By Bob Young
Public art is just beginning to get the attention it deserves in Falls Church, a sign to me that the City is maturing in its two-decades-long effort to redevelop.
While it is a well-known fact — supported by a great deal of data — that public art is an important component of economic development, other needs in the City have long been the focus of attention. Central to that focus have been our public schools, the renovation of City Hall and the Mary Styles Library, expanding and maintaining parks and, only lately, affordable housing.
Where a jurisdiction decides to devote its resources, whether they be in the annual budget, the pursuit of grants, or negotiating Voluntary Concessions with developers, the result is the same: those choices are a reflection of our community’s values and what we deem important.
The long, difficult, and expensive effort by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to develop Mr. Brown’s Park, including its wonderful mural, layout, and landscaping, is a prime example of public art at its best.
The leadership of Mike Novotney and the unrelenting efforts of Jim Snyder and Becky Witsman were major factors in that very significant accomplishment.
That mural, in turn, provided the inspiration for the mural recently completed on the north wall of the Southgate Shopping Center on East Fairfax St., across from the Falls Church (Episcopal).
This mural, which was recently completed by Bryan King and his assistant Kim Ciccarelli ([email protected]), to my mind has multiple purposes.
First and foremost, I’ve searched over the past year for a way to memorialize — and thank for their service and deep friendship — Barb Cram and Dan Sze, consummate civic volunteers, who over many, many years accomplished much and inspired even more in all of us to try to emulate their example.
Also pictured is Danna Lippman, daughter of my very good friend and civic activist, Hal Lippman. Danna’s presence is intended to represent those in our community with intellectual disabilities and the more welcoming and inclusive community we have become over the years.
Against the backdrop of the play equipment in Big Chimney’s Park, a number of adults and children are depicted, intended to suggest an aspirational vision of a future Falls Church population that is far more diverse than currently is the case. Black and White, Asian and Indian and LBGTQ+,and everything in between, all are and should be welcome.
That is a goal I know I share with many, many of my fellow Falls Church citizens and one which I hope we all will continue to pursue.
The quote from Maya Angelou I thought was a fitting sentiment for the mural.
At the most general level, the mural is intended to represent and, indeed, inspire a more diverse City of Falls Church which though not yet achieved is a goal many hope we can realize sooner rather than later.
To accomplish this goal will require many kinds of efforts, from increased affordable housing of all kinds, to support for minority businesses, to needed zoning changes, and much more.
And, in all these endeavors, art in our public spaces from many sources and taking many forms can play an important part.
I’m thinking, for example, that every new development in the City, large and small, should include some type of public art.
I’m hoping that with the help of CATCH, Falls Church Arts, the Arts and Humanities Council and other community groups and organizations, and — yes — the development community as well, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) and the City Council will provide funding to create new works of art in public spaces all over the City.
Relatively speaking, it won’t take much to make a very big difference. Falls Church may be a small City but it has a longstanding record of accomplishing things seemingly way beyond its small size and population.
If the collective will of our citizens is strong enough, public art can be an inherent part of bringing about sustainable, positive change in Falls Church in the years to come.
Bob Young is the chair of the City of Falls Church’s Economic Development Authority and is also a local businessman