The A List: Art All Over the Streets


A List CyclistsVéronique Vanblaere, owner of Naked Art Gallery, believes art can move Birmingham forward.

Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne

Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

“They make a difference without even noticing it.” Véronique Vanblaere is speaking of people who have joined Le Tour de Ham, the bicycle ride she started with Stan Palla. But Vanblaere, up to her elbows in paint and elbow grease, could count herself in that category of people. Since her arrival in the Magic City from Belgium, her home country, in 1996, she’s been making all kinds of things: art, movements, and definitely a difference. After visiting Birmingham as an exchange student in the 1980s, she made it her first stop after she decided to come to the United States permanently. She never imagined it would turn into her home. “Birmingham has a certain magic that will charm you,” she explains. “It quickly made sense to me how it got its nickname, the Magic City.” In 1998, Vanblaere opened the Naked Art Gallery, which offers functional, nontraditional artwork and crafts by more than 60 artists (including herself). “[We’re] trying to educate people in taking pride in their community by supporting their artists and choosing to purchase a locally handmade gift rather than purchasing it from a big box store,” she says of the gallery. “[We’re] allowing people to become collectors on any budget. Since the artists we feature are (not yet) famous, the prices are still affordable, hence our slogan ‘art for the people.’”

In 2001, in an effort to bring art to the people in an even more direct way, she began Artwalk, an arts festival that transforms the streets of the loft district into an art gallery, showcasing the work of more than 100 artists, from visual artists to street performers. Though she hasn’t been involved since 2004, she says she is happy that those who took over (the current president is Joy Myers) have continued to improve it. “It is a wonderful thing to know that you can start a dream and 13 years later, it is a great success and changes lives,” she says. Art, she says, has always been her answer, even before she began asking questions. “I have always had a creative mind, as far as I can remember. Art is what always brought me anywhere interesting and it is what I always wanted to do,” she explains. She thinks it can change the world, and our city, which is why she has poured her energy into making it accessible in Birmingham. “Just look at any famous city in the world and you will see what its best features are: parks, bicycle lanes, bike share programs…and art, art, art! Art all over the streets.”

Now, Le Tour de Ham includes some 100 people who gather to ride around the city each Tuesday night. In 2015, Artwalk will bring art to the streets for the 14th year. On Facebook, Birmingham Artcycle and Birmingham Tastebuddies—both initiatives Vanblaere began—encourage community members to get to know each other as they share art materials and dinner, respectively. And the list goes on: Vanblaere is, without a doubt, a difference maker in this city. And for her, there’s magic in that: “Everything you do for your community, no matter how small, will pay you back multiple times. Sometimes you will not know it until years later. But it is worth every little effort.”

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