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Sunset Market at Ix Art Park connects creatives with the Charlottesville community

Against a backdrop of whimsical sculptures and murals, the evening farmer’s market occurs weekly on Thursdays from 5-8pm

Strings of fairy lights twinkle over an open patio dotted with booths where vendors sell stickers, fiber art, woodwork, soaps and handmade jewelry.
Strings of fairy lights twinkle over an open patio dotted with booths where vendors sell stickers, fiber art, woodwork, soaps and handmade jewelry.

An eclectic collection of artwork welcomes visitors to Ix Art Park’s Sunset Market Thursday evenings from May to October. Strings of fairy lights twinkle over an open patio dotted with booths where vendors sell stickers, fiber art, woodwork, soaps and handmade jewelry. 

Now in its second year, the market invites artisans to share their creations, providing a home for local businesses, as well as a place of gathering for students and community members.

“We love students, we welcome students!” Cecile Gorham, market manager of the Sunset Market, said. “I think students would really enjoy [the market] and even maybe be inspired to start a little business if they're not sure exactly what they’re gonna do.”

Aidan McAlister, founder of the alchemically-inspired company Philosophers Tea, has been a regular vendor at Ix Art Park since 2019. For vendors like McAlister, selling at Ix offers “a really wholesome experience” and a chance to meet University students, Charlottesville locals and other artisans.

“A lot of the fun of being at these markets is really getting to speak with and collaborate with other business owners in the area,” McAlister said. 

Open seven days a week to the public, Ix Art Park promotes inclusivity and creativity by making art accessible to everyone in the Charlottesville community. According to the park’s website, Ix Art Park aims to “empower its community” by creating an inviting “safe space” that celebrates creativity.

A collection of unorthodox sculptures, murals and installations greet visitors upon entering the park. A bookshelf made of hardcover books and wooden beams artfully houses a small lending library. Three metal monkeys, all wearing shirts and work boots, sit together on a wooden bench. 

The Sunset Market welcomes veteran vendors and newer artists like McKayLenn Swope, owner of central Virginia-based Black Sheep Creations, who first brought her business to Ix in September. Swope began selling fiber art before expanding to laser-cut woodwork, bookmarks and other uniquely crafted items.

“I've been crocheting since I was a little kid and then started making toys and blankets for my friends that were having babies,” Swope said. “And my husband was like, ‘You should sell your stuff.’”

Sharing and selling art in this whimsical space fosters a sense of community for the artisans of the Sunset Market. Rebecca Belt, owner of The Be Initiative and Class of 2015 alumna, considers the park community a kind of family. The Be Initiative, a line of mindful apparel that emphasizes community engagement and sustainability, sells t-shirts, tank tops and tote bags that Belt screen-prints herself. 

“We know each other,” Belt said. “Sometimes, after the market, we go get a drink or some food. It's a good way to be a part of a community who makes things and engage with the others who come to the market.”

Before founding the business, Belt took studio art courses at Piedmont Community College, later transferring to the University. Now, she prints mindful and encouraging messages on her merchandise, which The Be Initiative sells along with LGBTQ+, Black Lives Matter, animal rights and veganism-themed stickers and buttons.

Running a small art business full-time can be difficult, according to Belt, but community-focused work brings the artist a sense of joy and fulfillment. 

“There’s a reason I do these markets to get the community engagement part of my business — and that’s to talk to people. I want to know people’s stories,” Belt said.

The businesses and artists represented at the Sunset Market have rich stories of their own. Phillip Strauss and Noelle Thompson, artists at PAS Ceramics who bring digital design experience to their pottery, draw on their background as artists at the online retail company CustomInk. PAS Ceramics sells iridescent and earth-toned vases, bowls and mugs featuring linework art of arrowheads, flowers, mushrooms and geometric patterns.

“We deal with Illustrator and Photoshop a lot,” said Thompson, who traces designs in Illustrator before applying underglaze to Strauss’ hand-thrown ceramic pieces.

When it isn’t hosting the Sunset Market, Ix Art Park puts on a number of other art-focused events including a Saturday morning farmers’ market, live performances, art workshops and a summer film series. The park also houses The Looking Glass, Charlottesville’s only immersive art exhibit, which features a walk-through psychedelic forest created by a team of artists.

For anyone looking to connect with the warm, whimsical creatives of the Charlottesville arts scene, the Ix Art Park Sunset Market offers a variety of art made with plenty of heart.


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