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Public art projects have become a popular way for local companies to expose themselves to tourists and to change the landscape of a familiar destination.
The city’s storage lot near the convention center is usually a drab plot of dusty gravel and withered grass occupied by rows of spare bleachers and surplus trash cans.
But it came alive with a splash of color — “center stage” green and “resonant” blue, to be exact — as a team of artists transformed a plain white lifeguard stand and storage box stowed there into works of art.
By May 23, the fixtures — decorated with a psychedelic design of neon green melting into bright blue — were ready for their Oceanfront debut, the newest installments of the city’s inaugural Project LifeguART to hit the beach.
The effort, led by local company Strategic Art Solutions, envisions turning all of the Oceanfront’s 83 lifeguard stands and beach chair storage boxes into art displays. The hope was to have them all made over for the start of the summer tourism season, but difficulties securing a corporate sponsor delayed the launch.
Bobby Levin, co-founder of Strategic Art Solutions, said he first brought the idea to the Resort Advisory Commission in early 2013. The City Council gave its OK on April 8.
That didn’t leave enough time for a corporate sponsor to come up with the $1 million asking price to finance the project for the 2014 and 2015 tourist seasons, Levin said. Instead, he had to parse out this year’s sponsorship to local companies at $2,750 for one fixture or $5,000 for two.
As of May 23, just two companies had signed on, but Levin said several more are in the pipeline.
The Meridian Group, an advertising and public relations firm, was the first to step up. It sponsored a stand and box and had members of its creative design team execute the psychedelic design that appeared on the beach at 29th Street.
It was inspired by the city’s sweltering summers, Meridian graphic designer Melissa Williams said.
“When summer comes in Virginia Beach, it’s so hot you feel like you’re melting,” she said, paintbrush in hand. “It’s kind of a play off how hot it is.”
Sunsations, the owner of several Oceanfront gift shops, was next. It chose to sponsor the project’s prototype storage box, painted with a beach scene by artist Sam Welty. It is on display with its matching lifeguard stand, which still needs a sponsor, on the beach at 32nd Street.
Even though sponsorships have been a little slow coming, Levin said he’s optimistic.
And he’s excited about the project’s newest development: the creation of a “pop-up art park” to display some of the fixtures when the tourist season ends. It is planned for a small plot of city-owned land at 19th Street and Parks Avenue near the convention center, where locals and visitors alike will be able to appreciate the artwork throughout the fall, winter and spring, Levin said.
He said more than 75 artists like those from Meridian have expressed interest in participating. The hope is to make the display an annual affair, the first of its kind for the city.
“Virginia Beach, it needs this,” Meridian’s Williams said. “It needs an element of fun.”
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