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Many Irons in the Artistic Fire for the Arts Council of the Valley

The Arts Council of the Valley oversees much of the effort to foster the arts in the Harrisonburg area.Still don’t think there’s much of anything new going on in the Valley?  As WMRA’s Scott Lowe reports, try running that one past Jenny Burden, the new Executive Director of the Council.

JENNY BURDEN:  I’d  tell them to come downtown on the first Friday of the month and they will see a bustling city.  There are over 30 venues where artists can display their work in the city of Harrisonburg on the first Friday. The other is  Court  Square Theater.  We have performing arts as well as first-run movies, so any night of the week there is something going on.

After 15 years the arts council has a wide array of partnerships and influence  with area culture but has a focus on four key areas. 

BURDEN: The Derrin Mchone Gallery, The Court Square Theater, running First Fridays Downtown and the one thing that we really want  to increase tremendously is our granting program, Advancing The Arts grants.  What it is is we give money to artists as well as art educators. And they apply for the grants and we have a committee that reviews them and we give out as much money as we can. Last year we gave out 10,000 dollars.

Jauan Brooks from Harrisonburg HIgh School and her students received one of the grants for The Memory Project which matches high school students with orphans in other countries.  The students create portraits for those who have none of the things we take for granted to help them hold on to childhood memories.  Her students were paired with orphans from Paraguay.  The Arts Council  grant covers bulk materials, shipping and hand delivery of the portraits.  It's a project that inspires the students.

JAUAN BROOKS:  It’s so much beyond what they would create in our ordinary classrooms for me. Yes, they are ultimately creating for themselves but in this case it's going beyond that and touching someone in another country  ...and a child at that. So they become invested and they want to do their best job because they are creating a memory for someone they don't even know.

And another grant helped an art teacher provide about 60 motivational prizes such as sketchbooks to students, and Burden is passionate about trying to triple or even quadruple the grants program. She’s also hoping the arts council can build on the success of the eclectic first Fridays in downtown Harrisonburg, a showcase for artists and musicians, some of whom play at the gallery.

BURDEN: Either someone playing a guitar or we've had a harpist in here before, we've had a trio.  You can go from gallery to gallery viewing different artwork.

And now the Arts Council takes on a huge project, as one of 22 partners for the first ever Valley Arts Fest in June.  

BURDEN : A month long celebration of the arts.  This the first year that it will have been done.

BEV APPLETON:  And I pitched the idea to them and they were all in favor of it but its just sort of on a wing and a prayer the first year...I just want to see how many partners we could put together. We have no budget for it.   

That’s the coordinator for the arts fest, Bev Appleton, who has been acting, producing, and directing for over 40 years. He expects some of the impact of Valley Arts could come from tourists in local hotels. And in the basement theater of St Stephens Church across from the Joshua Wilton House, Appleton will personally get in on the arts fest.

APPLETON:  I'm acting in, directing and producing the Lunchtime Theatre.  It starts at twelve o'clock. People bring their brown bag lunch, we do a half an hour comedy, make people laugh, they're out of there before one o'clock. 

The arts fest will include The Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival and an exhibition from the Virginia Watercolor Society.  More than a dozen venues have partnered with The Valley Arts Council for the event.  For Jenny Burden, it’s all part of the mission.

BURDEN: As fundamental to a vibrant community providing memorable arts experiences for the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

Originally from Blacksburg and Roanoke, Scott has been a broadcaster for more than three decades. Starting in 1985 as a DJ at WSLQ/WSLC, and moving to the valley in 1989, his broadcasting career progressed through a variety of air personality positions including program director, morning show host, and play-by-play sports announcer. Scott joined WMRA as Sunday Morning Announcer in 2008. In the summer of 2015, Scott's service to our listening community expanded as he took on the role of Membership and Volunteer Services Manager. Got questions regarding your membership? Ask Scott!