'That place saved my life,' says poet about Norfolk art venue that closed due to COVID-19

Posted at 9:42 PM, May 05, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - The red building that sits on 35th Street is more than just a venue.

“It's that place saved my life,” says Jorge Mendez.

Mendez is a poet. He stumbled across this space in Norfolk eight years ago.

“I was in a really dark place, emotionally. When I first started going to the venue, I had just survived a suicide attempt,” he adds.

Mendez says this venue is where he found healing - being able to get on stage and perform with other artists.

James Cooper is the owner of the venue that was forced to close because of COVID-19.

At the moment, he says the business doesn't qualify for federal aid. So, they are now relying on community support to open again when restrictions loosen up.

“Without spaces where you can express yourself, it diminishes your mental health,” Cooper adds.

Since the door of the venue is locked and artists can’t come in and perform on the stage, the owner decided to create a more virtual way for artists to express themselves.

The Venue on 35th Street now offers virtual open mic on Mondays via Zoom, a way they say they’re able to give both new artists and experienced ones a stage.

“A lot of poets, a lot of singers, dancers, artists, visual artists, painters, musicians,” Cooper adds. He says keeping the mic on is the only way some people will be able to get through this pandemic.

“We firmly believe that art can help people to theoretically get through difficult times, and I'm a testament to that," Mendez adds.

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