Charlottesville’s Best Arts Experiences
By Susan Krischel
Charlottesville has numerous destinations for stimulating visual art experiences. As a longtime enthusiast who wants our art resources to be better known and understood, I have selected the most compelling destinations to visit. Here is a list of 6 experiences you should seek while in Charlottesville.
This Beaux-Arts building was designed by Edmund S. Campbell, then dean of the school of fine arts, after a 1929 bequest from the estate of Evelyn May Bayly Tiffany for the construction of an art museum. The museum opened in 1935 at its grand location above Rugby Road and Mad Bowl just off UVA’s Central Grounds. In 2012, Heywood and Cynthia Fralin announced their intention to donate their extensive collection of American art to the University, vastly enriching the museum’s holdings. In recognition of this gesture, the museum was renamed to The Fralin Museum of Art. Included as one of America’s 35 best university art museums, The Fralin’s 14,000-object collection spans many centuries and continents, with strengths in European and American painting, photography, works on paper, African art, Asian art, Pre-Columbian art, and Native American art. Through a variety of opportunities, the museum connects students, faculty, staff, and the community through the experience of art. Admission is FREE, and visitors can see exhibitions drawn from the museum’s collection and sources nationwide, with a continually refreshed schedule found HERE.
You can also browse artworks in The Fralin’s collection HERE.
If visiting in person, navigate parking HERE.
As the only museum outside of Australia dedicated to the exhibition and study of Indigenous Australian Art, Kluge-Ruhe is a rare experience not to be missed. The result of surprising alchemy – including the richest man in the world, a visionary professor from Kansas, and Mr. Jefferson’s University – the museum comprises five galleries, an interactive activity space, and a library in an elegant colonial-revival estate located not on Grounds at the University of Virginia but instead on Pantops to the east of Charlottesville. One gallery flows into the next where on display at any given time is a mere 1% of the museum’s 3,600-piece collection. Visitors can expect to view an array of dynamic contemporary works including sculpture, painting, objects, and photography that express the spirituality and connectedness of diverse Indigenous Australian cultures.
Guided tours begin at 10:30am and 1:30pm daily and admission is free. A free scavenger hunt is available to kids. For more information on Kluge-Ruhe click HERE.
This brick-lined, outdoor pedestrian mall is located in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. It is one of the city’s most beloved and iconic attractions. Designed by internationally renowned landscape architect, Lawrence Halperin, this “urban park” was christened in1976. Spanning eight city blocks, the Mall is an intact historic village filled with over 200 structures built in the mid- to late-19th century and early 20th century, including a number of beautifully preserved buildings dating to the early 1800s. Known for its charming ambiance and lively atmosphere, the Mall can provide hours of delight for visitors who enjoy shopping in eclectic local boutiques, dining in an array of restaurants and cafes, watching street performers, or attending musical shows, films, and dance performances. The Mall also houses several public art installations and visual art galleries, including Second Street Gallery, The Charlottesville Arts Cooperative, and Chroma Gallery. First Fridays (beginning at 5pm on the 1st Friday of each month) is in full flower here, and arts enthusiasts can frolic in celebration as all of the downtown galleries open their doors to the public to explore the latest exhibitions, meet the artists, and engage in conversations about art and design. Click HERE for more on the Downtown Mall.
One of the oldest art cooperatives in America, McGuffey Art Center is housed in a renovated school building in downtown Charlottesville just one block north of the Downtown Mall. It is home to a diverse community of nearly 150 local artists, ranging in age from 20-70+, including painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, ceramicists, and more. A creative hub where artists can work, exhibit, and collaborate together, McGuffey features multiple galleries and studios that host rotating exhibitions throughout the year, offering visitors an opportunity to experience a wide range of artistic expressions.
McGuffey’s monthly First Fridays open house begins at 5:30 and is a wildly popular outing that routinely attracts several hundred art enthusiasts for open galleries, along with wine. The Center also offers classes and workshops for individuals of all skill levels. Visitors can even purchase unique and original pieces directly from the artists. www.mcguffeyartcenter.com.
Full disclosure, I am one of the founders of this non-profit arts organization. Nevertheless, this vibrant urban art space features one of the few outdoor, private art parks in the United States that is open to the public free of charge. Located only 2 blocks from Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall, this vast collection of large-scale murals, sculptures, and interactive installations transforms the cityscape into an ever-evolving artistic canvas. The Ix Art Park also houses Virginia’s first permanent, immersive art space – a 6,000-square foot enchanted forest and psychedelic cave collaboratively created by over 25 local artists. The Ix Art Park has special appeal to families and children. Visitors can explore the Park at their leisure and participate in art-making in the free outdoor Art Bar. Or they can take in the colorful creations around the park, engage with the artistic elements, and then stop in at one of the engaging restaurants and/or breweries located on-site. The IX Art Park also hosts events such as concerts, performances, art and farmers markets, all creating a lively atmosphere where art and entertainment converge.
Aimed at enhancing our visual landscape, the Charlottesville Mural Project has sponsored the creation of more than 60 vibrant and meaningful public murals in prominent locations throughout the city. The murals can be found on the sides of buildings, in public parks, and along major streets, transforming ordinary spaces into vibrant visual experiences. The murals cover a wide range of subjects, from important historical events to cultural diversity, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Visitors can download a map of the various murals and explore them either on foot or in a vehicle. www.charlottesvillemuralproject.org.
Interestingly, not all murals in Charlottesville are part of the Mural Project. Two independent works, in particular, standout for their vibrance and reward the explorer who finds them. First, we recommend the “Mosaic Mural” on 5th Street in Midtown, a quixotic, somewhat hidden streetscape made by Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar in 2000; and, second,, find the “Testamonial Mural,” created by Rita Dove and David Guinn in 2016, which rises above The UVA Corner.
Charlottesville is a haven for visual arts enthusiasts. Whether you are drawn to classical or abstract art, immersive experiences, or cultural expressions, Charlottesville has something to captivate your artistic soul. For individuals, to seek and find art in Charlottesville is an adventure. For families, it’s a theme park! From Ix’s outdoor Art Bar, to Kluge-Ruhe’s scavenger hunts, to the Fralin’s tiny museum and the many offerings at downtown galleries, there’s something for all ages. So plan your visit to our enchanting city and embark on a visual arts journey that will leave you inspired and enriched.