From murals lining the streets to spinning records that set the ambiance for dinner, art is both a public and private commodity that people can enjoy. Behind each art piece are working people whose livelihood rests in the preservation and investment of their trade.
The Virginia Commission for the Arts hosted a regional town hall meeting Wednesday in Harrisonburg to gather stakeholders in the Shenandoah Valley’s art community to discuss how the state agency can better support and promote the arts.
The commission advocates for art funding from the Virginia General Assembly and National Endowment for the Arts. Janet Starke, executive director for the commission, opened the meeting with a breakdown of what the agency hopes to achieve for the upcoming state budget season.
Virginia ranks 37th in the country per capita in public funding for state arts agencies, at $.45 per capita, and Starke said the commission is aiming for $1 per capita — a $3.4 million increase.
“We’re going bold this year,” Starke said.
About 40 people came to the meeting to share their concerns and ideas as the commission drafts its strategic plan for 2021-2024. Attendees were broken into small groups to discuss how to address problems with arts in education, arts and healing, creative economies and operational capacity.
Directors and leaders of art spaces all echoed the same concern: more people are interested in increased access to art, but there is less money being invested in the skills and spaces.
“We’re trying to do too much with too little,” said Jennifer Whitmore, gallery director of Blue Ridge Community College Artisans Center of Virginia.
Some venues have begun to switch to more business-conscious structures. Piper Groves, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, said donors are not dependable and the center suffered after the exodus of DuPont and General Electric, so money is easier made in studio rentals than retail.
Ashley Sauder Miller, a contemporary mixed-media artist in Harrisonburg, said it’s not the fault of poor quality art being produced in the Valley because she is successful in sales when she travels to different venues, but her art sits and collects dust in local galleries.
One topic of discussion was how concepts of inclusion and equity can be worked into creative economies. Michelle Bixler, the director of community development in Strasburg, said a mural put up in her town of an interracial couple offered a platform for discussions on race, and art reflective of a community’s diversity strengthens relationships within the area.
“It’s our responsibility to invite all folks to the table,” Bixler said.
The commission will present updates to its strategic plan for 2021-2024 at Art Works for Virginia on Jan. 29. Public comment will be opened in February before the draft is presented to the board in March and goes for a vote in June.