NEON Arts District Pumps New Life into Downtown Norfolk

Bright colors have changed the landscape in the new NEON Arts District in Downtown Norfolk.

Dozens of artists have contributed to more than 20 projects between the Chrysler Museum and Granby Street. The work will be showcased Oct. 15-16 during the NEON Festival.

“It’s a celebration of the public art and all the beautiful things that our local artists have made for the city,” said Jesse Scaccia.

Scaccia and co-founder Charlotte Potter say they had a dream three years ago for a district that better connected the downtown area to the Ghent neighborhood. Since then, they have worked to bring the art and culture alive.

“We wanted to just bring a little bit of color and light to it and make it feel a little bit enchanted,” said Potter.

The say they have already seen the impact of the artwork. In recent months, Potter says there’s been increased foot traffic and new businesses are opening up shop.

“It used to sort of be this area where you wouldn’t really see that many people, certainly pedestrians walking around,” said Potter. “Now, it’s become this destination.”

NEON, which stands for New Energy of Norfolk, is the name for the district, but it also represents the inert gas that is incorporated into a number of the murals that come alive with light at night.

The organizers say it has been their goal to make the district inviting, while also setting it apart from other art districts around the state and nation.

“As you drive in, you immediately notice the streets are different, the buildings are different, the light poles are different and everything starts to feel more artful and alive,” said Potter.

Organizers hope the upcoming festival will give people a look at their progress in rebuilding an area that can both inspire and bring people of all ages and classes together in one space.

“I really think about that kid who’s growing up in Norfolk that needs a little inspiration, who maybe commutes on this road and is tired or sad after a long day and gets to see [the art] and get their hopes raised,” said Scaccia.

The Downtown Norfolk Council invested $30,000 into the project, according to Potter, who says the effort has been low-budget thanks to the dozens of volunteers.