note of everything. Then I started reaching out to the artists,” she said. “As they began to share their stories of the pieces but also their artistic stories, I got so invested. These stories just have to be told.”
She got things rolling last month after doing a series of trial runs for friends and family over the winter with a focus on putting collections together and weaving a story. Bobchek tailors tours based on the amount of time clients want to spend, their focus and whether they’re locals or visitors. She divides Leesburg’s public art into two broad categories: historical work, including some of Leesburg’s most prominent murals and sculptures like the Stanley Caulkins Memorial sculpture on King Street, and the more conceptual work on display at the Raflo Park sculpture garden on Harrison Street.
For now, many of her clients are Loudoun residents looking to dive deeper into the work they might drive or walk past on a daily basis. For locals, Bobchek finds that her own stories of real-life connections with the subjects of some of the work, including Caulkins and downtown Leesburg barbershop owner Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter, often hold the greatest interest.
“I really weave in a lot more of my personal experiences,” she said.
Out of town visitors often want more “formative history” from revolutionary times to the importance of the railroad to Leesburg’s development. And bringing visitors to key locations where historical events took place is a big draw. Leesburg artist Kaeley Boyle’s vibrant train mural at the King Street Bridge near Georgetown Park on South King Street is a main attraction.
“It’s a really great pivot point. That piece represents a real turning point in Loudoun history as the railroad did for American history,” Bobchek said. “Kaeley’s mural is a perfect example of what artists call creative placement. You’re right there where things happened.”
Bobchek also is passionate about the conceptual pieces at the Raflo Park sculpture garden and the stories behind the works. She’s on a mission to share those stories with Loudouners in the next month as Leesburg’s Commission on Public Art prepares to swap out the current sculptures after two years and put new work on display. Those sculptures are engaging in their own right, she said, but there’s an extra richness in learning about the stories behind them.
“Part of the thing that interests me about art is that we’re all invited to react to it without any intervention by the artist at all. … It’s up to you to decide what is the story the artist is trying to tell,” Bobchek said. “When I talked to the artists and got the real stories, in many cases there was so much more to it.”
The outgoing group of sculptures includes pieces from local favorites including Brian Kirk and Kim P. Kim. And one of Bobchek’s favorites is the backstory behind Alyssa Imes’ “Sun Flower,” an abstract flower sculpture made from steel and paracord. The Maryland-based sculptor is finishing her master’s degree at the University of Maryland. When Imes submitted her proposal for “Sun Flower,” she was planning to use the university’s studio space to create the large-scale work. When COVID closures shut down classrooms and studios in 2020, the artist had to improvise. Her family mechanic made space in his shop for her to complete the project, and Imes incorporated muffler pipe into the vibrant piece as a tribute to the unexpected twists in the process.
“The piece itself is pretty straightforward—it’s beautiful to look at,” Bobchek said. “But who would ever know what [the artist] went through.”
As a 30-year Leesburg resident, Bobchek is a booster for moving the town forward as a cultural hub for both the visual and performing arts. And she sees a lot of support from the Leesburg community at large. She hopes the next step will be a Leesburg performing arts center and sees momentum building in that direction.
“You have to look at the Town Council and the people who live here and recognize that this burgeoning arts scene is a reflection of this community that’s growing in Leesburg,” she said. “I think we will continue to attract people here who are really dialed in to the importance of culture and seeking to find culture for their home community.”
Bobchek was inspired to offer a day of free Ukraine relief tours when she and her husband took a golf clinic to benefit Ukraine aid. It was a lightbulb moment that spotlighted the wide range of ways every business and individual can find ways to contribute to an important cause in a time of crisis. This Saturday, Bobchek and her team will offer free 30-minute tours at the Raflo Park sculpture garden to anyone who shows proof of a donation to Ukraine relief efforts.
It’s a chance for Loudouners to get a behind the scenes look at the current cohort of sculptures before they’re rotated out in June. It’s also a chance for residents of one historic town to show support for historic towns and cities being decimated by war.
“It seems to us that while we are celebrating the beautification of our community with the growing collection of public art in Loudoun, our Ukrainian brothers and sisters are watching their cities and towns destroyed,” Bobchek said. “We see this is an opportunity to share some gratitude for what we have and help others in need at the same time.”
Loudoun Public Art Tours will offer free 30-minute tours of the Raflo Park sculpture garden Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to noon. Guests are asked to show proof of a donation in any amount to the charity of their choice providing relief to Ukraine. Limited walk-up spots will be available, but guests are asked to reserve a spot in advance. Go to loudounarttours.com for more information or to reserve a tour.