Walking around downtown Harrisonburg recently, the keenest eyes will have noticed intricately designed, free-standing doors along North and South main streets, from Hotel Madison to the public safety building.
The doors are an art installation named "Opening Doors: The Art of Inclusion," presented by The Harrisonburg and Rockingham Arc in partnership with the Arts Council of the Valley to promote consideration and conversation around the issue of inclusion in all its forms.
The Harrisonburg and Rockingham Arc is an organization that provides a range of in-home and community-based services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the community.
Heather Denman, executive director at The Arc, had the idea for the Opening Doors project back in 2016 during a visit to Richmond. Seeing a door repurposed as a piece of public art outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the name "Opening Doors: The Art of Inclusion" struck her almost immediately.
However, 2016 was a time of great transition for The Harrisonburg and Rockingham Arc, along with other organizations, as they responded to state-mandated adjustments in services.
"I took the idea to the board and they loved it,” said Denman. “But I was busy transitioning from the old style services to the more community-based inclusive services. There was a lot going on."
Sadly the pandemic was to delay the fruition of the idea even further, but as soon as restrictions began to be lifted, the idea surged again for Denman and finally is ready to be seen by the public — not a moment too soon.
"I'm getting ready to retire at the end of the year, so this is kind of my swan song. It's something I needed to do before I left the organization,” Denman said.
In close partnership with the Arts Council of the Valley, 20 local artists were selected to create designs for the doors from the brief of inspiring conversations around inclusion.
"I really felt it was a great opportunity to talk about inclusion beyond people with developmental disabilities,” said Denman. “Let's make it a conversation about inclusion for all marginalized people."
Each artist was then encouraged to engage with a variety of organizations and non-profits around the community to further explore their ideas of inclusion. Denman added, "We wanted to celebrate the inclusiveness of Harrisonburg and Rockingham as a community and get discussions going about that."
Each of the doors on display is vastly different from one another, showcasing the range of styles and talents of the engaged artists but also offers the widest possible invitation for the general viewing public to consider the many different issues around inclusion in the community.
Garrett Fisher, director of development and community relations at The Arc sees the project as an opportunity to inform the community about the services of the organization.
“It’s important that more people learn about The Arc and what we do,” Fisher said.
Community awareness of the programs on offer at The Arc is a significant step toward the inclusion of their service users in the community at large, a core mission of the company.
Those who would like to enjoy the entire installation can see every door on foot, taking a walking tour around all 20 pieces downtown.
When the exhibition formally opens on First Friday June 2, each door will be accompanied by signage displaying information about the artist and their inspiration. Also QR codes will link viewers to a special website about the exhibit, featuring more information about the artists' process, video interviews, lists of sponsors and donors, and extra added activities to undertake while viewing the works.
All of the doors on display were donated by the recently opened Central Valley Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Harrisonburg. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that offers critical home repair services and affordable new and used household items.
Arts Council of the Valley along with The Harrisonburg and Rockingham Arc are keen to credit the support of the city of Harrisonburg and the public works department in their facilitating of this extensive project, as well as major support from the Kathy Moran Wealth Group, the central donor for the works, and a grant from the Earlynn J. Miller Fund for the Arts.
From planning door locations to the physical installation, acquisition of doors, funding art supplies, and finding future owners of the doors themselves, "Opening Doors: The Art of Inclusion" was a community effort.
Denman summed up the dream for the installation, hoping that viewers will "talk among themselves about inclusion, what that means to them and celebrate what a wonderful community we have.”