So I went to a meeting tonight about the arts district in Williamsburg and the organization that has served as a catalyst to creating this district and doing some reconnaisance on whether an entire arts “complex” is feasible in our fair city. ArtSpace is a nonprofit organization that specializes in creating flexible, multipurpose facilities that serve the art community through studio, live/work, performance venue, gallery, rehearsal, etc. space at affordable leases for low income individuals and families and businesses/nonprofits focused in the arts.
First the concerns
Location Location Location – like for any thriving organization, this will be key, but especially in the little city of Williamsburg where there is zero room for growth of any extravagant kind. Let me be clear here, I love how little and quaint Billsburg is. It’s what attracts all of us in the first place. We love the sense of history and the American pride that derives from living in the birthplace of a nation and all that.
But let’s also be honest in saying that there is not a whole lot of elbow room within the boundaries of Billsburg and it will take some careful soul searching to find the exact plot of land to dump this building on. And let’s not forget the parking, the traffic, the adequate green space, etc. It will be a challenge to ArtSpace and whoever they get to do the commercial wheeling and dealing around here.
That said, the current arts district is already in a tizzy about the posibility of loosing their prime real estate, mostly made up of college rental units and run down retail turned office turned bakery shops. It will be interesting to see if and when homeowner/landlords start flying the coop and maybe clearing the way, figuratively and literally, for suddenly empty lots.
It was also interesting to me to hear someone point out that James City County could use a facility like the one ArtSpace proposes. Quite frankly, I think JCC has a facility or two that could be used already for multiple things and I’d be curious how and when said facilities are used at discounted rates for anything smacking of arts. JCC is a great place to live also and there are many wonderful opportunities for family activities and such. I’d also love to see their budget breakdown for providing arts-related events and programs that are not held within the city’s limits. Maybe I’m missing something, which is certainly possible, but it would be great to see more buy in from JCC on the arts community and providing venues and spaces for the arts.
Others also pointed out that there are heavy architectural review board restrictions within the City and to that I say, there should be. But there is room for non brick buildings and less colonial styles. In fact we were sitting IN A BUILDING where the person made that comment which couldn’t be too much less colonial.
Going back to the County thing, I feel like there is room for multiple facilities and multiple venues and in fact I LONG for it. We have the capacity as a region – that includes Yorktown, Toano, Newport News, even New Kent and further – to create multiple venues for the arts. I think something like the ArtSpace project will serve as a lightning rod to stir up our imaginations and inspire others to see what else we can do. I’d love to see little Kimball theatres (with more comfortable seating) pop up, smaller art galleries, house concert venues, and so much more. The possibilities are endless. Sadly, people’s imaginations seem to be.
Now the GOOD STUFF!
I love the idea of concentrating our efforts. We have SO MANY talented people floating around. We could easily play six degrees of separation from Shirley Vermillion haha. But I think that getting us all together in a room and dreaming together will do some good. We have all these plans circulating around, but it’s hard to get everyone rowing in the same way. That is, without a captain who can call out the strokes. and that’s how I see ArtSpace fitting in and bringing us all together to work together instead of randomly, separately and in spurts, or worse… against each other!
The project of ArtSpace seems daunting to some and so far off. But we as a community can start acting all along the way. The City started it by creating the Arts District. We need to start talking about how we can team up in new ways and find each other space and venues and create events, etc. that will focus our energies so that when a facility like ArtSpace opens up, we are ready for it. I think all the things that our community does already are amazing – from Shirley’s 2nd Sundays, to City Arts Cafe (not to toot my own horn, but let’s just say that there wasn’t much like it before I and Shirley got on it), to the dance studios to the Matney Art Gallery on Richmond Road.
But there is so much more that could and will happen. And it’s exciting to know that we are going to be part of it and get to watch our little City break new ground and not just to dig for colonial artifacts 😉
Exciting times…. more to announce soon I’m sure… 🙂