The rustic Old Mills Trail on the Albemarle side of the Rivanna River served as the stage Saturday for artists and musicians who took part in a festival designed to spur a new appreciation of the waterway.
“We’re hopeful that we can bring about an exposure of the river and make it part of people’s everyday lives,” said Mike Foreman, chairman of the Rivanna Conservation Alliance board. “We want to turn our faces to the river rather than turn our backs to it.”
The FLOW event was coordinated by Deborah McCleod, the director of Chroma Projects, an art space on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. She arranged for several artists to take part in the event.
At one end of the trail, Nina Burke and Andy Foster fashioned an art exhibit out of garbage that had been thrown into the Rivanna.
“Our piece is called ‘The River Within the River’ and it is all trash that we collected here over the summer and made into something visible and beautiful,” Burke said.
The pair colored clear empty bottles and arranged them on an armature that they placed in the water just off the shore.
“We were thinking about the big garbage patches that are in the ocean, and Nina did research into the plastic in the world,” Foster said. “We come down here to walk our dogs and see all this stuff here and we thought we would do something in the water. People might not always see the trash, so we wanted to bring attention to it.”
One of the people McCleod contacted was Megan Hillary, who coordinated performance art pieces of five separate versions of Queen Anne.
“This piece is entitled ‘Namesake: The River Anne,’” Hillary said, pointing out that the river takes its name from the British monarch who reigned from 1707 to 1714. “Most people don’t know that.”
More than a dozen artists dressed in period piece performed vignettes from Queen Anne’s life. Anna Strock played one of the queen’s attendants at a spot just south of Free Bridge. She’s been to Darden Towe Park for her children’s soccer matches, but had never seen the river from that side.
“I didn’t realize this space existed,” Strock said. “I think it’s incredible the expanse that this offers. What a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.”
Musician Michael Clem played acoustic guitar for an hour by a set of wooden steps that lead down to the river. While he jogs along the pathway frequently, he never had taken an instrument there before.
“I was approached by one of my Key West neighbors to take part,” Clem said. “I saw other friends were involved, like Terri Allard, Robert Jospé and Gina Sobel, and thought that they must be on to something good.”
Artist Michelle Gagliano and her son used naturally made glue to place leaves on the embankment under the bridge.
“This is my first time to really have a relationship with the river, and I think that’s what’s so terrific about this festival, is it’s bringing an awareness to people who would normally not have one,” Gagliano said. “The whole idea is to be temporal and to kind of look at the leaves one more time before winter sets in.”
Some’ Louis grew up in Charlottesville and recently graduated from Wellesley College. She and her sister were the final artists on the FLOW trail and performed a routine in which they danced from the sandy beach into the shallow waters and back.
“Today we were looking at the changing environment and also making a mark on the environment,” Louis said. People who watched were asked to place a stick in the sand to mark where they stood and watched. Some sticks had white paper flags affixed to them.
Louis said this was intended to echo the constant changing nature of the river.
“The structures we have are really simple and they change with the environment as the day goes on,” she said. “We’re kind of moving around and interacting with those structures and changing our pathway each time.”
McLeod said she was pleased with how the day turned out.
“The thing that I most loved about today was the expressed feeling of benevolence and enchantment everywhere. It was a perfect recipe of nature, creativity, spirituality,” she said. “And absolutely perfect weather.”
Dan Mahon, the county’s greenway coordinator, said he has wanted to hold an event like Saturday’s for many years and lauded the work of McCleod and other artists who took part.
“I had a lot of fun bringing the artists down here on tours to learn about the river and discover places where they could set up,” Mahon said. “This is above and beyond what I expected.”
Woolen Mills resident Bill Emory has spent years pressuring the city and the county to do more to highlight the river. He was pleased with the turnout on Saturday.
“The river has figured into the city’s narrative for years but it’s been quiet,” Emory said, adding that people are gradually coming to realize that the Rivanna is an amenity. “If you go to Riverview Park on any given day, it’s the most popular park in town. It’s wonderful to see so many people interacting with it at once.”
However, Emory said he hopes that will translate to more people paying attention to decisions before elected bodies. On Monday, a special-use permit to operate a car dealership on East High Street is on the City Council’s consent agenda, which means it likely will be approved with no further discussion.
“It’s essentially in this environment and it’s on the river’s edge,” Emory said. “There still has been a lack of planning.”