By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
New York City…make that Manhattan…is arguably the center of the universe when it comes to arts and culture. Throw in some of the best restaurants in the world and why bother going anywhere else?
But if the truth be told, there are other areas in the United States that over the past number of years have begun to develop their own cultural scene. One such place is Virginia Beach.
There was a time in the not so distant past that Virginia Beach was a quiet, sleepy seaside town populated by tourists, mostly from the area, and the military. That has changed.
The city itself, a short hop east of Norfolk, has grown like the fictional Topsy with both top grade hotels and smaller motels lining the drive parallel to the ocean front. The road is crowded with souvenir shops and others catering primarily to the tourist trade and does give the area a bit of a tacky appearance.
But appearances can be deceiving. Along that same route are affordable restaurants in elegant settings. Top of the chart are a number of seafood eateries…and how could you expect less from a seaside resort?
While Virginia Beach has grown in popularity as a tourist destination, the military is still a major presence in the area. There are any number of military installations from Virginia Beach’s Oceana Naval Air Base to Norfolk with its massive naval base and huge ships in port.
Beachgoers peer skyward to watch as fighter jets from Oceana zip overhead, pointing toward the vast Atlantic as they streak out for training missions. The scream of their engines fades to the back of your mind after the first ones pass overhead and you become used to the noise.
Located not far from the beach is the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment. This organization professes to “Take your spiritual path to the next degree.” Cayce claimed to have insight and foresight where he appeared to tell of future events as well as a healer and was an early proponent of healthy eating.
Symposiums at the Cayce ARE focus on “Haunting Experiences: Ghosts, hauntings, phantom phenomena and their relevance to our lives.” Much of what the ARE espouses was hard to digest for some visitors but there was no hard push from staffers to convert anyone. More mainstream speakers at the organization include such internationally known experts as Zahi Hawass, whoheads Egypt’s archeological efforts and is well known from appearances on television.
For aficionados of the Campbell Soup guy, Andy Warhol, an exhibit of more than 1,390 portraits and other examples of his works and other artists’ takes on his works will be on view at the Virginia Museum ofContemporary Art (MOCA) until Aug. 16. Much of the exhibit is on loan from the permanent Andy Warhol exhibit in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
A humorous side exhibit is the display of other contemporary artists’ take on his famous soup can. As a fund raiser these displays will be on sale at the MOCA web site.
There are examples of his early work as he began developing his on-canvas personality and his work as an early commercial illustrator. There are interactive stations and a free audio tour to widen the family experience. For more information, www.VirginiaMOCA.org.
One of the more pleasant surprises was a visit to the Jones Art Gallery at 184 Central Park Avenue, across from the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Town Center. Jones Art is a three-generational endeavor of a very talented family.
Opened years back by Herb Jones it is now run and stocked by his son, Louis. Grandson, Ryan, is also an accomplished artist whose works appear on display here. Louis’s wife, Susan, is an artist in her own right and has considerable wall space at the gallery alongside Louis and Ryan. Ryan’s wife, Melinda, has artistic credentials but in lieu of displaying her talent here, she has opted to be the business person behind the scenes freeing up the others to paint and create.
The talented Jones family displays a wide variety from contemporary to “not so contemporary. Louis has become famous for an unusual activity for a fine artist. He designs covers for books by such well-known authors as John Grisham as well as Neale Donald Walsch’s book, Conversations with God.
While much of what is on display at Jones Art is a bit pricey for the average pocketbook, there are also affordable items that could grace most any home of any person who appreciates fine art.
The Sandler Center for Performing Arts is arguably one of the finer performance venues in the country. The acoustics are incredible and seating is comfortable, unlike the “squeeze ‘em in” mentality of some halls.
On this particular night the headliner was jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. Even those who are not into jazz found themselves into Botti. The musician put on a performance that was far more than simply playing hisset. He was an entertainer and kept the entire audience locked into his almost two and a half hour (without intermission) show. When it was over the crowed almost willed him to stay and do more (http://www.sandlercenter.org/index/greatperformance.)
Dining opportunities in Virginia Beach are as varied as can be, although there is a heavy emphasis on sea food, a natural with the ocean at the doorstep.
We sampled food at Catch 21 (www.Catch21.com) on Atlantic Avenue and just down the road from our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Oceanfront South. There is a raw bar with seating both inside and out. On the outdoor terrace there is a fire pit for cool weather and overlooks the boardwalk and rolling ocean.
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