Zombies Ahead. Run.

At 11:31 AM this morning I finished the labels for the new painting gallery. I feel like I just ran a marathon. While wearing a woolen overcoat. In mid-August. In Virginia. The last time I felt this relieved was that time in Scotland when I finished my dissertation:

In other words, I am pumped. The great news? MY BRAIN IS FREE. My capacity for complex thought processes has tripled in the last hour. For instance: I can start thinking ahead to lunchtime instead of grabbing handfuls of M&Ms as needed from the kitchen. The various and sundry tasks I’ve been neglecting over the past few weeks can get some much-needed love (first task: sweep up the glitter that has found its way into every nook and cranny of this house. Where did it come from? And why wasn’t I invited?). I also have the time to share my thoughts on current events. Namely: zombie tag.

What in the world does the Curator at the Hermitage have to say about a game of Zombie-themed tag? A lot, actually. You see, the Hermitage is one of the three charitable organizations named as a beneficiary of the event. (Thanks again, Whitney!)

In case you missed the hailstorm of publicity surrounding Whitney Metzger‘s runaway success, let me catch you up to speed: last Friday, the Ghent area of Norfolk hosted 1700 participants in a gigantic game of zombie tag lovingly dubbed Survive Norfolk. The object of the game was to run a 1.5 mile course through the city, checking in at various checkpoints, all without getting tagged by a zombie (thus becoming a zombie yourself). Sounds fun, right?

I saw Whitney a week ago. We were both eating brunch at the Donut Dinette (you cannot go wrong with a cheeseburger at 11 AM on a Saturday), and she was headed out to hang fliers advertising Survive Norfolk. It was a low-key Saturday, and she had a small handful of fliers. “I just made a facebook event page,” she said, “you should check it out when you get home.” My husband and I nodded enthusiastically between mouthfuls of cheeseburger. Whitney said goodbye and walked over to Azar’s to see if they had a community notice board.

Well, the next day, the facebook guest list for Survive Norfolk had quadrupled. Word spread like wildfire through Old Dominion University and surrounding areas. Suddenly the participants numbered in the hundreds, and then the thousands. In other words, zombie tag was starting to get real. The next few days was a haze. Permits were applied for, money was donated by the bucketful, and a community rallied around Survive Norfolk. The young people of this town were mobilized and not even Paul Fraim could stand in the way.

Friday night could have been a disaster. It wasn’t. The winners ran the course in six minutes (SIX MINUTES — can you imagine? I repeat: 1.5 miles in SIX MINUTES. It takes me six minutes to walk to my car in the morning). Local businesses embraced the influx of customers, throngs of be-zombied people dashed through safely closed streets, and the spectators drank many beers.

The event garnered considerable media coverage, but it was an article in yesterday’s Daily Break by Mike Gruss that managed to actually say something besides “Have you heard about this new thing called Facebook? It really is changing things for the kids” (I’m looking at you, USA Today). Cheers to you, Gruss, for pointing out the obvious implications of Whitney’s game-turned-community street festival:

The movers and shakers, the patrons and players, the casual supporters and the season ticket holders in Norfolk’s arts community should be afraid. They should look at what happened Friday night in Ghent and be very, very afraid…

… But the leadership in Norfolk’s arts community need not be afraid of zombies. They need to be afraid of Metzger and what activities like “Survive Norfolk” mean for their future.

After more than five years, the city still can’t consistently put people into the seats of the gorgeous Attucks Theatre. Musical acts love it, but audiences have been hesitant to flock there. It hasn’t worked. At least not yet…

… The zombies are a warning sign. Careful cultural observers can see that if the groups with the most political capital, the most financial capital and the best connections can’t plan the best events, the ones that become the premier, can’t-miss happenings of the weekend, someone else will.

Gruss ends the article with a call to action for cities and nonprofits: accept the changing social dynamic. Adapt or perish. To that I say, Gruss! We are! We are about to fall over dead from working so hard to get the word out! We have done more at the Hermitage in the last year than I ever thought humanly possible. Megan Frost started Sunsets on the River last fall and I think we had 11 people at our first concert. Now we regularly clock in 400+ attendees. We showed movies on the lawn this summer. This past Sunday we had 2,800 people at All Hallows Eve. We have a newly formed Young Associates Board who are planning a big ol’ riverside  oyster roast next month.  I am working as fast as I can to get our collection online and into our visitor’s homes (digitally, of course!). We’ve got a brand new painting gallery opening next week and it is chock-full of important works of art. In other words: we’re trying, Gruss. We’re trying really hard.

I moved to Norfolk the same time I started my job here — about a year and a half ago. My friends in far-flung metropolises couldn’t fathom my reasoning, but to me Norfolk is the best kind of place to be young, creative, and struggling to find your place in this world. When you can’t get what you want, Norfolk gives you the space to make it — just like Whitney showed us.  We are carrying that spirit forward as best we can at the Hermitage. All we need is you to join us.


Update: an open letter of thanks to the community from Whitney, with her take on Survive Norfolk

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One thought on “Zombies Ahead. Run.

  1. Well said, Ms. Lauren. To see the Hermitage become a hospot for community gatherings is vastly different than the Hermitage I gew up with. You guys are taking Gruss’ challenge and running full speed ahead. Bravo!

    (and thank you for the too-kind words, without the support of the community Survive Norfolk would never have happened and I’m thrilled the Museum will get to benefit from it)

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