All Are Welcome: The Community of 2nd Sundays
Words courtesy of Katie Brownfiel. Images courtesy of 2nd Sundays Art & Music Festival.
On the second Sunday of each month (March-December), six blocks of Williamsburg are transformed into an immersive art and music festival that is a feast for the senses. College students and retirees busk on street corners. Onlookers are invited to participate in drum circles and Gospel songs. Traveling and local bands play an eclectic variety of music for onlookers indulging in the beer garden or grazing at one of the popular food trucks. Juggling and magic and a man posing as a silver statue amaze children. Dancers perform Irish step dancing routines and improv theater performers are preparing to make their festival debut. 115 artists in every imaginable medium and artisans of varying trades line the streets and offer their affordable wares. For a moment, you might feel as though you have walked into one of Seattle’s many arts festivals, and this would be the highest compliment to Shirley Vermillion.
Shirley is many things. When I first learned of 2nd Sundays, I was told she was the “Festival Mother.” In our conversation, she tells me that artists refer to her as a “Musician Mama.” She is the mother of four boys, but she is also the mother of this inclusive community event and its sponsoring nonprofit, LoveLight Placemaking. Founded in 2010, 2nd Sundays was created to fill the void that people didn’t know they were missing and to nurture the diversity and local artistic and music scenes of Hampton Roads. “So many people don’t understand that they’re starving for community or creativity or live music in their life,” Shirley says- and it’s her personal mission to nourish the souls of her festival attendees. She subscribes to the philosophy of “see a need, fill a need” and uses her talents and passion to be an instrument for positive and lasting change.
Thinking back on when she first moved to Williamsburg, Shirley reflects, “I just remember hearing time and time again that unless you’re a colonial historic artist painting pictures of Williamsburg, that was the only gallery that was around. There was no real place for abstract or anything deemed funky or other than the classic colonial style. I always said I wanted something where my kids could go and have something to do while I was shopping. The opportunity to create something or play with kids they wouldn’t necessarily play with at school. [When 2nd Sundays first began] It was half a block with less than twenty vendors and one music area. We’ve grown gradually as the merchants and city would allow. We still keep the streets open for resident traffic.” Now, with 115 local artisans and a waitlist that only continues to grow, the festival has become a welcoming family for new and local talent.
How does one create a found family? According to Shirley, it takes a matchmaker’s touch: “So much of what takes up my time is creating the family atmosphere and supportive environment that makes artists recommend it to their friends. Frequently, what I hear is that it’s their favorite
show and day of the month. It’s their festival families. I will take the time to matchmake. People are my medium. I’ll weave and connect people together. It matters in a case like this. Maybe people are just getting back into their art form or just starting, and it’s scary and intimidating. If they’re new, I try to matchmake them with good nurturing people that maybe live near them.You’re taking the soul of the festival away if you just put them anywhere. Everything matters. We live in a world where there’s a program for organizing everything, but there isn’t for creating a soulful community centered festival and event. Thankfully, it’s happened a little bit at a time.”
The family feel extends to the volunteers and visitors. Shirley makes every design decision with intention to ensure that everyone, no matter their identity, will feel welcomed and be able to fully enjoy the festival. Unlike many other art festivals or art shows, 2nd Sundays offers many affordable pieces so college and high school students can support local artists and decorate their spaces with hand-crafted beauty. As a mother, Shirley is always aware of how challenging it can be to navigate the busy world with a stroller and active children, so she created a children’s activity station where they can play with volunteers, create an art project, and dance to the nearby music.
On a similar note, she worked to bring food trucks to her festival to allow flexible dining options for families looking for an affordable and fast meal. Tacos, sweet and savory crepes, bbq, coffee, and shaved ice have been staple and popular dining options in recent months.
Shirley also champions creating a space that is accessible and welcoming for guests with special needs. She says, “I see how much it feeds and how it’s essential for so many people. Even being able to have a place where folks in wheelchairs and people with a disability can be. It’s so cool to see some special needs kids or adults come with their caregivers while they’re dancing with the music or feeling the beat. Almost every month I’m reduced to tears, and it’s when a special needs person I know has very limited opportunities during the rest of the month is able to be part of an event like this.”
Casey Butler, one of the dedicated volunteers who helps to make this event possible, echoes Shirley’s belief in the powerful unity of the festival, “2nd Sundays is not just a festival or something to do on a Sunday; it’s an immersive experience in a safe and welcoming space for all who visit. There truly is something for everyone at the festival. In a world torn between this and that, it’s comforting to know that something as special as this festival can not only exist, but flourish as well.”
The latest partnership that Shirley has forged is with William & Mary Athletics. College athletes have thrilled children with their interactive games and giveaways, and their energy has brought an extra layer of joy to the youngest festival attendees. As Casey Butler reflects, the possibilities for the festival truly seem limitless, “Watching this festival grow from one street, to two cross streets, to four cross streets and a city square has been nothing short of amazing. With each growth has come opportunities to add new amenities, more stage locations, food vendors, interactive music experiences, new activities for our youngest guests, a beer garden by the main stage, street performers and more.”
Shirley is filled with gratitude for all of the individuals and organizations who have worked to make her ambitious dream a reality, and she plans to continue to pour her heart and soul into the festival. She says, “It’s been amazing how much we’ve been blessed with people who’ve found out about us, and so much is word of mouth. People love the variety. It’s a festival as unique as all of the people who live in and around Williamsburg. We welcome them all and work to have something for all of them.”
If you are interested in learning more about 2nd Sundays, please visit their website: https://www.2ndsundayswilliamsburg.com/. The monthly festival runs from 11AM-5PM in Williamsburg, VA.