By Dan Verner
Time was that Prince William residents had to go to Washington, D.C., or New York City to experience world-class singers, orchestras, visual artists, photography exhibits, ballet companies, writers, films and dramas.
But no more. Ever since it opened in April 2010, the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the Prince William Campus of George Mason University has brought those kinds of experiences to local residents, making it a regional center for the arts. And nowhere will these manifestations be more evident on one day than with the sixth annual Arts Alive! event, presented this year on Sunday, Sept. 17 from 1:00 – 4:00 p. m.
Amelia May, chair of the Prince William County Arts Council, which sponsors the event, said, “Arts Alive! is the Prince William County Arts Council’s cornerstone event. It features the best of our greater county’s song, instrumental, dance, written word and visual artistic expression. Our citizen arts groups, from quilting to comedy, come together in one afternoon on various stages, indoors and out, to give a sampling of their talents. Most important, it is a showcase accessible to residents of Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park, of all ages. This is the time and place where kids, retirees, non-artists and creative types alike get inspired and find a new outlet for artistic energy!”
Celebrating the Arts—Prince William Style
Hylton Center Executive Director and Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason, Rick Davis, the man who, along with his staff, is responsible for all the events at the Hylton, noted, “‘Arts Alive!’ is a celebration of the power of the arts to bring people together. Every year we see folks, who came for a performance by a group they already knew, getting excited by a new ensemble and spending time with the visual artists and vendors.”
There’s no charge to attend, and visitors will be able to watch the Manassas Ballet perform, listen to the Manassas Chorale sing songs from its extensive repertoire, and be thrilled and charmed by the Manassas
Symphony Orchestra. Outside Merchant Hall, visitors will enjoy the art and craft of photographers, the work of visual artists from the Manassas Art Guild and poems and stories by local writers as well have the opportunity to peruse their books and perhaps buy one. The Prince William Little Theater will present scenes from recent plays in the Gregory Family Theater, while local performing groups will use an outdoor stage for their acts as children take part in nearby activities designed just for them.
Davis said, “Every year we see hundreds of kids getting what may be their first concentrated experience of the full variety that the regional arts scene has to offer.” Furthermore, visitors will enjoy hands-on outdoor activities and demonstrations and take advantage of food and craft vendors, who will be plying their trades and wares. And all this is only some of what will be available.
As for the people who produce these works, Davis said, “Every year we see members of the arts community meeting each other for the first time.” A number of innovative ideas and projects have
sprung from these meetings.
May said, “Over the years, the event has grown to incorporate so many diverse performance groups and efforts consolidated within the campus of the Hylton—all of the arts, at one time, in one place.” Davis sees “a growing sense of collaboration among the arts groups, the arts council, the sponsors, the vendors and the Hylton Center [which makes for] a better experience for the visitors. We’ve experimented with the date, the duration and the location of the various activities, and we’ve learned from each year’s
experience.” In recent years, the festival has moved from May, where it competed with the Manassas Air Show, to its present Sunday in September. The event has also seen more of a balance between performing and other groups as well.
What of the future of Arts Alive? May added, “I have a background in the visual arts, so I would like to see even more hands-on experience with our gifted local painters, photographers and crafters. For example, we have featured ‘petting zoos’ of musical instruments. Why not produce a mural throughout the course of the afternoon that can then be displayed in one of our beautiful county government buildings until the next Arts Alive?”
Engage with the Arts Now
As for the future, Davis thinks it’s bright: “As the community continues to grow, and as more artistic activity continues to emerge, I can imagine a time when Arts Alive! goes on into the evening hours or even becomes a whole weekend festival.”
May agreed. “We have a vibrant wealth of arts in greater Prince William County, and I foresee increasing collaboration between the arts as our member groups are already pursuing a crossdisciplinary
approach in their programs and performances. It is an exciting time to engage in the arts in our community!”
“For now,” Davis concluded, “it’s a beautiful representation of the diversity and vitality of our region. All these things make Arts Alive! an indispensable asset to the community.”
And here’s one more prediction: The artists of Prince William County, Rick Davis and the Hylton staff, and Amelia May, along with the Prince William County Arts Council, will continue to provide that beauty, inspiration and energy to the region and beyond.
Dan Verner ([email protected]) is the author of several books (danverner.com) and was named “Best Writer in Prince William County (Virginia)” for 2014 and 2015 by readers in a “Best of Prince William” poll taken by Prince William Today.