Creative Explosion

Minds Wide Open is a statewide extravaganza aimed at promoting the arts. With more than 630 separate events, there is plenty to see.

At the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, two plays by women writers will keep the footlights burning in June. The Suffolk Museum and the Suffolk Art League have assembled a show called “Vibrant Spirits: The Art of Crones and Innocents.” Northern Virginia’s Filene Center at Wolf Trap will bring in big acts such as Sheryl Crow and Pat Benatar.

Does anyone detect a theme here? If not, there are another 550 or so events we could point to throughout the commonwealth between early March and the end of June, all attached to a statewide program called Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts.

Peggy Baggett, executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts and steering committee member for Minds Wide Open, was there when the plan hatched. In the fall of 2006, she says, the VCA board “began talking about the need to encourage major arts organizations to take more leadership on behalf of all the arts.” Thus ensued a series of round-table meetings of representatives from the state’s 23 most powerful arts organizations: the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Opera, the Wolf Trap Foundation and the like. Early on, in spring 2007, conversations turned to how to create more public visibility for the arts industry as a whole. They based their plan on the truth that there’s strength in numbers. “The general thinking was we’ll pick a time period, we’ll pick a theme, we’ll encourage organizations to put together one event that fits,” says Baggett. “My goal was to have 400 different events. We’ve passed 555. New ones are being added to the calendar every day.” At press time, between multiple performances or days of exhibition, there are more than 8.300 opportunities to see a Minds Wide Open event [updated]. The group has exceeded its $375,000 fund-raising goal of both cash and in-kind contributions. All of Virginia’s living first ladies are honorary chairs, from Katherine Godwin to Maureen McDonnell.

In addition to raising the visibility of the arts in Virginia, Baggett says an equally important goal was “to build more collaboration within the arts and cultural community.” Indeed, the whole program has become a statewide collaboration among some 250 organizations. “One thing that’s been nice is that we also invited the history museums to join in, libraries, churches. The size and scope of the partnerships have exceeded the expectation of anyone at that first meeting. We all look at one another and say, can you believe this?”

To find Minds Wide Open events, or to enter its Ovation Vacation sweepstakes, visit VaMindsWideOpen.org. The next celebration, planned for 2012, will be Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Children and the Arts.

christine ennulat
Virginia Living’s Associate Editor
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Star Gazing and Laser Nights

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