Festival lights SPARC for downtown

Published 9:50 pm Monday, September 23, 2019

South Main Street was alive with great music and bustling activity on a sunny Saturday during the inaugural SPARC Fest.

“SPARC Fest is to celebrate downtown and to draw people to South Main Street,” said Carolyn Phillips, executive director for the SPARC Initiative. “SPARC is focused on the revitalization of downtown and this serves that purpose, and it’s also a community event to just have fun.”

The five-hour-long festival was free and open to the public, and sponsored by Suffolk Economic Development, Suffolk Tourism, Parks and Recreation, the Community Action Coalition of Virginia and the SPARC Initiative, which stands for Suffolk’s Premier Arts, Retail and Cultural Initiative.

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Children had fun with bubbles and other activities provided by the Suffolk Public Library. They lined up to have their faces painted by The Paint Life’s Stephanie Gwaltney, and families gathered around Tommy White and his volunteers with the fascinating birds of Alton’s Keep Wildbird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center Inc.

White and his volunteers had several different rehabilitated birds that stunned families at the festival, including an American kestrel, a small and colorful falcon that’s appropriately named “Lil Star,” according to Alton’s Keep volunteer Lemunantu Mariman.

But despite his size, “Lil Star” is still plenty bold, Mariman said.

“He’s a little bird, but (with) a big personality,” she said as Lil Star rested on her gloved hand.

There were about a dozen vendors selling different kinds of handmade goods such as jewelry, paintings, prints and the “trinkets and geekery” of Cri-A-tions and Hats, as owner Crystal Tiffany described her wares.

Tiffany’s handiwork ran the gamut of pop culture under her tent, from “Star Wars” and “Stargate” to “Harry Potter” and “Firefly.” Her faux-stained glass items were popular among the shoppers, as was the oversized Stormtrooper helmet she had made out of cardboard, hot glue, spackling, paint and soda bottles for the lenses.

She was impressed with the turnout for the first year of the downtown Suffolk festival.

“I love it. There’s giant bubbles and owls and live music,” she said. “This is fantastic. I’m so enjoying this.”

Families enjoyed live performances by bands like the Ben Phelps Project while they got plenty to eat at the Annaliza’s Tasty Filipino Cuisine and Little Piggy’s Wurst Nightmare II food trucks, plus the Plaid Turnip restaurant’s menu and tasty craft beer served by Nansemond Brewing Station.

SPARC Founder Ed Beardsley said the festival was made of “all the right stuff.”

“It’s great people, great neighbors, a great neighborhood. It’s just a great package all the way around,” he said.

Tonya Nelson and her family got to see her daughter perform as one of the ensemble dancers for Allongé Dance Academy on South Main Street, and the kids were ready to get their faces painted after the show.

“I think it’s good that they’re offering more events for the community, especially the arts,” Nelson said about the downtown festival.

The event also unveiled the South Main Street Train Station Public Art Project, which decorated the historic Northwestern Train Station with original pop-up murals by local artists. These murals were installed over the unoccupied building’s 59-by-41-inch windows.

These beautiful murals vary in different styles and subjects, and according to Phillips, the plan is to leave them up for about a year, then put out another call for new murals next year.

“The whole purpose of that was to bring public art to downtown, and also to take a building that is a little bit derelict (and) unused and turn it into something beautiful,” Phillips said, “sort of an outdoor gallery; a showcase for the community to enjoy the artwork.”

Deb Munroe was one of the mural artists for the project, as was her self-taught, 12-year-old granddaughter Aslynn Showers. The two of them spent a day together in the garage to paint their beautiful artworks, Munroe said.

Munroe’s mural is a cherry blossom tree and was sponsored by InDigiMar Inc. The powerful symbolism for life that cherry blossom trees possess was significant for Munroe, as her father Charles Munroe died in May at the age of 75.

“It was just kind of full circle,” she said.

She was glad that she and her granddaughter could be part of a project that will continue to bring joy to downtown in the months to come.

“It feels great. I’m so excited to be part of this, because this is what we need in Suffolk,” she said. “We need more stuff like this. We need to bring this to the community so that they can enjoy this. Instead of seeing this old, dilapidated building, now it’s got art on it and it’s gotten a lot of interest.

“People will drive by it for a very long time just going, ‘Hey, look at that, that’s cool,’ and every time they go by, they’ll see something different, because there’s so many different pieces here.”