Creating art is the kind of act that is talked about in hushed tones, with artists typically sequestered to studies, studios, or set upon a stage. But on September 22, for the seventh consecutive year, Fredericksburg artists will descend upon the downtown streets for the Art Attack Project, pulling back the curtain on their creative process.
Co-founder Gabriel Pons has created some of his own work during his “tours of duty” at the event: he has cut paper stencils, painted skateboards, and painted al fresco with acrylics on Caroline Street side-by-side with his compatriots in art.
All artist are welcome, though registration is suggested before the event. It’s important to note that “artist” isn’t just restricted to painter or sculptor. According to Pons, several belly dancers, performance artists, and street dancers have participated in years past. Starting at 10 AM, artists check in with the organizers, pick a spot on the sidewalk and get to work, usually winding down around 4 PM.
Pons said the energy, which he describes as, “10 percent nerves, 50 percent bravado, and 40 percent elation,” does more than even the increased foot traffic density to transform the atmosphere downtown. “Artists at heart want to perform their craft, and doing it in public brings an additional element of performance and exhibitionism that can take the creative experience in new directions,” he said.
Each year, the event has grown incrementally. The inaugural event garnered around 65 artists. Last year, there were 200 participants; this year, they hope to top that number. For Pons, “It’s a testament to that idea of ‘Build it and they will come.’ Meaning that, as long as we provide a platform for artists, they’ll step up to the challenge.”
Solidarity between artists was the impetus for the event’s founding by Pons and Bill Harris, a local painter and fellow co-founder local. However, it has been the positive interactions with the community that keeps things rolling year after year. “Instead of being consolidated in a park or field, artists are integrated with the city streets—forcing interaction and serendipity with pedestrians,” Pons said.
Harris describes Art Attack “like a day at the beach—you pack a lunch and water and fill a cart with your supplies, choose a spot that you like, set up and start working. It’s an event to see and be seen, but also to share and communicate with people that may not typically stroll through a gallery.”
From his perch at the brick-and-mortar Ponshop Studio & Gallery—positioned on one of the main streets of the event—Pons hears throughout the year about the spectacle of Art Attack and how locals look forward to seeing the artists at work.
Pons believes Art Attack has the potential to be replicated in any city. In fact, there have been Art Attack events for the past several years in Charlottesville during the Tom Tom Founder’s Festival.
But Fredericksburg has the critical mass of artists and art lovers that makes it work. The vibrant art community is visible in the number of artists who participate and the people who flock to the thoroughfare to watch them work.
“Many art festivals are simply temporary storefronts, where people browse finished and framed works of art. What makes our event different is that you see what happens behind the curtain—and the most exciting thing is seeing how that work develops throughout the day,” Pons said.
New for this year's festivities, a block party concert will be held immediately following the traditional Artist Reception. It will be hosted by Sammy T’s Restaurant at 801 Caroline Street, with the adjoining portion of Hanover Street to be closed off to form a beer garden and concert arena.
Elby Brass will headline the party at 8:30 PM, supported by Cabin Creek at 7 PM. The block party has free admission, no age restrictions, and is open to the public. Beer and food tickets will be available.
Sammy T’s co-owner Al Littek said the event is one that speaks to the heart of his restaurant. He held a similar celebration in Fairview Beach for years, but more than that connection, the eatery has a focus on artists, displaying and selling artwork by local visual artists that rotate on a monthly basis. “It gets art out in the community,” he said.
Plus, Sammy T’s has its own artist in the form of chef James Day. The plate is his canvas.
Littek hopes to make the party just as much a fixture as Art Attack has become each September, something the community can count on viewing as the weather turns cool and the artists turn out.
Art Attack Fredericksburg will take place from 10 AM–4 PM on Saturday, September 22. The block party concert will follow at Sammy T’s Restaurant (801 Caroline Street) from 7–10 PM. All events are free and open to the public. To participate as an artist, register at artattackproject.com.
Photography by Aaron Spicer