As party themes go, few could find more outrageous inspiration than Hieronymus Bosch’s mind-bending painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a panorama of socially engaged nude figures, fantastical animals, oversized fruit and whimsical stone formations.
Bosch’s masterwork of an imaginary landscape was just the sort of fanciful muse that Art on Wheels was looking for when it began planning its sixth annual fundraiser.
Sweethearts for the Arts: Garden of Earthly Delights, will feature drag queen Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside as host, and include music performances and a sultry show produced by Deepa de Jour and Richmond Burlesque Revue.
“Expect sexy, bizarre, out-there pieces,” says Kevin Orlosky, the nonprofit’s director of programs. Guests are encouraged to come in costume to fit the theme, with a prize for most creative. Entertainment includes a photo booth, raffle, silent auction and games. Along with a cash bar will be a sweets bar to ensure everyone maintains a sugar buzz.
“We’re planning to transform the whole place into a surreal, bizarre world,” Orlosky says. Such elements populate Art on Wheels’ headquarters in Scott’s Addition, where enormous, colorful paper flowers — some with ominous eyes staring out — lean against walls, and bright yellow umbrellas become fanciful combined with silver garlands.
Begun in 2007, Art on Wheels aims to take arts programming to those with limited access to the arts — such as older adults, the disabled, cancer patients and veterans. One obstacle the organization often faces with new groups is that they’re intimidated by the artistic process, a perception by adults that they aren’t artists.
“People have told us they’ve never done art in their entire lives and they’re 80,” Orlosky says. “But it doesn’t take long to get them hooked. It’s amazing, the transformation. Initially they’re stand-offish, but by the end of the course they’re asking us to please come back.”
Miss Magnolia, aka Justin Castonguay, has found the work with the nonprofit gratifying.
“By night, I may be the Southern fried socialite Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside, but by day I’m the activity manager at a senior center working with Richmond’s elderly population,” he says. “Life doesn’t end just because you grow older and, like Art on Wheels, I want to enhance the lives of our aging community with art, self-expression and love.”
Art on Wheels offers a range of music therapy and visual arts — painting, clay sculpture, drawing and photography — using half a dozen instructors. Fees charged for courses represent 60 to 70 percent of the operating budget, with the remaining coming from fundraisers.
Deepa de Jour has been performing at Sweethearts for the Arts since it began in 2010.
“Every year it gets bigger and better,” she says. “The event completely immerses the viewer in the theme, and it’s really important that the stage show draws people in further by having a little something to appeal to everyone.”
The night is a prime illustration of the richness of the local talent pool, featuring burlesque performers, drag queens, contortionists, belly dancers, musicians, hoopers and go-go dancers. As de Jour says, “Come see something strange and sexy.” S
“Sweethearts for the Arts: Garden of Earthly Delights,” is Saturday, Feb. 7, from 8-11:30 p.m. at Lewis Ginter Recreation Association, 3421 Hawthorne Ave. For tickets and information, search for Sweethearts for the Arts at Eventbrite.com.