Dozens of people sat on rocks along the James River on Saturday afternoon as sounds of a symphony, wildlife recordings and the heavy breaths of divers emanated from a nearby speaker.
The crowd watched as a small team of divers submerged themselves under the river.
Yards away, another team of divers sat on the land in their scuba gear, quietly meditating as the symphony played in front of them under the shade of a white tent.
Artist Hope Ginsburg, who was leading the performative piece, shared a few words about the river from underneath the water before her team emerged and rejoined their fellow divers on shore.
“As someone who uses my art projects as an opportunity to ... learn socially, learn collectively, this felt like an extraordinary opportunity to not only learn about this river that I live with, but to learn with my community of scientists, adventurers, musicians, artists and divers,” Ginsburg said after the performance, which featured a score composed by Joshua Quarles.
“I hope [the viewers] had an experience of the river that was new,” Ginsburg added.
The project was part of this weekend’s Festival of the River, a three-day series of events inviting the Richmond community to honor the James River that flows through the heart of the city. The festival includes artistic and musical performances, as well as “Back to the Bay” environmentally focused programming as part of Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.
“The point of it all is to remind people of the importance of the health of the river and the watersheds and the relationship of the watersheds to the river and the river to the Chesapeake Bay,” said David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony.
The festival coincides with the Richmond Symphony’s 60th anniversary and features multiple symphony performances over the weekend.
“This is the end of our 60th anniversary season — we wanted to do something special at the end that would be remembered but would also bring a lot of people together,” Fisk said. “There’s nothing more special about Richmond than the river.”
The festival started with Friday Cheers performances from the No BS! Brass Band, Richmond Symphony and Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Giddens. Saturday evening’s performers included the Richmond Symphony and Savion Glover, a Tony Award-winning tap dancer and choreographer.
The festival wraps up Sunday with activities on Brown’s Island from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a community picnic where attendees are asked to bring a blanket to donate to a local drive and help arrange into an image of the James River, which will then be captured by aerial photography.
A schedule of events is available on the Richmond Symphony’s website at richmondsymphony.com/community/festival-of-the-river/