The following was published in The Floyd Press newspaper on December 30, 2010.
We see education as the active preservation and expansion of the heart and soul of our community. Therefore, we strive to create renewing and inspiring educational experiences in an intimate environment that sustains creative culture, community and individual growth. ~ The Jacksonville Center webpage.
The Jacksonville Center for the Arts is a recognizable name in Southwest Virginia and beyond. After fifteen years of promoting the arts, offering classes and workshops, and hosting exhibits and events in its renovated dairy barn since 2004, the center is well established as a leader in the rural arts scene.
“We’ve grown up. We have a seat at the state-wide table,” said Jacksonville Center director John McEnhill. Last January the center was invited to present a workshop on the challenges of a rural arts center at an art conference in Richmond, he added. “It was the best attended workshop at the conference.”
Although the center’s name has been gaining notoriety, it’s the name it does business under – the Floyd Community Center for the Arts – that more aptly describes the Jacksonville mission. “We are a community center in a rural county. Our first allegiance is to our community. We’ve built-up a solid audience drawn to specific events, and we host a wide range of community events,” said McEnhill, who explained that the Jacksonville Center is the only truly rural art center in the state.
The annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for New River Community Action’s backpack project, held in the center’s Community Room, accommodates 600 or more people. Workshops on tourism and chamber of commerce meetings also take place at the center, as well as twice monthly Old Church Gallery Quilters Guild meetings and weekly yoga classes. “We have the parking and the space to offer the community,” McEnhill noted.
This year the center introduced the first annual Floyd County Imagination Month, dubbed FloCoiMo as a take-off on NaNoWriMo’s November Novel writing month. FloCoiMo challenged countians to create art each day of the month. Spoken word, music, and visual art were shared in a coffee house atmosphere at the month’s conclusion. A book signing for a local author also took place at the center this year and a memorial celebration for a recently deceased community member who was involved in dramatic arts is currently scheduled.
The center has two art venues. The upstairs Hayloft Gallery is home to about 5 – 6 exhibits and receptions a year. Downstairs, the Breezeway showcases the works of art organizations, such as the Quilters Guild and Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) FineHearts and Floyd Artist Association students. Classes offered at the center have included everything from painting and printmaking to blacksmithing and bookmaking. The expanded gift shop features fiber arts, woodworks, jewelry, sculpture, photography, basketry, pottery, cards, mobiles and more made by local artists and artisans.
In the interest of keeping the center accessible to the community, there is no admission charge for gallery showings and events. The center is inclusive and welcoming to new artists as well as the established. Some new artists have shown their work for the first time at the center. Established artists appreciate the fine art juried exhibit the center hosts once a year. Silent auctions and classical music concerts are among the special event fundraisers that community members look forward to. Winterfest, the Jacksonville Center’s longstanding annual art and craft festival, always draws good attendance.
Adding to the hub of activity on the Jacksonville campus – which includes 7 buildings on 7 acres – are artist studio incubators (150 – 400 square foot spaces), along with resident organizations. The center provides the rentals at below market rent and tenets share equipment and common space. They also benefit from the center’s marketing guidance, networking partnerships, free wifi, a color copier, and extended available space. “They don’t have to hire a staff person. We can open and close for them,” McEnhill said.
Jacksonville studio artist and Pickin’ Porch music teacher Scott Perry has extra room for his student’s jam sessions. Potter Sarah McCarthy uses the center’s pottery kiln. Some resident artists “graduate,” McEnhill explained, such as George Lipson, who began his “Green Label” organic t-shirt business in a Jacksonville incubator and has since moved to a building on Oxford Street. Past Jacksonville tenets include Floydfest and the Young Actor’s Co-op (YAC).
When the Tri-area Community Health Clinic needed a temporary home they found it in the Jacksonville’s Residential Craft School dormitory building. Currently, the New River Community Action Center occupies that space while repairs are being made at their permanent location. McEnhill said the center stopped using the building as a Craft School dorm in 2007 when the economy began its downward spiral but he anticipates using it as a dorm again when out-of-town class enrollment picks up.
The Association of Energy Conservation Professionals (AECP), a non-profit energy education and advocacy organization, and the Sustainable Living Education Center (SLEC) are other resident organizations on the Jacksonville Center grounds. The AECP hosts the annual Green Living Energy Expo at the Civic Center in Roanoke. Its partner organization SLEC provides interactive demonstrations and exhibits. Onsite SLEC working systems that showcase the importance of sustainable living include solar panels, a wind generator, and a straw bale building.
Another important way the center serves the community is with its engagement with youth through kid-centered activities, student exhibits, the annual Summer Kids Camps, and SOL based in-school art programs in Floyd public schools. The center recently raised enough funds through a successful Facebook appeal to provide an afterschool achievement and art program for at-risk students in partnership with Floyd Elementary School. The annual youth exhibit, currently showing in the Hayloft Gallery features the works of area school art students. “I’m proud of the fact that we showcase students and give them a venue during the holidays so visiting family members can attend,” said McEnhill.
“There is ample evidence that regular exposure to art curriculums helps students do better all around, particularly at the elementary school level and particularly in math, science and history. They perform better, get better SAT scores, are less likely to do drugs and more likely to graduate with a secondary education degree,” McEnhill stated.