Norfolk’s first arts district was once know as “Auto Row” with countless classic car dealerships lining the streets and setting it aglow with their neon colored lights. Now, The NEON District, or New Energy of Norfolk, is home to a new wave of passion and creativity in downtown. It began with a small group of engaged citizens and has quickly grown into a flourishing living canvas with culture, cuisine, and craftsmen. Have a look at how we got here:

Timeline How We Got Here

September 30, 2021

A Living Gallery Finds Its Forever Home

A staple of the Norfolk arts community for over 30 years, the d’Art Center relocated to the NEON in the beginning of 2016. After five years in a temporary location, the center put down roots at the stunningly renovated Atlantic Permanent Building. This living and breathing art studio not only showcases work from local artists, but acts as an active studio space giving visitors a look into the heart of the work and artists they may already know as well as a marketplace for passersby to purchase the pieces created there.

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July 6, 2018

Moving On Up - Residential Units Multiply

After patiently waiting for feet to fill NEON sidewalks, local businesses can now take heart. The original band of adventurous condo-owners is about to be joined by dozens of new neighborhood denizens. Post-modern delight that it is, the Museum Apartments has become a beacon for residents who want to live among street art masterpieces. Next up, hundreds more apartments are in the hopper, ripe for walking to and fro on NEON streets. The Virginian-Pilot complex occupies one of the biggest footprints in all of downtown Norfolk and developers there envision a mixed use gateway to the neighborhood. In close proximity sits a prime parcel slated for hundreds more apartments in 2020. Welcome home.

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November 14, 2015

Glass Wheel Studio Shatters Expectations

One of the few true blue studio art programs in Norfolk, Glass Wheel Studio changed the face of the neighborhood quite literally. The historic building with a contemporary spirit housed 13 visual artists immersed in an active studio practice, creating a hot bed of experimentation, collaboration and creativity. Not to mention the contemporary art and glass exhibitions demanded local art patrons stand up and take notice. Alumni of the incubator program continue to exert their influence over NEON and beyond, even as the building finds a new life as the future home of Tidewater Community College’s visual arts program.

October 15, 2015

The NEON Festival Lights a Fire

After months of preparation, The NEON Festival was a culmination of the hard work of numerous artists and volunteers. With dozens of public art pieces being simultaneously unveiled during the two-day event, the festival served as an unofficial “opening” of the District. Visitors were treated to a series of walking mural tours, live music and comedy performances, delectable local vendors, and plenty more from the creative community as it showcased its vision for the neighborhood.

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April 5, 2015

The Disctrict's Cup Runneth Over

A haven for coffee and creativity, Zeke’s Beans and Bowls, with their eclectic brand of Hawaiian style poke bowls and local bean blends, is a welcome addition to the NEON District menu. A cozy spot outfitted with vintage furniture, a dynamic collection of local artwork, and even a typewriter to leave a note behind for the next lucky patron – the spot is perfectly set to relax and sip or dine on some seriously fresh fare. The shop continues their tradition of bringing in exceptional artists to feature, and planning amazing events that bring together vendors, visitors and vagrants.

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October 29, 2014

The Push Comedy Theater Pushes The Envelope

Founded by local comedy troupe The Pushers, the Push Comedy Theater brings the best local and national comedy acts to the District. The 90 seat venue regularly hosts live sketch, improv and stand-up comedy while also offering instructional comedy and acting classes.

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June 14, 2014

The Plot Thickens In The NEON District

With ground breaking on Downtown Norfolk’s new Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, its temporary park “The Plot” needed a new home. With the help of dozens of volunteers, the entire park (shipping containers included) was transplanted to the corner of Granby and Olney. It’s since become a central commonplace for the District’s creatives, encouraging buskers, impromptu performances and meetups.

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May 10, 2014

The Chrysler Museum Of Art And Its Glass Studio Turn Up The Heat

After renovations and an expansion totaling nearly $24 million, the Chrysler Museum of Art reopened its doors in 2014, complete with renovations, an extended gallery, and the addition of the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio. A collection spanning over 5,000 years of history, culture, and expression, the Museum continues to inspire, excite and engage its visitors with a collection to rival even the world’s greatest collectors – and it’s free every day. The adjacent Glass Studio has the community ‘fired up’ over its interactive events and daily workshops, showing visitors the artistic process isn’t just about the final product – it’s about the experience.

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May 7, 2014

The Duck Does The District

Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck drifted down the Hague in the spring of ‘14 to commemorate the grand re-opening of the Chrysler Museum of Art. The 10x11x13 meter inflatable work of art had brought smiles and selfies to Sydney, Hong Kong, Osaka, Sao Paulo and other host cities before landing in Norfolk. Nearly 150,000 people found their way to duck and district — sadly, Ernie didn’t show.

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April 14, 2014

Nick Kuszyk’s Massive Mural Blows The District Away

Based on the so-called “dazzle patterns” painted on battleships during World War I to make them more difficult to target, Kuszyk’s mural on the side of Bob’s Gun Shop immediately becomes a brilliantly colorful and electric beacon in the District.

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April 1, 2014

Kickstart Norfolk Does What It Says It's Gonna Do

Alchemy NFK and The Pushers Comedy Group came together for “Kickstart Norfolk,” an online-only fundraising effort that featured live music, comedy, demonstrations and art. With the help of local advertising agency Sway Creative Labs (and a few promised pies to the face), the pair of NEON District businesses collectively raised over $20,000 with one of the country’s first “web-a-thons.”

March 18, 2014

Work | Release Charges The Pulse Of Downtown Entertainment

After purchasing the long vacant Texaco building, C. Arthur “Brother” Rutter III and his wife Meredith aimed to turn Work | Release into not only the premier art and entertainment destination in the District – but in the region as well. It quickly became a staple for downtown nightlife, with patrons of all ages and interests admiring one of the revolving exhibits while sipping on cocktails, dining, or getting down to notable and national DJ’s and bands every weekend. The evolution continues with restaurant changes and rotating exhibitions afoot.

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January 10, 2014

Hurrah Players - This Arts District Welcomes Drama

Nationally renowned family theater troupe The Hurrah Players purchased the former Sutton Manufacturing building in 2014 and began work on reimagining the 12,000+ square foot space into a black box rehearsal studio for their ever growing educational program. Since opening, the group has developed a fully-outfitted creation workshop for performance scenery and props, and as the premier performing arts education center in the District, Hurrah Players have become active leaders in the cultural transformation of the community.

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April 13, 2013

Alchemy - An Underlying Current Charging Downtown Creativity

Alchemy NFK was one of the first anchors of the newly christened NEON to make a measurable contribution in shaping the District’s direction. The collective continues to be an inspiring and igniting force in furthering the Norfolk art community — from booking art shows and live performances, to organizing annual fundraisers and civic projects. If there’s something going on in the NEON, chances are they have a hand (or two) in it.

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April 12, 2013

A Better Block Comes To Town

The City of Norfolk commissioned Dallas-based urban planning firm Better Block to deliver a stretch of Granby Street just north of Brambleton Avenue from a dilapidated eyesore into a thriving arts destination. Over the course of four days, hundreds of volunteers came together to give visitors a vision of what the block could be, complete with galleries, murals, live performances, pop-up retail, food vendors and more. The event was a huge success, and served as the spark for the official commissioning of the Norfolk Arts District.

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July 4, 2012

Norfolk's Creative Class Identifies A N.E.A.D.

The founders and editors of Hampton Roads’ digital alternative press AltDaily submitted The NEAD (Norfolk Emerging Arts District) Project to Norfolk City Hall, and lit the first spark of many efforts to bring to fruition a vision of Norfolk’s first official Arts District.

December 21, 2010

A Blank Canvas Emerges

Spearheaded by AltDaily.com, the Hampton Roads, The Canvas project, brought together public art advocates, artists, local nonprofits and educational institutions to foster relationships with private real estate holders and enliven vacant and blighted properties in all seven cities of Hampton Roads. The first HRTC street art project on the long-boarded up windows of Zedd’s Auction House in Norfolk (now the location of The Plot), featured four artists from four different cities in the region. In 2015, guided by HRTC’s grassroots efforts, Norfolk officially designated the first arts district in Hampton Roads: the New Energy of Norfolk (NEON) District.

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