When you blend together a diverse group of graffiti artists, a massive canvas stretching 100 feet in width and 20 feet in height, and a touch of entrepreneurial spirit, you get the Second Annual Virginia Street Art Festival in Waynesboro, Virginia.
This vibrant festival, which brought together numerous local artists, wrapped up its festivities at the end of August, and the response was truly remarkable. Attendees were treated to a wide range of entertainment options, including delectable food trucks, live musical performances, an extensive selection of craft beers, and engaging activities for children. However, the true star of the event was muralist Nils Westergard and his fellow artists, who breathed life and color into an otherwise drab industrial building in Basic City.
Ian MacRae, the founder and owner of the IT company E-N Computers (pictured in the top right corner), is a proud native of Waynesboro who generously sponsored this event. Over time, MacRae has developed a deep connection with street art across Virginia. His fascination was initially sparked when he witnessed the creation of the FreeWall in Charlottesville.
“It’s a wall where anyone can paint, and it primarily attracted graffiti artists. I had the chance to meet many of the talented individuals there,” shared MacCrae.
Many of these artists would make the journey up to Charlottesville to express their creativity on a wall situated at the base of the Avon Street Bridge.
“What I found particularly intriguing was that their artwork would often be painted over almost immediately,” shared MacRae. “On a nice weekend, someone would come along and replace it the very next day. Occasionally, the truly exceptional pieces would linger for about a month, becoming integral parts of the evolving canvas.”
This inspiration struck MacRae after 16 years of running his own business. He decided to purchase a rather nondescript gray building located in Waynesboro’s Basic City neighborhood. He then extended an invitation to some of the artists he had befriended in Charlottesville, asking them to join him in the transformative journey ahead.
He’s displayed his craft over all the world including London, Graz, and Amsterdam and painted in many festivals before, but was the headliner for the 2nd Virginia Street Art Festival, working with a 100 foot wide and 20 foot-tall canvas.
“By default my piece stands out more because it’s basically one of the bigger ones, there’s a lot of graffiti stuff which is nice, but for this kind of style, I’m close to the only thing,” he said. “This has to be the biggest one in Waynesboro that’s painted because there’s not much painted in Waynesboro.”
Westergard said he was a little worried at first and there was some chatter about a certain part of his piece, which he says depicts a friend of his named Emily.
On that same day, a dozen artists embarked on the journey of painting a massive 90-foot wall, while MacCrae’s neighbor was hosting a birthday party for his daughter. As the artists expressed their creativity and the birthday party filled the air with music, these two distinct atmospheres began to intermingle and blend.
“It just felt incredibly uplifting, a truly fantastic atmosphere,” remarked MacCrae. “I thought to myself, this is unusual but it’s working exceptionally well. And that’s when the idea of turning it into a festival struck me. So, later that summer in August of 2015, that’s exactly what we did.”
Among the artists MacRae reached out to was Nils Westergard, who had the distinction of being the first RVA artist to join the Richmond Mural Project in 2015.
“He [MacRae] was determined to bring the kind of attention that Richmond was getting to Waynesboro, to introduce something fresh here,” Westergard noted. “He believed that my work would add a unique touch to the mix.”
Westergard is well-known in RVA for his numerous murals, including “Girl with Phone” near Belmont and Patterson, the Lombardy and Floyd piece titled “Within,” and “Icarus Fallen” behind 821 Cafe off of Cary Street. He has showcased his artistry worldwide, from London to Graz and Amsterdam, and has participated in various festivals. However, for the Second Virginia Street Art Festival, he took center stage, working on a massive canvas spanning 100 feet in width and 20 feet in height.
“By default, my piece stands out because it’s one of the largest, and while there’s plenty of graffiti art, I’m one of the few in this particular style,” he shared. “This could very well be the largest piece in Waynesboro, as there isn’t much painted here.”
Initially, Westergard had some concerns, particularly regarding a specific part of his artwork, which depicted a friend named Emily.
“The organizers suggested that we should probably exclude this nipple,” he chuckled. “I was constantly asking people, ‘Will Waynesboro be offended if I include this nipple?’ And the consensus was ‘yes, but we love it.'”
MacRae was initially worried about potential fines from the city council but ultimately chose to leave it in the painting.
Interestingly, some members of Waynesboro’s city council were volunteering at the festival. Westergard revealed that MacCrae was hopeful they would play a role in its continued growth.
“He’s actively trying to get the city to invest more in this and provide support,” he added.
Peter, a resident of Waynesboro and an artist who attended the festival, expressed how it had brought a fresh vitality to the city.
“It’s truly inspiring to witness this event come to town and take over these walls, revitalizing this part of the city,” he remarked. “Basic City wasn’t particularly well-known, but now we even have people from the country club coming by to admire these murals, and that’s pretty cool.”
MacRae’s original vision for the festival was indeed taking shape.
“I aimed to connect the industrial ambiance with the art scene,” he explained. “I wanted the residents to appreciate the urban infrastructure we have here and celebrate the artistry.”
The local music industry also had its moment in the spotlight during this festival.
“From a personal perspective, I find it gratifying to witness this progression,” shared Lady Taij, a local hip-hop artist. “In terms of the music scene, we are the music scene. We’re shaping it and building it.”
With artists specializing in various mediums coming together, they all united to express their passions.
“Whether you’re a music artist or a painter, we can all appreciate each other’s talent, and we all need one another in some way,” Taij affirmed.
MacCrae expressed his appreciation for Richmond and its burgeoning mural project, which served as another source of inspiration for his creation.
“I’ve seen how Richmond has transformed itself through the art scene,” he reflected. “Just as you’ve done in Richmond with the mural project, my goal is to keep enhancing the quality and making it feel fresh each year.”
With street art flourishing in Virginia, MacCrae aspires to see it spread throughout all parts of Waynesboro. His dream is for buildings beyond his own to shine with color and art.
Westergard echoed Macrae’s sentiments about the local art scene. As a Richmond native, the muralist expressed his hope that street art festivals like this one could continue to grow in Virginia.
“It’s a shame that I have to leave to do about 80 percent of my work, so I’d love to contribute more and more to Virginia whenever I can, and this festival is as Virginian as it gets,” he concluded.
The ever-growing response to the Virginia Street Art Festival not only guarantees another year for Waynesboro but also extends its benefits to local organizations, such as the Shenandoah Valley Arts.