To stay true to the ever-changing genre it represents—and keep security guards entertained despite their short attention spans—the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art continually changes the artwork that adorns its 6,300 square feet of exhibition space. Though the exhibits predominately feature work from living artists, from the nature-inspired art of Richmond native Sayaka Suzuki to the fantastical landscapes of Jean-Pierre Roy, seminal pieces from late legends settle in from time to time, such as an Andy Warhol exhibit that borrowed pieces from the artist's eponymous gallery and banana farm in Pittsburgh. Beyond its exhibits, MOCA also promotes art education through studio-art classes—sometimes taught by the very virtuosos whose works grace the museum walls—and outreach programs. Held twice a year on the shores of Virginia Beach, outdoor art shows invite national artists to compete in juried contests by signing their own names on lost Picassos.
The Gallery at East Beach's sophisticated staff possesses a knack for refining that which is already lovely by making paint into art and putting art into frames, leading Pilot Media readers to crown it Norfolk's Best Art Gallery and Best Print and Frame Store for 2011. Vulnerable visuals set clearer boundaries by nestling themselves into sturdy, chic frames, arranged around the gallery in a herringbone pattern of corner samples for ease of perusal. Acid-free archival- and museum-quality mats in a wide range of hues support photos, prints, or diplomas with subtle backup vocals. The friendly staff estimates matting and framing costs free of charge, with prices ranging from $45 for a small, simple piece to $350 or more for a large blacklight velvet masterpiece. Alternately, peruse paintbrush maestro Betty Hadfield's striking creations ($75+), which have appeared in a constellation of galleries and art shows, selling to collectors nationwide. Hadfield corrals haphazard oil pigments into vibrant sea scenes and still-lifes, illuminating her subjects using bold, italicized, or underlined color.
Twelve acres of lush greenery welcome guests to the Hermitage Museum and Gardens' graceful grounds and turn-of-the-century Tudor mansion, which hosts an eclectic collection of arts and crafts spanning more than 5,000 years. Your membership permits unlimited exploration of William and Florence K. Sloane's vast permanent collection, scattered throughout 42 of their home's elegant walnut, oak, and teak rooms. Take a look at a treasure trove of ancient Chinese ceremonial bronzes and mingqi (tomb figures), Indian Chola bronze statues, European ceramics and paintings, or needlepoint representations of the Little Rascals as adults. Avid art collectors, the Sloane family dedicated 50 years to spreading their passion for craftioneering to the community and helped break ground for the nearby Chrysler Museum.
Peninsula Fine Arts Center isn't a passive art museum where guests stare silently at paintings and statues. Instead, the center uses rotating exhibitions of paintings, photographs, and pottery to inspire visitors to create their own artwork. To that end, the exhibiting artists often teach in the center's Studio Art School. Classes range from single-day workshops to 10-week sessions, during which instructors might teach small groups to paint with watercolors or change out a flat pottery wheel. The instructors keep their schedule balanced, leading classes that suit all ages and skill levels. Other classes, such as Little Helping Hands Adventure in Clay, let kids and adults create artwork together.
Kids don't need to sign up for classes to try out their art skills, however. In the Hands On for Kids interactive gallery, young patrons draw on a chalkboard wall, build with blocks, and complete various projects inspired by the exhibitions.
The Mariners' Museum puts nautical adventure on display with a treasure chest of oceanic artifacts. With either deal, you'll get unlimited admission to the museum. Tickle your grey matter with its outstanding exhibition: artifacts from the USS Monitor, an ironclad ship that battled bravely and sunk during the Civil War’s Battle of Hampton Roads. Or, see exquisite sea-inspired art and thousands of meticulously crafted ship models, which were occasionally used in the Keebler Elves' royal navy. Visitors can also stroll through The Mariners’ Museum Park, which is one of the largest privately-owned and -maintained public parks in the country. Members also receive the following benefits:
Colonial Williamsburg's 300 acres of taverns, tradeshops, homes, and community buildings stand preserved as if it were the 1770s, at the turbulent moment when Virginia colonists were debating independence from Britain. As visitors stroll the sun-dappled streets, they immerse themselves in the daily life of the town's citizens—shopkeepers, artisans, politicians, and enslaved servants who dream of freedom, but fear the chaos of war. Political discussions and protest demonstrations give guests the chance to leap into the revolutionary spirit themselves. Or, they can browse the town's 22 historic trade shops, where nearly 80 masters, journeymen, and apprentices practice pre-industrial trades from blacksmithing to leatherworking.
A duet of museums give historical context to the town's vibrant life. Housed under one roof, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum let guests admire three centuries' worth of rustic ornamental woodwork or learn how a portrait of George Washington saved a family farm. Alternatively, for a taste of the 20th century, they can stroll across the landscaped grounds of Basset Hall, the former residence of John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Jr.