Vienna Arts Society to auction off decorative benches

 Luke, a foxhound rescue dog owned by artist Deborah Kennedy of the Vienna Arts Society, perches atop Kennedy's decorated bench at the Vienna Dog Park. The bench, which features paw prints from 60 of the park's canine users, will be among those auctioned Nov. 2, 2019, to benefit the arts group. (Photo contributed)

Vienna Arts Society’s “Take a Seat, Vienna” program was a hit this year, with many local residents visiting and photographing themselves with 42 artistically decorated benches the organization had placed throughout town in April.

That initiative, begun to help the group celebrate its 50th anniversary, is coming to a close and will be capped off with one final event.

The Vienna Arts Society will auction off the benches on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center. The event will feature a live auction officiated by Damewood Auctioneers, plus beer, wine, light food and sodas.

“The auction is designed to bring much needed income to the Vienna Arts Society (VAS) so we can continue our many creative outreach activities, most free and open to the public,” said Doré Skidmore, the group’s communications chairman. “The bench artists will be very happy to have all of our benches find their ‘forever homes.’”

Those who attend the auction will be able to bid on their favorite benches and meet the artists who painted them. The arts group also will hold a drawing for a $250 cash prize for people who participated in a scavenger hunt involving the benches.

Hunt participants had to take photos of themselves on at least 40 of the benches scattered throughout town, and post the images on Facebook. In addition to being entered for the cash raffle, those who completed the hunt received a prize from an organic-custard shop.

Before the auction, the arts group will place six of the benches on a flatbed truck provided by Auto Body of Vienna and enter it as a float in the Vienna Halloween Parade on Oct. 23.

Skidmore’s literary-themed bench, “Unlock the Cosmos,” now is located in front of Bards Alley bookstore.

“Some of my family’s most treasured books are represented here, but I turned one book around so the spine isn’t visible,” Skidmore said in her artist’s statement. “That’s your favorite book, or the one you’ll someday write.”

Photographer Deborah Kennedy worked on two benches for the project. One of them, titled “Sit,” was unusual in that instead of painting the bench, Kennedy approached people who were leaving with their dogs at the Vienna Dog Park and had them add their pooches’ names and paw prints on fabric.

The artist made paw prints from 60 dogs using non-toxic craft paint, and later put the fabric on the bench and sealed it with six coats of polyurethane.

“Most of the artists painted their benches,” she said. “I’m not a painter, so I went for high-concept, low-degree of execution. It was a nice community project to do.”

“Sit” was the only bench not placed in front of a sponsoring business or organization. The arts group plans to raise funds to buy the bench and keep it at the dog park, Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s other bench project, titled “The Way We Grow,” also involved prints – this time from members of Daisy Troop 50010, whose handprints make up the bench’s “flowers.” Proceeds from the sale of this bench, which is situated in front of the Vienna Inn, will benefit Hopecam, an organization that uses cameras to connect children in hospitals with their friends and classrooms.

The Vienna Arts Society began working on the “Take a Seat, Vienna” initiative last August and members took just 12 days to obtain sponsorships from local businesses.

“We told them, ‘We’ll have people coming to the front of your business for six months for $240,’” Kennedy said. “That’s the best advertising you’ll ever get.”

The program proved a little too popular with some sticky-fingered people, who made off with two benches this summer. According to Vienna police, thieves stole one bench from outside Grass Roots Fitness, 512 Maple Ave., W., between July 7 and 9;  the other, located in front of Ghaffari Orthodontics, 100 Church St., N.E., disappeared sometime between Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. and Aug. 12 at noon.

The artist for one of the missing benches created another, and the arts group subsequently secured the remaining benches, Kennedy said.

Most of the benches have weathered the elements well; group members moved ones that initially were subject to direct rainfall. The benches, which were built by an Amish workshop in Pennsylvania, will be touched up before the auction, she said.

Vienna Arts Society leaders hope to conduct another public-art project in the future, but they’re not sure yet which avenue to pursue. Among the lessons learned from the bench project is that any such initiative will require about two years, in order to overcome myriad organizational and regulatory hurdles, Kennedy said. Despite those obstacles, such projects serve a vital purpose, she said.

“It’s the thing we need to make Vienna Arts Society financially viable,” Kennedy said.

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