What Lies Within

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by Dan Verner

For years, Tacketts Mill Shopping Center located on Old Bridge Road on the way to Route 95, has looked like an ordinary suburban shopping center with a typical mix of chain stores and small businesses. But down on the lower level, behind and beneath the stores, near the lake, a dedicated group of artists and visionaries are transforming the place.

The long-term effort will make former offices by the lake into a prime venue that will be a catalyst for the arts not only in eastern Prince William, but also throughout the region.

Georgia Lilly Frost  at the Clearbrook Center of the Arts

Georgia Lilly Frost at the Clearbrook Center of the Arts

The changes began a year ago when visionaries on the team that oversees Tacketts Mill Center, LLC. They formed an informal partnership with The Clearbrook Foundation, a non-profit underwriting the Clearbrook Center of the Arts, nearly 5,500 square feet of gallery space at the lakeside level of Tackett’s Mill (currently seen by appointment only). Their mission statement reads, “The Clearbrook Foundation is an initiative to promote and conduct artistic and educational activities in the eastern end of Prince William County, Virginia, and the public appreciation of these activities in both public and private venues, including the Tackett’s Mill Center.” In light of this, they foresaw creation of a comfortable and stimulating Main Street environment which will encourage artists and creativity and provide a venue for music, visual arts, photography, literature, dance, theater and culinary arts.

So far the Foundation has funded the Poets Laureate positions in conjunction with local writers group Write by the Rails and the Prince William Council for the Arts, as well as hosting the ceremony that crowned the Laureates.  In partnership with Tackett’s Mill, they will host their Second Annual ‘Poetry and Jazz’ event this summer.

But wait. There’s more.

Clearbrook is also sponsoring an innovative “bench project.” After Eagle Scout candidate Sean Zylich of Troop 295 created a number of benches on which to display art, the Lake Ridge Rotary Club stepped in and took the project on as a fund raiser. Each bench will feature a visual artist from among other places, the Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus art department. These artists will work with a local business or individual to develop a design for the business. While bench sponsors do not own the bench, they do have a say in the design and will have their names listed on the bench along with that of the artist.

The Foundation hopes that people who buy the benches will display them outside their businesses or in other public places and use them to bring art to the people of the eastern end of Prince William County. Other Eagle Scout candidates can work on future bench projects, making the initiative an ongoing project. Clearbrook Foundation envisions art spilling out of the Center of the Arts, out of Tackett’s Mill and into the surrounding community.

The artist whose bench goes for the highest bid wins. In addition, the Rotary can also decide which is best and representatives from NOVA will select the best student artists. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rotary’s community projects, help support the artists and enable Clearbrook to continue to support the arts.

Frederick Markham, Associate Professor of Art and Assistant Dean of Arts and Humanities at NOVA noted that “The Bench Project is a wonderful experiential learning opportunity for the students as they have a chance to work with local business to develop themes and images for public art.  This is the same is the same kind of experience they would have as a professional when working with a patron or client and as a result is an important part of a young artist’s education.  We hope that this collaboration between Clearbrook and NOVA will not only give the community some interesting and useful art projects to talk about, but help recognize NOVA’s small but thriving art community and some of the amazing work its students make.”

According to a Foundation official, this initiative is a win-win: the artist gains experience and exposure, while the community sees the business or individual as a patron of the arts, benefiting both the business and the community. The galleries will attract both professional artists and patrons to works in progress, and allow commercial businesses to support artists and their work.

The Center also hosts resident artists, including Nick Zimbro, who paints and creates collages in the Community Garden space using the entire wall space to transform the structure itself into a walk-in work of art.   In addition, renowned sculptor Ken Faraoni, known for his larger than life bronze sculptures, has recently relocated to Tackett’s Mill to create commissioned works and to contribute to the Community Garden project.

Tacketts Mill may look like just another suburban shopping center. But it’s not. Down by the lake, out of sight, some beautiful changes are taking place.

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