Celebrating Art At The Smith House Galleries

Nov 7, 2019

The Smith House Galleries in Harrisonburg, with the Support of Arts Council of the Valley, emphasizes its connection to the community with a space that highlights art from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

WMRA's Chris Boros spoke with Jenny Burden, Executive Director of Arts Council of the Valley, to talk aboutt how the council acquired the Smith House.

* This interview had production assistance from WMRA's Sara Amin.

Emma Lyon Bryan (c1840-1916), Town of Harrisonburg, Va 1867 On display at The Heritage Museum in Dayton.
Credit Emma Lyon Bryan / Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society

Jenny Burden: The Daily News Record wanted to expand. And this home, that was the fourth oldest home in Harrisonburg, it was built in 1867, they did not want to demolish it. But at the same time, they needed the space for expansion.

WMRA: It’s the fourth oldest house in Harrisonburg.

JB: It is the fourth, it was built in 1867. I actually brought to show you an oil panorama of Harrisonburg that was painted in 1867, by an artist by the name of Emma Bryan. This panorama of Harrisonburg hangs in the historical society in Dayton and it has on the very far right edge, the Smith House.

WMRA: And you can check out that picture now on WMRA.org.  And this house is now Arts Council’s main administrative building.

JB: It is.

WMRA: So, you work in this house every day?

JB: I do, my office is in what was I believe, the dining room.

WMRA: What’s it like to work there every day in this awesome place?

The Smith House being moved from Liberty Street to 311 Main Street in 2005
Credit Jenny Burden / The Arts Council Of The Valley

JB: It is a gift, it is a gift every day because we have gallery space. We have the Darrin-McHone Gallery and the Rhapsody Room, and the two galleries together make up the Smith House Galleries. We are showcasing our Artist Members, which are all local artists in the community. We have 31 different artists represented.

WMRA: How did you get involved with Arts Council of the Valley? Are you an artist yourself?

JB: I am an Art Historian, by education.

WMRA: Nice.

JB: An art historian, but I have always loved art.

WMRA: What is it about studying art? What can we learn by looking at art throughout the years?

JB: Oh my gosh, well, it is how we learn about history. Civilizations throughout time, how do we know anything about them? It is by what was left behind and most of what was left behind is their art.

WMRA: What else is happening in the Harrisonburg art community? Is it thriving, is there a lot going on?

JB: It is absolutely thriving, yes. In fact, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which is the state-wide agency that funds arts organizations and non-profits, was just here on Wednesday and held a town hall for the arts. Harrisonburg had the second largest attendees at one of these town halls, and they’ve been going all throughout the state. So, there were more than forty people at this town hall, and they were businesses, they were other non-profits, they were artists, they were educators. All in this one room talking about how the arts help with healing, how they help with education, and also what we can do for artists themselves.

In the 4th Annual Artist Member Exhibition, Brenda Houndshell's watercolor, Bottled Up
Credit Brenda Houndshell / Arts Council Of The Valley

WMRA: Can you imagine life without art?

JB: No!

WMRA: I know!

JB: Oh my gosh no! Are you kidding?

WMRA: It would be not fun!

JB: It would not only be not fun, it would be deadly dull.

WMRA: It would be dull, there wouldn’t be that much to look forward to in life.

JB: No, no!

WMRA: We look forward to things that are art. We look forward to a movie that’s coming out, we look forward to a new record, art just kind of makes you alive.

JB: A play, architecture, it really does! It is a life force.

WMRA: And even people who aren’t really into art, they probably don’t realize how important it is to their lives.

JB: No, they don’t! I used to do a little spiel I guess you’d call it, in one of my talks where I would say “Okay, the alarm goes off and Kenny Chesney is blaring on the radio and so you wake up, you throw your embroidered pillows up on the bed, you go use your designer toothbrush…”

All of that, you’ve touched art, they have touched your life.

Flyer for the 4th Annual Artist Member Exhibition
Credit Arts Council of the Valley

WMRA: You don’t think about the box of cereal being art, but someone had to design it.

JB: Someone had to design it, that’s right.

WMRA: Some graphic artist had to put that box of cheerios together.

JB: Absolutely. Just every facet of your life has had an artist’s hand in it.  So no, I can’t imagine life without art.

WMRA: Me either, I don’t want to think about life without art!

WMRA: Jenny Burden is the Executive Director of The Arts Council of the Valley, and the 4th annual Artist Member Exhibition is now the current exhibition at the Smith Galleries. Jenny thanks again.

JB: Thank you.