To Trick-Or-Treat? Or Not to Trick-or-Treat? 2020 Local Guidelines

Words and Image by BA Ciccolella.

This year, the CDC has labeled traditional Trick-or-Treating as a high-risk activity. As we all prepare for Halloween this weekend, we should keep in mind different ways that we can keep our community safe, and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Halloween begins the start of a long season of holidays that are going to look just a little different this year. However, if we all work as a community to safely celebrate the holidays in a slightly different manner this year, we will have more of a chance of being “back to normal” when they come around in 2021!

Luckily for us, our localities have put together specialized guidelines for Halloween activities, including Trick-or-Treating this year. You can find each of their press releases/ posts below.

Halloween 2020 Rules and Guidelines by City:
Norfolk
Virginia Beach
Portsmouth
Chesapeake
Suffolk
Newport News
Hampton
Williamsburg

Check out the CDC’s recommendations for various risk-level activities so that you can be smart about your weekend plans. If you should decide that trick-or-treating in some form is a risk your family is willing to take, please make sure that beyond your COVID safety precautions, you are also taking the usual safety precautions. You can take a look at these General Trick-Or-Treat Safety Tips from the City of Norfolk’s Police Department, for example.

Regardless of the risk level you choose this weekend, remember to wear your mask (NOT a costume mask, I promise, the one you wear when you go to the store goes with your costume this year) and maintain your social distance. Our community is at its strongest when we work together! 

The Importance of Passion

Words and Images courtesy of Moriah Joy.
Feature photo by Lisa Hogan.

For many people, this past year has been anything but pleasant. From not being able to leave the house (or not feeling safe to do so), to major life events brought to a screeching halt and the general state of the world feeling chaotic, it’s easy to want to forget about this year and just pretend like it never happened. However, I believe this year has also allowed many for the time to reflect and appreciate the small victories in life. I feel like despite the hardships, I’ve learned something extremely important that we can’t forget, no matter the state of the world. 

To fully understand this lesson, we must look back at our life to the first time we can remember true bliss. The thrill of being an uninhibited child, unencumbered by the maladies of this life. Exploring anything and everything until you gravitated to one idea, one object, one act. This was the birth of passion. Finding something that brings you joy in the midst of sorrow. As we mature, this passion takes many different paths as it changes, expands, diminishes, or sometimes turns into something completely new. 

Moriah as a young child about to perform at school

My passion has always been performing or being involved in performances in any way possible. I still remember being five years old, scared out of my wits standing on stage in front of my entire church (maybe a hundred people but it felt like the Sydney Opera House to me) getting ready to sing. I was shaking, and couldn’t stop crying through the performance but it felt like something I needed to do. I never truly understood until this past weekend when I had the opportunity to stand on stage again in front of families and entertain them. 

Nervous excitement coursing through my body, a sense of anticipation as people began to arrive. My mind raced wondering if they would appreciate the hard work and actually participate with the storytellers. The ceremony of getting ready, putting on my costume, and preparing the space to perform, all of it creating this sense of magic and wonder.

Moriah performing at Little Theatre of Norfolk's recent socially distanced storytelling event

While the turnout was only twelve people between both performances, there’s something truly special about getting to see a child interact with your performance then afterwards hear the parents talk about the child repeating parts of the story for the rest of the day. Something as simple as using a story to connect with each other, displays of humanity and joy in otherwise dark times are extremely important. It’s one of the reasons I feel like watching stand-up comedy routines has become so prevalent over the course of the last few months. We as people want to feel joy and connection in whatever form that we can. 

This is the joy of performing and art, being able to positively impact someone’s life even if the moment is brief. However, I’m very aware that some people may experience this type of passion through sporting events, decorating for the holidays, cooking, etc. Whatever you’re passionate about, even if it may just seem like a hobby, please continue to explore and create.   

My hope for anyone reading this is that is what you take away from this year is a renewed sense of passion. May we never lose sense of what makes us human, allowing us to see beauty in this world even if it comes in brief moments. 

Moriah dancing with two others in LTN's Sweet Charity. They are holding her and she is almost upside down.

Little Theatre of Norfolk Presents #WhileBlack by Award-Winning Virginia Playwright Kayla Scott

Words and images courtesy of the Little Theatre of Norfolk.

Little Theatre of Norfolk kicks off their Season 94 educational workshop series with a virtual performance of #WhileBlack from a young Virginia talent, Kayla Scott. The Charlottesville, Monticello High School graduate won a statewide competition for her work which she wrote two years ago at only 17 years old. Even at a young age, Scott wanted to turn her personal experience dealing with racial profiling and gentrification into something positive to help bring the community together and encourage change.

Scott says as a young black female living in a predominately white environment, and suffering a severe skin condition, she felt judged almost her entire life. She found theatre was a way to escape reality, and writing the play enable her to speak her truth without judgement. “#WhileBlack is my heart, all of my tears and pain poured into a form of artwork,” she explains. “I, like many other people of color, live the story #WhileBlack, on a daily basis. What I want people to understand is that we are more than just the complexion of our skin and the texture of our hair. We are intelligent, dedicated, go-getters, and more. We are so much more than what you may see on the outside.” 

The play focuses on three black teens who experience racial profiling within an upscale café shop. Towards the end, a secret is revealed about the true identity of one of the black teens. “This play is to inform and educate people to see past the first layer and begin to see what’s truly inside, said Scott. “Also, this play is to explain how careless, ignorant actions, such as making false police reports, can be deadly for a person of color.”

Chesapeake resident Brielle Farrow plays one of the teens, Heather. She says, “This topic may be difficult for some, but it is necessary to be discussed in bringing forth the message that indeed, black lives matter.” 

This will be only the fifth time #WhileBlack has been performed in Virginia. Scott’s goal is to have groups perform it across the United States and internationally because racial inequality and gentrification does not just occur in Virginia. “The true purpose of #WhileBlack is to spark a conversation, leading to a change,” said Scott. “If you are willing to watch this play, you have to come with an open mindset. This play is real, authentic, and it’s the truth of what people of color experience. It may hit a nerve with some, however, when nerve is struck, a conversation is sparked.” Little Theatre of Norfolk will facilitate such discussion in a talkback with Scott immediately following the performance.

The #WhileBlack performance and talkback is only on Saturday, October 24 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It is offered free with registration available at ltnonline.org. Registrants will receive a Zoom link to watch both the show and the talkback. The program is presented by the Little Theatre of Norfolk education committee in partnership with Booker T. Washington High School.

About Little Theatre of Norfolk

Little Theatre of Norfolk is a volunteer led, non-profit community theatre, continually operating since 1926. It is located at 801 Claremont Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk. Free parking is available in the lots behind the building and across the street. Information about upcoming performances, auditions, workshops, and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.ltnonline.org.

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Black Lives More Than Matter Mural – Norfolk NEON District

Interview by BA Ciccolella.
Photos courtesy of Nicole Harp, Clayton Singleton, and Norfolk Public Schools.

Last July, two local Norfolk high school Fine Arts teachers, Ms. Nicole Harp of Granby and Mr. Clayton Singleton of Lake Taylor, answered an open call to artists from the Neon District Public Art Committee. Their newly completed piece, Black Lives More Than Matter, the mural on the rear of O.J. Wholesale, also home to Black-owned business Furious Styles on the second floor, is a reflection of the current cultural climate. It is also their first large project collaboration together.

Harp and Singleton are professional artists with extensive resumes, and both show an obvious passion for their creative callings. Spotlight News was lucky enough to sit down with them for an interview where we discussed (among other things) their projects (past, present, and future), their collaboration, and their ideas on how art can be used for communication and activism.

You can reach Nicole and Clayton online using the following links:

Nicole Harp:Clayton Singleton:
Website
Facebook
Instagram @EcoDogH2O
Twitter @NicoleCHarp1
Website
Facebook
Instagram @ClaytonSingletonArtist
Twitter @ClaytonCanPaint

Norfolk’s mural projects are in partnership with several long-standing and diverse neighborhood businesses, showcasing the wide range of community involvement and investment.

Hopefully we will have the opportunity to see more of Harp and Singleton’s collaborations in the future!

VSC and NSU Theatre Company Present Virtual Performance of The Parchman Hour: Songs & Stories of the ’61 Freedom Riders

Information courtesy of Virginia Stage Company.

Virginia Stage Company launches a virtual presentation of The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ’61 Freedom Riders, a collaboration with Norfolk State University Theatre Company.  After its triumphant run as part of Virginia Stage Company’s 39th Season, The Parchman Hour journeys through the Deep South with the pioneers who fought discrimination and paved the way for the future. Written and directed by Mike Wiley, this play is adapted from real life accounts of the 1961 Freedom Rides and shares these struggles through music that ranges from spirituals to Bob Dylan.  This production will include recorded Zoom performances from the original VSC cast, as well as archival production footage from the 2017 production.

With history deeply rooted in racial tension, The Parchman Hour is produced in Norfolk, Virginia at a critical time. “This play is about a time in our recent past when men and women of all backgrounds came together to fight racial injustice,” says Tom Quaintance, Producing Artistic Director of Virginia Stage Company. “It was a country divided, with widespread protests gripping the nation. It is a play that speaks directly to our time’” Through song and storytelling, The Parchman Hour shadows our country’s past while sparking conversation about the present.

The Parchman Hour has streaming performances starting Thursday, October 8th through Saturday, October 10th at 7:30pm and a Sunday matinee on October 11th at 2pm.  Tickets are $15 per household and can be purchased online.

This play contains racially charged language and scenes of violence and is recommended for ages 13 and older.

A Community Conversation will kick off the week of performances as part of Virginia Stage Company’s Wells-ness Wednesday series On October 7th at 7:30pm, Barbara Hamm Lee will lead a virtual panel: Theatre as Society’s Mirror. Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer Mulholland joins playwright Mike Wiley, Norfolk Chief of Police Larry Boone and panelists engaged in contemporary racial justice protests to discuss the resonance The Parchman Hour has to our country today. This panel discussion is free but registration is required.  To learn more about this event and other Wells-ness Wednesday series, visit: https://www.vastage.org/virtual

Virginia Stage Company is southeastern Virginia’s leading theatre destination, normally serving an audience of over 58,000 annually both at the Wells Theatre and throughout the community. Since the shutdown in March, 2020, the Stage Company has pivoted to online content and has shared over 7,000 hours of free virtual content that has served more than 13,000 participants across the country.  Virginia Stage Company’s mission is to “enrich, educate, and entertain the region by creating and producing theatrical art of the highest quality.”

Mike Wiley headshot

Mike Wiley (Writer and Director) is a North Carolina-based actor & playwright whose compelling works of documentary theatre yield powerful journeys through milestones and turning points of a shared American history. With a remarkable ability to inspire dialog, his creative vision and talents are broad and magnetic, leading audiences and communities to begin to peel layers and barriers to true “community.” When a curtain comes down on a Mike Wiley performance, the experience has far from “ended.” It’s more likely that light may have seeped through, that a stubborn door may have just nudged open.

His ensemble and solo-actor plays include The Parchman HourDownrange: Stories From The HomefrontDar He: The Story Of Emmett Till, the theatrical adaptation of Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name, the epic Leaving EdenBreach Of Peace and more. The film adaptation of Wiley’s Dar He, in which he portrays 30+ roles, received more than 40 major film festival awards around the globe. The Parchman Hour was selected as the closing event of the official 50th year anniversary commemoration of the Freedom Riders in Jackson, MS and his plays have been selected for showcase by juries at a majority of performing arts conferences across America. His ensemble plays have been produced by major regional theatres in the US including Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Hatiloo Theatre in Memphis, Playmakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC, Virginia Stage in Norfolk and Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, NC.

Wiley has more than fifteen years’ credits in documentary theatre for young audiences plus film, television and regional theatre. An Upward Bound alum and Trio Achiever Award recipient, he is an M.F.A. graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is a former Lehman-Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. He has conducted numerous educational residencies funded through grant programs of the North Carolina Arts Council and has performed across the US and in Canada. He is a 2017 recipient of the University of North Carolina’s Distinguished Alumni Award. His most recent large-scale ensemble-cast plays are Leaving Eden and Peace Of Clay (co-written with Howard Craft.) Wiley’s overriding goal is expanding cultural awareness for audiences of all ages through dynamic portrayals based on pivotal moments in African American history and, in doing so, helping to unveil a richer picture of the total American experience.  

Cast members include: 

Benjamin Curns^*Bill Savanoe/Forsyth
Jonathan Cooper^Freddie
Samantha Fabiani^Joan Mulholland/Mrs. Forsyth
Daniel S. Hines^*Stephen Green/Elwood
Teddy Holmes^James Farmer
Christopher Lindsay^Stokely Carmichael
Zonya Love*Lucretia Collins/Pearl Green
Phillip Martin^Deputy Tyson/Bull Connor
Reed Miller^Janie
Jeremy Morris^John Lewis
Meredith Noël^Mimi Real
Isaiah Roper^Hank Thomas
Anthony Mark Stockard^*Pee Wee
Wallis Quaintance^Carol Silver
Ja’Keetrius Woods^Pauline Knight
*Members of Actors’ Equity Association the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
^2017 VSC production cast member

Facebook: /vastage | Twitter: vastage | Instagram: vastage
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TRD New Academy Director Jaime Simpson – Keeping Creative Energy Present

Words and Images courtesy of Jaime Simpson.

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach one of our TRDance students a virtual private lesson. She was at home, I was at the TRDance Center, and we were each logging in to Zoom to embark on an hour and a half ballet lesson. I had everything set up and had admitted her from the “waiting room.” Her video and audio came on, we smiled and happily said our greetings. What she said next definitely got my attention… she said, “This is the first time I’ve been able to see your whole face!” 

I had my mask off for this lesson since I was the only person in the studio, and I had the door shut. She had started taking classes at TRD earlier this summer, and until that particular lesson, she had only ever seen me with a mask on. I said, “Wow, that’s true! I didn’t realize that!” We smiled at each other again and started dancing. 

I have thought about that moment several times since. About how much has changed… in the dance world and everywhere. 

At TRDance specifically, many adjustments have been made to keep opportunities to dance and perform going, with health and safety being of utmost importance: we have specific cleaning processes in place; a mask policy for dancers, staff, and guests; limited class sizes; temperature checks; and more. We are offering many of our classes as hybrid options, giving dancers the opportunity to join the class virtually from home. In addition, all classes are set up so that they can shift to be fully virtual if we need to do so temporarily; the instructors are all experienced with teaching virtually and are ready to transition if that becomes necessary. 

In my third month as Academy Director, I have many goals. The most prominent of which, for the foreseeable future, is to keep as many dancers dancing as possible, as safely as possible. The art of dance has such an uplifting and healing effect, infusing joy and vibrancy into the spirit. It is so important to keep that creative energy present and glowing. Our Fall Structured and Open Class Programs are underway, and I am excited to announce that we have just added three new classes to the Open Program. In November, we will be holding weekend Master Classes in various dance styles. 

We are also currently building our new Pod-Style Dance Class Program which offers dance classes to children who are already working within a pod group for academics and other activities. These classes take place in the afternoon, prior to our evening Open and Structured Program classes. 

Regarding Academy performances, the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Ensemble and Virginia Ballet Theatre Ensemble came together this summer for a successful Virtual Solo Concert made up of 12 newly choreographed solos. Though the process was unique for the Ensemble groups, the dancers and choreographers were thrilled to be creating, and the results were everything that was hoped for. The Ensembles will soon be moving into rehearsals for another virtual show to be presented in December. 

Though so much has changed, I believe two things will always remain the same – the passion for dance, and the desire to dance. Dancers, instructors, choreographers, and directors here at TRD and everywhere are ready and willing to navigate this new path and adjust as needed to be able to safely move forward with this art form. I am at the TRDance Center every day, and every day I see the sparkle 

of excitement in the dancers’ eyes as they arrive for classes. And though their masks may keep me from seeing their smiles, I know that they are there. 

For general information on TRDance, please visit trdance.org.
For specific information on class programs or Ensembles, please email Jaime Simpson at academy@trdance.org.
If you would like to make a donation to support TRDance, please visit trdance.org/donate

Jaime Simpson began her ballet training at age 6, with opportunities to study at the Virginia Beach Ballet Academy, Maryland Youth Ballet, North Carolina School for the Arts, and Richmond Ballet. She then received her Bachelor’s Degree in Ballet Performance from Indiana University, training with Patricia McBride, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and Violette Verdy. Jaime began teaching ballet while at IU, working with college students as well as students in the youth program. Since returning to Hampton Roads in 2005, Jaime has taught all levels of ballet and pointe at several area schools, and has choreographed ballet pieces for VBBA, Arts Enter Cape Charles, TRDance Center, and the VBT Ensemble.

100 Posts!

Words and Image by BA Ciccolella.

We are so excited to announce that after nearly 7 months, we have reached our 100th post on our website! Most of you know that Spotlight News – Hampton Roads was founded by members of the Theatre Reviewers section of the old AltDaily website. We became an official organization with the state of Virginia and purchased our URL on March 7, 2020, and our original business plan was to take it slow, and to use the reviews that we already had scheduled as our content while we reached out to local writers and slowly expanded to cover all other community content. I’m sure you all remember what happened on or about March 15, 2020 which caused us to have to throw that original business plan right out the window.

After taking a deep breath and reassessing the situation, we decided that though the universe was pushing us into the deep end before we had planned to be ready, we were going to swim. We had some long brainstorming sessions, started reaching out to community members and writers that we knew, and now Spotlight News has a private writer’s group of around 30 people on Facebook, including some of our amazing regular contributors, and also a private group of over 75 community supporters. We have elected officers, and are looking for 3 more board members this year. Apart from myself, we now have 5 other editors training to assist with website posts and social media. We are working on getting some regular columnists coordinated, and even on a possible comics section! Our business meetings are organized though our community supporters Facebook page, so if you are interested in helping, come join the group!

We have received our 501c3 status from the IRS, and we are working on the rest of the registrations needed before we can apply for grants and request donations. We hope to be able to keep expanding, and eventually pay people to edit the site, to write articles, and to manage our social media. We firmly believe that all of the skills that it takes to put together this website are valuable, and we want to work towards the financial stability where we can pay our artists, our writers, and our basic staff to keep the organization running smoothly, and continue to bring you Hampton Roads community news by our own community members.   

Regarding content, we have covered nearly 100 different community organizations, restaurants, subjects, and local persons of interest. We have covered art, bugs, dance, education, film, gaming, gardening, health, music, nature, restaurants, theatre, writers, and more! We want to thank every single organization that has worked with us and supported our efforts so far, every single person we have interviewed, every single person (or organization) who has supplied photographs, images, or videos, and every single person who has shared our Facebook posts – we would not be able to do what we do without you. 

We would be remiss not to thank (by name) Penny Neef, Louise Casini Hollis, Moriah Joy, Denise Bishop, Chris Bernhardt, Frank Connelly, and Aliki Marie Pantas Semones for really holding the company together these past seven months. From writing, to editing, to business work, to technical assistance, to social media coordination, Spotlight is a community news website that is currently run by a community of volunteers. 

If you are interested in becoming a member of our community, please contact us either by sending us a Facebook message, or emailing us here describing your interest! We are looking for board members, writers, editors, social media managers, or maybe you have an idea for something else we haven’t even thought of yet! If you don’t think you have the time for that kind of commitment, you can help us immensely by reacting to our posts and sharing our links on Facebook to help us grow our page and our community!

Again, thank you all for all of your support, and here’s to the next 100 posts!

Rainbow sequined background with two cartoon wine glasses that says to 100 more... cheers! with the spotlight logo in the top right corner.

Outdoor Cèilidh in the Time of Covid

Words by Penny Neef.
Image courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival continues the quest for safe, live performances this fall, while the weather is still cooperative in Hampton Roads. There is a charming Courtyard directly behind the VAF’s Clay and Jay Barr Education Center on Bank Street in downtown Norfolk.

On Saturday, October 10, the VAF and the Virginia International Tattoo will present Courtyard Cèilidh on the outdoor stage in the Courtyard. 

What is a Cèilidh, you might ask? How do you even say it? Cèilidh is pronounced Kay-Lee. It is a traditional Gaelic party that would include poetry, storytelling Celtic music and dancing. It translates from the Old Irish as “companion visit”. There are not a lot of parties and companion visits going on these days, but VAF is able to keep family groups apart, sanitize, limit the number of tickets sold, and provide lots of fresh air to keep it as safe as possible.

Performers will include Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance, US National champion Scottish fiddlers Seán Heely and Colin McGlynn, and Tidewater Pipes and Drums.

Chris Pearcy, the Pipe Major of Tidewater Pipes and Drums calls the Courtyard Cèilidh, a “mini Tattoo”. If you’ve never attended the Virginia International Tattoo in the spring as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, you have missed something spectacular. A Tattoo is a large gathering of military bands. The Virginia International Tattoo brings bands from across the world to Scope Arena each year for the largest Tattoo in North America. 

Here are the Massed Pipes and Drums of the 2019 Tattoo

Pearcy will be bringing 10 bagpipers and 8 drummers to the small stage in the Courtyard. Ten pipers are still a big sound. 

Tidewater Pipes and Drums are one of the original bands of the Virginia International Tattoo. They perform at Scope each year. Pearcy says they love meeting and performing with other pipe bands from around the world. They were disappointed when Covid forced VAF to cancel the Tattoo this year, but the pandemic also made Pearcy’s group “realize how much they missed practicing together and playing together”.

In March, April and May, the band did one-on-one work with technique and expression through Zoom calls. Pearcy is also a professor at ODU, teaching mostly European history to freshmen. He worried at the beginning of the pandemic that the members of Tidewater Pipes and Drums would lose their skills.

By the time June rolled around, the band was “itching to get out there and do something together”. They began practicing outdoors and 6 feet apart. Pearcy was thrilled that “people did not forget how to play.” In fact, they were better than ever. “Covid has been a big rebuilding phase for our group,” Peacy says, “We sound like one great, big bagpipe.” That’s a good thing, if you’re a pipe and drum group.

October 10th will be the group’s first time performing together since St. Patrick’s Day, oh so long ago. Even though the Courtyard Cèilidh will be barely 1/100th of the size of the “big” Tattoo, it will still be great to hear the sounds of the bagpipes, Scottish fiddles and see the high stepping of Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance.

Re-Opening Norfolk – Norfolk City Manager’s Post-COVID Call to Action

Words by Denise Bishop.
Image courtesy of Downtown Norfolk Council.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t remember all of the specifics about when things occurred in Spring 2020. Starting in mid-March, I just have a vague, blurred sense that everything started getting cancelled, one by one, until every demographic felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic spread across the region: office workers, parents & teachers, concert-goers, sports fans. One minute I was working from home, and the next I was heading back to the office as Phase 1 began.

During that time, however- especially the last week of Phase Zero- one group was working around the clock to help reopen one of our cities: OpenNorfolk. As their website states, “OpenNorfolk is a boots-on-the-ground community assistance program through the City of Norfolk that is helping local businesses open safely under The Governor’s Phase 1-3 Guidelines.”

Working with their partners (the City of Norfolk, WPA Architects, Yard & Company, and Team Better Block) and the Downtown Norfolk Council, OpenNorfolk began with an incredible push to assist local restaurants reopen for seating (outdoor only, at the time). City streets and parking spaces were turned into patio seating; free parking was added on Boush Street downtown to offset the loss of metered parking on Granby and to encourage visitors to dine at Norfolk restaurants; and a blanket Letter of Permit was sent to Virginia ABC law enforcement so these new outdoor seating areas could be approved to serve alcohol. This was no small feat: the idea for OpenNorfolk was pitched and approved on May 11. Phase 1 began on May 15. 

Groups of volunteers built patios and parklets, set up bike racks and other partitions to mark outdoor dining areas, stenciled sidewalks (“Do your part keep 6 feet apart”, reads one) and distributed laminated signage to Norfolk restaurants. I should note that, while I heard about this initiative through the Downtown Norfolk Council (I’m a member of the Downtown100 and receive their newsletters), this was city-wide. Ocean View, Riverview, 35th Street, and Ghent were included in the initial push.

In late August, I attended a virtual forum through the Downtown100 with Mel Price from WPA Architects and Norfolk City Planner George Homewood. I was very excited to learn more about OpenNorfolk and the hard work it took to get up and running and how big the project has become. There are now 20,000 square feet of parklets throughout the city. The OpenNorfolk restaurant guide took 60 pages of government rules and turned it into just 3. And with the help of three hired interns from the community and almost $100,000 in volunteer services, three new Neighborhood Spots were envisioned and built in St. Paul’s (partnered with Teens with a Purpose), Five Points (including a Food Bank pantry and pop-up local vendors), and Broad Creek (including mobile haircuts, yoga, and virtual learning workshops with Norfolk Public Schools).

I really enjoyed hearing Price and Homewood talk about the use of rapid implementation in this process. Rather than spend months and years researching and doing market studies, they had to get it out there first and then see what worked. It gave them the opportunity to experiment, to see what could be made permanent. And it also allowed them to be more confident in their successes.

In early September, I attended the Downtown Norfolk Council’s first (virtual) monthly Member Briefing since the pandemic struck in March. The guest speaker was Norfolk’s new City Manager, Dr. Larry H. “Chip” Filer, II. By launching in the smart manner it did that sent a message of safety, Filer said, OpenNorfolk had a clear positive effect on restaurants and retail. The public response has been quite positive, residents and stakeholders are asking if parts of the initiative can become permanent. In addition, Norfolk’s hotel occupancy was strong, leading the 25 largest markets for 8 straight weeks. (More recently, Norfolk/Virginia Beach was the only one of the top 25 markets to exceed 60% occupancy for Labor Day weekend, according to https://www.hotelmanagement.net/operate/str-u-s-occupancy-up-over-labor-day-weekend.) For an urban area, our COVID-19 numbers have been low, and it helps that the city and downtown employers have made a commitment to telework options in order to keep people safe.

Later in the briefing, Filer shared his “Post-COVID-19 Call to Action” plan for Norfolk, a plan with four central points on which to focus once we are able to shift our focus away from COVID-19.

First, we need to create a family-friendly city. With telework on the rise, workers and their families can live anywhere and telework in New York or San Francisco. We want them to live here. In order to attract them, we will need to look into housing development and redevelopment (Is it all multifamily? Is it a mix? Is it single family but urban-feeling?). We will also need to increase walkability, bikeability, and yes even scooter-ability across the entire city, not only downtown. And finally, in order to attract families, we have to provide quality schools.

Second, he would like to create a culture of local business and land ownership across diverse industries. This would involve training and mentoring local business owners across a wide range of industries such as retail, food service, tech, and family/day care as well as training, mentoring, and funding for residents interested in land acquisition and development.

His third focus is to enhance Norfolk’s status as a university town. He referenced Campus 757, which is a talent development initiative of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. Norfolk would need to further embrace its role in the “town and gown” university campus/partner city relationship it has with NSU, ODU, VWU, and TCC. This focus would also include an increase in offerings of arts, culture, and lifelong learning. “I don’t think we’re Boston,” Filer said, “but we can be great.”

Finally, he posits, Norfolk should focus on enhancing its status as an arts and culture hub. We should increase public-sponsored art across the city and invest in and enhance our arts facilities. We should work to attract an arts and culture workforce, the “creative class.”

Filer’s Post-COVID Call to Action is lofty and lengthy, it will not come to fruition without years of planning and hard work, but I’m glad he shared them with us. He seemed so passionate about how much potential Norfolk has to be successful on the other side of the pandemic. It was refreshing to join him dreaming far into the future instead of dreading tomorrow’s COVID numbers.

The next Downtown Norfolk Council (virtual) Member Briefing will be Wednesday, October 7 at 8:30am and will focus on returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Member Briefing is a benefit of Downtown Norfolk Council membership. However, in light of these novel times, the October Member Briefing will be open to non-members at no charge.” You can RSVP here to attend.

Do you have any great ideas to help Norfolk continue to open smoothly? As we transition into autumn, and subsequently winter, what do you want to see added, grown or stopped? Let them know here.

Are you under the age of 40 and live or work in Downtown Norfolk? You could be eligible to join the Downtown100! Visit their website for more information and scroll down for the Membership Application link.

Looking for a specific organization mentioned?
Downtown Norfolk Council: https://www.downtownnorfolk.org/
OpenNorfolk: https://www.opennorfolk.com/
City of Norfolk: https://www.norfolk.gov/
WPA: https://wparch.com/
YARD & Company: https://www.buildwithyard.com/
Team Better Block: https://teambetterblock.com/
OpenNorfok’s photo gallery: https://www.opennorfolk.com/photogallery

Norfolk Botanical Gardens Upcoming Events

Words by Penny Neef.
Images as credited. Feature image courtesy of
Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is my happy place. NBG never closed down in 2020. When the Covid pandemic reared its ugly head in Hampton Roads, NBG took an immediate right turn. They closed down their buildings. They went to online ticket sales with contactless entry. They cut back on hours, but never closed their gates.

The Garden is 175 acres of wide-open space. The flowers kept blooming. The turtles kept basking in the sun. The butterflies kept fluttering. I wrote all about it right here. NBG was my sanctuary the third week of March, when there was so much uncertainty and anxiety.

Well guess what? There is still so much uncertainty and anxiety, more than 6 months later. We’ve all adapted and adjusted, at least most of us. Virginia’s largest Botanical Garden has also adapted and adjusted. It is still my happy place. They’ve opened up the restrooms (thank you). The Marigold & Honey Café is open for limited hours. The Gift Shop is open with limited capacity. Ticket sales are still online. You can read the NBG “Commitment to Safety” here.

The botanical gardens, a statue in the middle of a brick walkway, bushes and plants surrounding it.
Photo courtesy of Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Education is part of the mission of Norfolk Botanical Garden. NBG is offering a number of outdoor classes and other garden experiences, with social distance and safety considerations. There is Sunset Kayaking, outdoor yoga and Garden Walk and Talks, led by the horticultural staff.

There are also indoor classes for both children and adults. The complete calendar of classes and events, including flower arranging, worm composting, digital photography, and water colors are listed here.

It is a great advantage to be a NBG member. Classes and events are discounted for members and there are some members-only events. Information about NBG membership is here.

NBG also celebrates the arts. The Garden is hosting a series of three concerts for members only this fall. Artists from Virginia Opera will perform outdoors in the Garden’s Renaissance Court for an audience limited to 100 members. This is a beautiful area of the Garden that feels like it was transported from a castle in Europe.

The view from under a light up tree at the NBG Lights extravaganza, strings of small green and gold lights come up to a point about center of the image that glows bright white.
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

The Garden Staff are already wrapping the trees with over a million lightbulbs in preparation for the annual Garden of Lights extravaganza. This year it will be online ticket sales and drive-through only. Garden of Lights begins November 13 through January 2, nightly from 5:30 – 10:00. It’s an annual tradition in our family.

The wildly popular Lantern Asia will be back in April, 2021. If you’ve never seen this event? Display? Art installation? Not quite sure what you call it, because it’s all of that and more; it is not to be missed. If you have seen it in past years, it’s worth going again. Lantern Asia grows larger and more innovative every year.

The Asian Lanterns exhibit at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, a lit up whale swims over lit up mushrooms and fish
Photo courtesy of Penny Neef.

There is always something new and different to see at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Something is always blooming, even in the dead of winter. Things are always happening. It is a big wide open, beautiful space, full of fresh air. You can be far away from anyone and enjoy it all. It will soothe your soul, guaranteed.