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A Feast for the Eyes

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2008

For many, art on the beach is at best a forced marriage, at worst a union whose spawn looks like the infamous overstuffed boardwalk kitsch palaces that are more arcades than art galleries.

But consider the Virginia Beach Boardwalk Art Show and Festival. In its 53rd year, the annual four-day event offers a genteel Southern alternative to the sensory overload of the typical seaside poster and print shop. Did I say genteel?

One of the largest outdoor festivals of its kind, the Virginia Beach show runs along the city's boardwalk from 17th Street to 32nd Street. It may be a juried affair (meaning that participating artists must be vetted by a panel of experts, with many returning year after year), but it's hardly sedate.

Watercolorist Vonnie Whitworth, a 37-year veteran of the festival with a following that extends from the Washington area to North Carolina, describes the vibe as "almost like a reunion every year." Two of the artist's D.C. area fans plan their vacations around the show, says Whitworth, a regular exhibitor at the Alexandria Festival of the Arts in Old Town each September.

The partylike atmosphere includes a mix of food vendors during the day and outdoor concerts at night after the artists close up shop. Coming from as far away as Israel and Mexico, Canada and California this year, the artists will offer a lively blend of abstract and representational painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, pottery, glass, wood, fiber art, jewelry and even furniture. All of it is for sale.

According to festival director Tiffany Russell, one of the things that elevates the event above other beach art fairs is its pedigree. Organized by the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, a Virginia Beach institution known for its adventurous indoor programming, the festival, Russell says, "lives up to and exceeds" what she calls the museum's "extremely high standards."

She also notes that first-time visitors just might be surprised to discover that, along with the traditional watercolors and nature paintings, there is work that's a little more forward-thinking. "I feel very confident inviting someone who may not be that comfortable with the idea of a contemporary art show on the beach," Russell says. "They'll get a great education here and maybe open their minds."

DATES June 12-15.

HOURS June 12 from 9 to 6, June 13-14 from 10 to 6, June 15 from 10 to 5.

CONCERT SCHEDULE Power Play (June 12 from 6 to 10); Butter (June 13 from 6:30 to 10:30); Snackbar Jones (June 14 from 6:30 to 10:30). Concerts on the boardwalk at 24th Street.

INFO 757-425-0000, Ext. 0.

http://www.cacv.org.

ADMISSION Free.

Other nearby beach art festivals include:

ARTS ALIVE

WHERE Northside Park, 127th Street and the bay, Ocean City.

WHEN June 21 from 9 to 6, June 22 from 9 to 5.

INFO 800-626-2326,http://www.ococean.com.

ADMISSION Free.

REHOBOTH ART LEAGUE OUTDOOR FINE ART AND FINE CRAFT EXHIBIT

WHERE Rehoboth Art League,

12 Dodds Lane, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

WHEN Aug. 9-10 and Aug. 16-17 from 10 to 5.

INFO 302-227-8408.http://www.rehobothartleague.org/photos_outdoorShow.htm.

ADMISSION Free.

BETHANY BEACH BOARDWALK ARTS FESTIVAL

WHERE Bethany Beach boardwalk at Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, Del.

WHEN Sept. 6 from 10 to 5.

INFO 800-962-7873.http://www.bethany-fenwick.org/artsfestival.htm.

ADMISSION Free.

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