Collaborative art project gives new life beneath bridge

Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 6:04 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A ride on the Roanoke River Greenway sounds and looks a little different these days.

“So that’s my dream, just to see more and more people out in all the parks doing their yoga or tai chi or picnics,” artist Polly Branch said.

Branch is one of the artists working to make that dream a reality under the Memorial Bridge.

She’s restoring a historic sandbox that was built there decades ago.

“It’s been fun because a number of people stopped by to say that they used to play on the playground here and in the sandbox, and are excited to see it come alive again,” Branch said.

The sandbox restoration is only one leg of a collaborative art project called Arches.

“These projects are really a way for us to put our fingerprint on the world around us,” Roanoke’s Arts and Culture Coordinator Douglas Jackson said.

The spot under the bridge has traditionally been a target for graffiti, Jackson said. So, about a year ago the city turned to its neighbors to brainstorm ways to make it a more welcoming space.

“We brought four neighborhoods together last year and said what do you want to do with this space. And they said can we make it a gathering space? Can we celebrate the diversity of the greenway and the diversity of our neighborhoods in the city?” Jackson said.

The bridge’s concrete footers are now transforming into a colorful community of its own.

“You get to just see faces too just lighting up. And that’s what we try to do as artists, all the time to get people’s attention to evoke some feeling, some emotion,” Artist Dan Kuehl said.

Kuehl teaches at Patrick Henry High School. His students have been a part of the project since the beginning and now they are helping bring their ideas to life.

“It’s crazy to see what it’s become because it all used to be just gray and now it is all nice and colorful,” Hannah Cundiff, a soon-to-be sophomore at Patrick Henry, said.

And once everything is complete, the Virginia Children’s Theatre will host performances in this space every Saturday in September at 11 a.m.

Until then, the artists will keep working to make this part of the Star City shine just that little bit brighter.

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