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Del Ray Art Project Invites Passersby to “Soar”

We heard about a cool art project happening in our city, and wanted to share it with you:

“This is humanity here,” Nancy Belmont says, gesturing toward thousands of stones piled next to the sidewalk here in Del Ray. The stones below are painted with words and phrases like “guilt,” “self-doubt,” “perfection,” and “anxiety.”

As part of her latest community art installation under the #WeLiveBig project, Belmont has been inviting people to write their burdens on these stones. After feeling the weight of the stone, they symbolically leave it behind, and put up an origami bird.

“Feel the lightness created by letting go and hang a bird to symbolize your freedom,” the sign for Soar instructs. The initial batch of 1,000 birds lasted only three days, and the stones keep running out too — the wheelbarrows are almost empty. In other words, there’s been a huge response to the project. Soar began June 1 and runs through June 24, when community members are invited to help close out the project (details below).

Art in the community

For Belmont — who runs a business in leadership development and culture-building — calling herself an artist is still difficult.

“I don’t consider myself an artist in the traditional sense,” Belmont says. Nevertheless, this is the latest successful art project she’s helmed. It started with Courage Wall, a chalkboard where participants could finish the thought, “I wish I had the courage to…”

Courage Wall, and another project called Unity (below), have spread to other communities.

Soar was inspired in part by the film The Way, about pilgrims who carry a rock with them on their journey. Similarly, the stones in Soar symbolize people’s burdens, and show that people don’t carry those burdens alone, Belmont says.

“This is humanity here.”

Like the #WeLiveBig projects before it, Soar was inspired by messages that Belmont heard over and over in her work: shared sentiments about courage and fear that she wanted to address on a large scale. “My job is to listen,” she says.

Tips for artists

For artists who may be interested in pursuing a public art project, Belmont has some helpful tips:

  • Location: Finding space is the biggest obstacle, she says. And using public land means jumping through a lot of hoops and planning up to a year in advance. For that reason, Belmont has been lucky to have an empty lot she can use. She recommends approaching property owners to see if they’d be open to letting you use their space.
  • Funding: Belmont used GoFundMe to pay for materials for her most recent two projects.
  • Testing: Test your materials beforehand for durability, weatherproofing, etc.
  • Maintenance: Things will need fixing on a regular basis. Also, if your project invites public comment like this one does, you’ll want to check on it daily (or more) for inappropriate messages and drawings.
  • Interactivity: Making projects accessible to the public, and to kids in particular, is important to Belmont. In addition, she’s found that including a kinetic or physical aspect to the interaction (e.g. lifting and replacing a stone) makes it more impactful.
  • Branding: Have one title for your project that you use consistently. Also, make it Instagrammable, and suggest a hashtag so people will share it!

Bringing Soar to a close

This Saturday, June 24, will mark the close of the Soar installation. At Well Ray, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, you’ll be able to find Nancy at a painting station. You’re invited to find a rock, marked with a problem you identify with, and paint over it, turning pain into beauty. Then, you can take home the rock you’ve painted.

You can find Soar on the 2200 block of Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, VA through June 24, 2017. (You can’t miss it — just look for the orange and pink birds.)

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