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We’re Speaking the Language of Love

December 11, 2019 by Andrea Dono

(Pictured: an artist rendering of the future Language of Love sculpture)

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting an international student from Mexico studying at JMU. He told me how much downtown Harrisonburg reminded him of his hometown and how overjoyed his family was when seeing the LOVEworks sculpture during their visit.

“The only thing that could have made it better was if there was one in Spanish, and Arabic, and all of the other languages of the other students in my program,” he told me.

Around the same time, Harrisonburg Councilman (and HDR Board Member) Christopher Jones and Arts Council of the Valley Executive Director Jenny Burden were also having conversations about expanding the concept of the LOVEworks sculpture to reflect the diversity of our community.

A year later, I was working with a team of Harrisonburg High School (HHS) students on identifying potential sites for more public art downtown. These students said one of their favorite things they enjoy doing with their friends is coming downtown to take selfies in front of public art. When their project was completed and we had time to chat, they told me how meaningful the diversity of their school is to them.

“We love hearing the stories about the places where other [students] grew up,” one student told me. “I know everyone talks about the diversity of our school and how many languages are spoken, but it actually really matters to a lot of us.”

These conversations mattered a lot to me. So, when HDR partnered with the Arts Council of the Valley and Harrisonburg City Public Schools to plan a second arts installation near the current LOVEworks sculpture, I was excited to see if we could find a way to express the concept of Harrisonburg’s “language of love.”

After an open call for proposals didn’t bring in the right expressions of this concept, we began talking to various local artists. We discussed what we hoped to represent, the type of inviting sculpture we hoped could be installed, the interactive environment where people could come together at the installation, and the types of materials and designs that could work. Jeff Guinn, artist and owner of The Mark-It downtown, really got it and shared multiple mock-ups for different interpretations of the project. After discussing logistics for the installation, one design truly stood out and he agreed to partner with us on the project. We are excited to announce that we’ll have a new downtown art installation in October behind the Smith House!

The sculpture concept pictured here will be a series of three wooden platforms on elevated steel posts and crossbeams. They will be offset from each other in three parallel rows. As Jeff described them, the top of each platform will rise and fall along an organic line, mimicking the silhouette of the surrounding mountains or flowing water.

“The shapes are meant to represent the physical geography of our area, as well as the movement of shared language and experiences among people. Language is not static. It is a medium that is used and exchanged and experienced,” Jeff says. This sculpture is meant to “visually represent the inclusive and multicultural nature of Harrisonburg and the surrounding area. By virtue of the wide variety of cultural heritages, ethnicities, and countries of origin present, our city has a unique culture that should be celebrated and cultivated.”

Next year, when school is in session, the artist will meet with HHS students to talk about the concepts surrounding “Language of Love,” and what is meaningful to them. From those dialogs, Jeff will create shapes and images for stencils. Come October, during the city’s celebration of some important art anniversaries (Oasis – Arts Council – and the Virginia Quilt Museum), members of the community will be invited to use those stencils to apply shades of blue to the wooden platforms.

Jeff, Jenny, and I are really excited for this installation and how it represents the many cultures and heritages that come together to form the landscape of this city we love. As Jenny explains, “Public art engages people, and this particular work will draw them downtown. It will be designed to reflect our desire to be inclusive and to ensure that all residents and visitors of diverse backgrounds feel welcome in the Friendly City.”

She said the Language of Love sculpture is one of many public works of art ACV hopes to incorporate into the downtown landscape. “Public art is a visible representation of a community’s personality,” Jenny notes, “and it serves as a conversation-starter, inviting visitors and locals alike to connect with each other.”

Because of our generous donors, HDR is able to contribute $7,000 in funding towards this public art project. We are so grateful for their support and couldn’t make community-building projects like this happen without our wonderful donors and partners. Would you like to see more exciting projects downtown? Back the ‘Burg today and become a Friend of Downtown during our end of year giving campaign!