Public Art: Making downtown a joyful, active, and social place

May 15-19, 2017 marked Art Week @StrongTowns and, while those days have come and gone,  public art catalyzes Main Street’s unique vitality throughout the year.

Old Town Winchester, host of the upcoming Virginia Main Street Downtown Intersections, creates an outdoor gallery experience through the Artscape program. An annual, juried art competition, Artscape  reproduces selected artwork on banners that hang throughout the downtown.  During the summer, young families are drawn to the downtown for a splash pad installation, which illuminates in the evening.

Public art can serve to make your downtown very memorable, motivating visitors to share their experience with others or surely to return. @StrongTowns author Marielle Brown emphasizes playful art to help visitors fall in love with your downtown:

We should look for opportunities to incorporate climbing, sitting, playing and general whimsy through public art, when appropriate. It may involve grappling with questions of liability and insurance at the municipal level, but the payoff will be more joyful, active and social places.

Whether you are planning a public art project, or not, you will find gale-force ideas to bring to your next Main Street committee brainstorm.

Check out more here >>>


Old Town Winchester Splash Pad and Public Restrooms


Make the Most of Heritage Tourism in Virginia

Did you know that the cultural heritage tourist typically spends more and stays longer than other types of U.S. travelers?

Preservation Virginia is co-hosting the 31st annual Virginia Preservation Conference in Charlottesville, an event that draws 200 community leaders, developers, architects, local planning officials and others from across the Commonwealth.   Following the release of the final phase of three interrelated economic impact studies, including Virginia Main Street, this year’s theme focuses on heritage tourism and the places that make Virginia unique and appealing to visitors.160908-program-cover_bleed2

The schedule includes a keynote address by product-development consultant Cheryl Hargrove; debut of the new study of heritage tourism in Virginia; DIY historic preservation research sessions; guided tours of the restored Paramount Theater and Charlottesville’s revitalized West Main Street corridor; and a Preservation Pitch contest, a spirited competition to win $2,000 in seed money for a preservation project.

The conference takes place Sunday, October 16 and Monday, October 17 at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Learn more >>>


Give your local artists the business tools for success

When we talk about entrepreneurship, so often artists can be left out of the conversation. The Staunton Creative Community Fund (Staunton Fund) has been examining entrepreneurship through the lens of artists. Wrapping up the spring with a Bach n’ Roll Roundtable, the Staunton Fund brought together stakeholders to talk about needs and ideas for growing the local artist community.

As a result, this summer, the Staunton Fund is expanding their offerings for artist entrepreneurs by partnering with the 2nd Annual Virginia Street Art Festival to offer a smART Marketing Workshop on Aug. 27 in Waynesboro. This workshop will cover topics such as developing a digital presence, defining your target market, developing partnerships and community resources in the area. This class will allow the Staunton Fund to gain some perspective on how to support artists and creatives in the community. Following the workshop, the 2nd Annual Virginia Street Arts Festival will be in full swing for the entire afternoon and evening, featuring live music from local musicians, painters creating their vision on a 100-foot by 20-foot wall, food trucks, children activities and more.

Share this opportunity with your local artisans!

Street Arts Festival_smART Marketing_event photo

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Heyns on Warrenton’s Emerging Latitudes

When people shop locally, they know they are helping to support their community and the shop owners who live there. At Warrenton’s Latitudes Fair Trade, shoppers know they are supporting not only a local business, but also artisans from developing countries around the world.

Latitudes buys handcrafted items from overseas either directly or through a wholesale distributer, ensuring that much of the profit reaches the hands of the original creator. Each item it sells is unique, with deep cultural ties to its country of origin. It not only sells jewelry, scarves, and bags, but also practical household items such as baskets, vases, and table linens.

Latitudes owner Lee Owsley is proud to support artists in less-fortunate countries. Her business allows both buyers and sellers to feel good, she says, because “instead of improving their lives and the lives of their children via handouts or illegal means, these producers are able to live with the self-respect of knowing they are engaged in an honest and fulfilling enterprise.” She believes each item sold represents an artist digging himself out of poverty with dignity.

Latitudes ties the community of Warrenton with communities from around the world—economically and culturally. In Warrenton, it represents the community’s own entrepreneurial spirit. Owsley is a fulltime teacher, who started her business with a temporary store set up for the holiday season. She partnered with a full-time artist in sharing the space. “It really helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone in this,” said Owsley, who advises anyone hesitant about opening a shop to find others who can help with costs, labor and courage.

For more information about the store and the artisans it helps to support, please visit their Web site at

Minds Wide Open contest features Main Street communities

Minds Wide Open, a statewide celebration of women in the arts, will highlight thousands of special events across the commonwealth between March and June of 2010.

While any individual or group can participate by presenting at least one public program focused on women, and related events are taking place in nearly every part of the state, Standing Ovation Vacation packages are being given away as part of a promotional sweepstakes.  And five of the communities featured are Virginia Main Street Communities: Abingdon, Staunton, Manassas, South Boston, and Winchester.

The arts getaways feature superb accommodations, value-added gifts and goodies, plus tickets to cultural arts events like outdoor theater, concerts, dance performances, and exhibits. Random weekly drawings run through June, and there’s no cost or commitment to enter your chance to win. Register now and while you’re there, check out the upcoming arts events in your community and beyond.

Staunton’s strategic arts investment and the power of community

Just as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival anchors a comprehensive and lively arts scene in the City of Ashland, Oregon, the American Shakespeare Center has sparked greater investment in the performing arts as an economic tool in the Shenandoah Valley community of Staunton.

Mosedale shines a light on Staunton's strategy backstage at The Dixie.

Soon, in addition to menu of Shakespeare at the Blackfriar’s Playhouse, community leaders hope to offer visitors contemporary theater. The Staunton Performing Arts Center (SPAC), founded in 2001, has a $13.5 million plan to reinvest in the Dixie Theater and the Arcadia Building.  As a model, SPAC Executive Director Judy Mosedale and other community leaders point to Ashland.

This investment comes at a time when participation in live arts events is on the decline.  Last week the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) reported survey results showing that in 2008 about 35 percent of U.S. adults attended an arts performance (down from 40 percent), and that the average age of attendees is older than the average age of the population.  Meanwhile, it also shows that more of us are downloading performances online. 

So how can  the arts and culture strategies of Virginia communities curb that trend?

One model might be the sports audience.  We watch football on TV, yet fans still pack into stadiums to sit in less comfort, with a poorer view of the action than they can get from home.  But they also get something else in a stadium with tens of thousands of other screaming fans–a sense of shared interest, of community.

In the tourism strategy for investing in the arts, it might be worth asking the question: how can a town or city make a weekend guest actually feel like part of the community? What can attach them to the place as well as the performance? How can we provide an experience they can’t download? And what will keep them coming back for more?

Community-building “Stars” named by Virginians for the Arts

Two Main Street communities pulled top honors in the Virginians for the Arts’ Arts Build Communities Awards. The awards recognize arts organizations that best demonstrate the ability to enhance the community, lift spirits, and build a better quality of life. 

Read more "Arts Build Communities" stories here.

The Barter Theatre in Abingdon was named Shining Star:  With 150,000 annual patrons, The Barter Theatre was selected for the extraordinary impact it has had on the Abingdon community, the region, and on the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The theatre, Abingdon’s 10th largest employer, was founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, when patrons could exchange vegetables for a ticket. It was awarded the Shining Star designation, since it has stood the “test of time.” 

For more on its economic and community development impact, read The Barter Theatre’s story.

South Boston’s Prizery Center for the Performing Arts was named Rising Star:  “Founded only in 2004, the Prizery has galvanized support for the fine and lively arts across the region, and it has become a mecca of performances, exhibits, and classes. Housed in a donated circa 1903 building, which underwent a $7 million adaptive re-use overhaul, today it is a major regional attraction for visitors and business prospects.  Among its significant programs supporting K-12 education, The Prizery operates a unique Pre-K Arts Academy for every public-school four-year-old, partnering with the Halifax County Public Schools. Its work has helped spawned businesses that include three restaurants, a retail art gallery, a clothing boutique, a home décor shop and an artists’ guild. The organization has sparked an entirely new way of community thinking about the region’s potential in a post-tobacco, post-textile era.” 

For more on the economic and community development impact, read The Prizery’s story.

Eighty other community arts assets were nominated for awards. For a full list of recognized organizations and communities, read the November 23 press release.  Awards will be presented at the ArtWorks for Virginia Conference 2010 Luncheon on January 27, 2010, in Richmond, Virginia.