Floyd Center for the Arts Marks Its 25th Anniversary
Mention Floyd, Virginia and people often think of bluegrass music, mountain scenery, alternative lifestyles, and a vibrant arts community. The heart of that community is the Floyd Center for the Arts (CENTER), propagating culture from a nearly 80 year old renovated barn with a silo painted the color of a Bartlett pear. The Center, just south of downtown, marks its silver anniversary this year.
Linda Fallon has served as the nonprofit’s president since 2012.
“The Center had planned to invite the community to celebrate our 25th anniversary, but the Coronavirus intervened,” she said. “We have a lot of accomplishments over the last quarter-century to be proud of and we look forward to presenting more exciting art, classes, programs and music.”
The town of Floyd has a population of fewer than 500 people and just under 16,000 call Floyd County home. Any given week, visitors to the Center’s colorful restored barn might view a juried art show in the Hayloft Gallery or hear Opera Roanoke present an evening of “Puccini and His World.”
“No matter what one’s age or interest, for 25 years the CENTER has had something to offer all. It is a jewel and one that I am proud to be associated with,” said Fallon.
When the Floyd Center for the Arts was established a quarter century ago inside the Old Jacksonville Barn, the founders decided to call the nonprofit organization “The Jacksonville Center for the Arts.” The Town of Floyd was originally named Jacksonville to honor President Andrew Jackson. The town name was changed to Floyd in 1896.
The history of the Arts Center reflects Floyd’s history. Back-to-the-landers discovered rural Floyd County in the 1970s, a couple of decades before The Jacksonville Center was established. Many of these new residents were artists who were struck by Floyd’s natural beauty and opportunities for creativity. They were met by long-time residents who had a heritage of music and craftsmanship. It was hoped the Old Jacksonville Barn would represent this melding of artistry.
“I tell visitors that one of my favorite things about the Arts Center is seeing it in an old barn. The mixture of farmers and artisans is a hallmark of Floyd,” said Jayn Avery, whose Blue Heron Pottery has a strong following. “Our vision was to bring attention to the unique collection in Floyd of local artists and artisans, including ‘old timers’ and ‘newcomers.’”
Established in 1995, it took a while for the Center to focus its mission, but the vision was always a love of Floyd and bringing fun and the arts together.
Lee Chichester of Floyd was one of the founders and main drivers for the renewal of the barn.
“We hoped to become a hub of arts activities and news to not only assist artists and artisans in the region, but also to steer tourists to studios and arts opportunities,” said Chichester. “We also wanted to save the barn. There had been rumors that the property might be purchased by a conglomerate and a cheap hotel would be erected where the barn stands,” she said.
Events such as the “Jacksonville Jam,” ice cream socials, and movie nights were organized during the summer months in the early years. Most gatherings were held in the creamery area of the barn (now the Ceramic Studio) because the creamery had the advantage of running water. Winterfest, which became an annual December event, was staged in the barn without heat. Participants remember the festivities fondly though they usually mention how cold their fingers were.
The first tenants quickly moved into the barn in 1995, including photographers, painters, jewelers, woodworkers, and fiber artists, hoping to produce and sell their creations. Community agencies also called The Jacksonville Center home.
The building was sometimes rented for special events. In 1996, a special fundraiser was thrown for the high school band. It was called “The Thundering Herd Wild West Show” and featured theatrical shootouts. It was during this time when the first Floyd High School Art Exhibit debut. A tradition that continues today.
By 1999, a variety of exhibitions were being held annually that celebrated the paintings, photography and crafts of Floyd County’s eclectic citizenry. But the old barn structure needed help.
“We, of the first guard, thought of the barn as our greatest endeavor; an icon of the rural landscape, the visual definition of rural artistry and tradition,” said Chichester. “We elected to do what was affordable. As volunteers, we undertook 9/10ths of the deconstruction to clear the way for renovations. We had many working days when people would come with sledgehammers and pry bars to take apart the older, non-weight-bearing walls. The rest of us would carry off the debris and fill a rented dumpster.”
The time between 2000 and 2005 saw major improvements to the barn and adjacent buildings. Thanks to significant state and federal grants, and private funding the Center renovated the barn and site while expanding its programs. Monies were invested in making the barn a functional facility, including handicapped accessibility, the only elevator south of the town’s sole traffic light, and such amenities as heat and plumbing.
Other major improvements to programs and facilities were afoot between 2014 and 2019. With the support of a number of significant grants and donations, the Center paved its parking lot, and added to the barn-building with an additional gallery and new energy efficient entry way. New quiet and efficient heating and cooling systems were added to the Community Room and LED lighting replaced the less efficient incandescent lights in the galleries.
“It seemed to never fail that during a beautifully nuanced classical music performance, the heat or air conditioning would come on with a long and loud squeal. Today, the Center has a nearly silent and efficient heating and cooling system,” Fallon said proudly.
During this same time period, the first House and Garden Tour was organized as a fund raising event. It is now in it’s sixth year. The Hayloft Gallery presented Rhythms of Glass, an exhibition of nationally known glass artists; and widely reported to have been one of the most impressive showcases held at the Center. The concert series, begun in 2007, is still bringing in local, national and international performers four plus times a year.
The Jacksonville Center was renamed the Floyd Center for the Arts in 2016, after nine months of discussions among the Center’s board, staff, and stakeholders.
“Most current residents did not understand the use of the old town name for the Arts Center,” notes Jeff Liverman, the Center’s Executive Director. “We also had a number of situations where people in Jacksonville, Florida were signing up online for our classes thinking the classes were taking place in Florida!”
The Floyd Center for the Arts now offers a myriad of art classes, both juried and curated art shows, classical and jazz music concerts, the Floyd County House & Garden Tour, and the biennial Floyd Plein Air Festival which draws nationally recognized artists to the county. The Center also assists in leading major efforts like the annual Floyd Artisan Trail Tour, the weekly Floyd Artisan Market, and new this year, the Floyd Gallery Walk tour.
“The arts strengthen our community, lift our spirits and build a better quality of life which attract new business and residents,” believes Fallon.
The most recent renovations include a new, creative design for the Center’s lobby undertaken by Floyd glass artist Liz Mears and the addition of hardwood floors throughout the second floor, bringing back the warmth of wood in the barn.
The Floyd Center for the Arts is funded through donations, grants, art sales, and the events it holds. The CENTER has dedicated staff and volunteers. Liverman is looking to the future.
“Awareness is one of our biggest challenges. The Floyd Center for the Arts has a huge array of offerings from classes and workshops to festivals and concerts,” he points out. “We want to serve even more of our community and visitors to Floyd. We have faced many challenges over the last 25 years and emerged stronger for it.”
Floyd residents and the Art Center are waiting anxiously to reopen the old barn safely. While there will not be Silver Anniversary festivities, the Floyd Center for the Arts’ board, staff, and energetic volunteers believe they have a proud legacy to celebrate. For more information or to make a donation, go to floydartcenter.org, or call 540-745-2784. (Press Release written by: Becky Pomponio)