Pat Miller in her shop. Photo by Joe Bleach, courtesy of Living Legends of Alexandria.

“Art is something people can disagree about in a way that brings them together,” Pat Miller said.  She should know.  Miller has been working in community arts for 30 years and has brought lots of people and organizations together as community volunteer.

Enhancing the sense of community

The Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia has a certain urban charm, (street flags call it an American main street). And the center of Del Ray is mostly one street, about 10 blocks long with a few little shops, coffee and ice cream places, restaurants, and small businesses.  People stroll around with their kids and dogs.  It’s an oasis among malls and high-rises.

This is solo Pat Miller’s community.  And to honor her contributions to Del Ray’s civic life as a community volunteer she was named a 2012 Living Legend by the Living Legends of Alexandria project,.

Miller presently works with five organizations.  She’s president of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts, president of Community Partners for Children, sits on the Police Foundation and heads their Valor Awards, fundraises for the Miracle League which will build a rubberized softball field to allow people with special needs to play on the field without fear of injury, and heads Art on the Avenue, a street fair held annually on the first Saturday of October.

Why these activities?  Miller loved softball as a kid and wants everyone to be able to play, she admires the job police do, having gotten to know many in running street fairs, a friend got her involved with the kids organization, and she genuinely loves art.  She loves that it can serve as a focal point for communities.

Three Eggs in Space, public art in Del Ray, Alexandria, VA, by artist Karen Bailey.

She used as an example a new sculpture that was recently installed in the community – ‘Three Eggs in Space.”

“Some love it, some hate it,” Miller said, “but people say – turn right at the eggs in space.  It anchors us, and helps define our community.”  And to Miller, having a strong sense of place and community seems to center her life.

How does she do it all?

Those five activities are just her volunteer work.  She also works for a political communication firm as their operations manager, and co-owns a Del Ray art and craft shop, A Show of Hands.

Patio outside Miller’s shop.

An over-achiever?  Maybe.  Running at a frenetic pace?  Miller seemed anything but as we sat on the brightly colored chairs on the little patio by her shop.  She seemed to know everyone – and as people passed, they all said a warm “hello.”  She got up to get a treat for a large white dog who went straight to the shop door and looked at Miller eagerly. (This dog, and many others,  are used to Miller’s treats.)

It’s hard to believe this soft-spoken woman is such a leader, and accomplishes so much.  Maybe this is how.  When asked what the keys to a running a successful board meeting were, she answered, “bringing out the strengths of the people.”  She said she talks to people, finds out what they want to do, what their skills and interests are, and then pretty much lets them loose.  Miller also says she’s good at organizing, knowing what needs to get done and coordinating the tasks.  No doubt about that.

Miller also works behind the scenes.  With an understanding for the role and processes of local government, she works at the policy level with City Council.  In short, Miller knows how to get things done.

But Miller is also patient.  “I’ve been working on something now for five years,” she said.  “And if this goes through, I may retire.”

“May” is the operative work here.  Miller may just find five other things to do.  Or if she does retire from her active life as a community volunteer, she can do so knowing she has made a positive contribution to her neighbors in Del Ray.

Her talents and dedication to civic life – and art – have, indeed, brought the community together.

Story by Bojinka Bishop and photos except where noted in the caption..


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