Discovering the Heart of Art in C’ville

You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate Charlottesville culture

For those who don’t enjoy perusing paintings and drawings, the Downtown Mall has an abundance of small craft stores and artisan shops, perfect for casual exploring.


Vivian's Arts for a Living

Vivian’s Arts for a Living has a gorgeous array of glass art displaying in its front window. These glass pieces come in all shapes and sizes, from bowls and small trinkets to jewelry young people would actually want to wear. Farther back in the store are handmade clothing and home goods — including silverware, vases, and other miscellaneous items and decorations. For siblings looking to split the cost for a unique Christmas present for Mom, Vivian’s is the perfect place to start.

Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages sells an array of charming crafts from all across the world. This shop is an independent, nonprofit charity, and one of the largest fair trade organizations in the world. It purchases small crafts from disadvantaged artisans, providing them with a decent wage and helping fund affordable housing, education and health care in these areas.

The C’ville Arts Cooperative Gallery

The C’ville Arts Cooperative Gallery, a colorful space where dozens of local artists display and sell their work, showcases the artistic ingenuity of the local area. Its seemingly endless range of items includes every type of handmade craft, jewelry, photography, clothing and more traditional art like paintings and sculptures. Every First Friday it features a special exhibit of new member’s art.

Depending on the store, prices for craft items can be steep on a student budget. But walking through each of them is an experience in itself — and taking a stroll on the Downtown Mall is always a welcome reprieve from studying for finals.

First Amendment monument

While on your artistic trek, when you get tired of window shopping or your wallet grows light, take a stop at the First Amendment monument in front of the nTelos Pavilion. This chalkboard is not “art,” precisely — but it is a tribute to free and creative expression, which is critical to a supportive arts community. Artwork, inspirational quotes, promotions for events, cheesy jokes: it’s all welcome. Yes, even “Jenny + Jane = BFFs 4 lyfe.”

IX Art Park

Another community chalkboard is located at IX Art Park, less than a half-mile from the Downtown Mall. The board has the repeating sentence, “Before I die, I want to _____.” Visitors are encouraged to fill in the space with their dreams and goals. It is clear Charlottesville has some lofty aspirations: one person wants to “do culinary travel all over the world,” one wants to “kiss an elephant,” and one aspires to “be Batman.”

Artists and non-artists alike will appreciate the park's industrial and rustic atmosphere. Located behind an old warehouse, the work-in-progress area seeks to connect the community through public art, urban gardens, and community workshops and kitchens. The space has been filled with artwork created by artist-led citizen teams — school groups and graffiti murals spread across the entire back wall of the warehouse, ranging in style from realism to abstract to surrealism.

The rest of the space is filled with unique sculptures, showcasing everything from a metal head to an igloo of tree branches. Throughout the year, the park holds a wide range of events, such as concerts, social mixers and movie screenings, making it the perfect unconventional hang out spot for any student or community member.

McGuffey Art Center

Finally, one of the most under-appreciated gems of the Charlottesville visual arts scene is the McGuffey Art Center. Only a block from the Downtown Mall, the Center holds a goldmine of artistic opportunities. Three galleries feature the work of local and Virginia artists; one currently displays the artwork of University fourth years. The MAC offers classes and workshops to anyone, from modern Michelangelos to the guy who draws stick figures in the margin of his notebooks.

The Center's greatest asset is its artists in residence program, which allows visitors to watch and talk with artists at work. Visiting these open studios is ideal for aspiring artists to connect to professionals and seek advice. But this opportunity can also be an interesting experience for non-artists; you don’t have to know the difference between neoclassical and baroque art to talk to a Charlottesville artist about their work. Simply speaking to the artist can help curious Charlottesville residents understand the artist’s perspective — and maybe even begin to appreciate it.

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