Roanoke Cultural Endowment Mon, 29 Mar 2021 13:50:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Roanoke Cultural Endowment 32 32 RCE Board Member, Cheryl Mosley, Reflects On How Arts & Culture Can Be Centered Around Community-Building Mon, 29 Mar 2021 13:50:38 +0000 Cheryl Mosley, Director of Feeding America Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center has served on the Board of the Roanoke Cultural Endowment for the past two years because she believes the organization can play an important role in community-building and making art more accessible across the Valley, and ensuring that diversity is at the forefront of that effort.

The Importance of Art Accessibility

The Roanoke Cultural Endowment is designed to provide operational funding for both the smallest organizations to the largest organizations in the arts and culture community. It envisions a vibrant community where arts and culture are accessible to all and valued as a critical component of a healthy economy and region, today and for future generations.

“That was one of the main reasons that I wanted to become a Board Member with Roanoke Cultural Endowment,” says Cheryl. “In some communities, art can sometimes feel out of reach for people, but it’s really one of the best ways to bring people from a variety of backgrounds together.”

Cheryl is proud to be part of an arts community that works together to provide opportunities for youth and adults across the city, working with other organizations for a common cause.

“The Roanoke Art’s Commission and Doug Jackson already do a great job that the arts reach everyone,” she adds. “Even the public library system has diversified programming to bring arts into the community.”

“When you invite a child to share their art and they get to see it on display in their community, amongst other artists, that sense of pride in their work can be engrained into them when they’re young,” says Cheryl. “Hopefully, that confidence can inspire them to go on and make a career out of it.”

Beyond other organizations in the community, Cheryl wants to focus on individuals. As a long­ time community leader, she thrives on connecting people with other resources in the City to support a cause. She plans to be heavily involved in the grassroots efforts of community building and fundraising for the Endowment.

“Not only do I want to make arts feel more accessible, but I also want to make giving to the arts more accessible,” says Cheryl. “Smaller donations can add up and when you get the feeling of “we did this together” as a group or a community, that energy is contagious.”

Why Cheryl Chooses Arts Advocacy

While Cheryl may be a culinary artist, participating in visual and performing arts are not her forte. However, she recognizes the importance arts and culture play in everyday life and the health of the local economy.

“Arts and culture is a huge economic driver,” says Cheryl. “Any time I visit a larger city, that’s what I go for. We want folks to know that when you come to Roanoke, there will be a lot to do with a variety of arts and culture options that can quench any thirst.”

Cheryl always loved art, but never considered it as a career option. That was until her own sons became an inspiration to her. One of Cheryl’s sons is a visual artist and graphic designer. The other is a musician.

“My children came along and they’re who really inspired me,” she shares. “I had a track that I thought was best for them, but they didn’t go that route and their fearlessness in the pursuit of their art has inspired me.”

She often reflects on the response the community had in the face of civil unrest over the summer of 2020.

“Watching the Urban Arts Project come together to provide a message to the city and the country through the Black Lives Matter mural on Campbell Avenue was just incredible. It inspires me every day.”

Cheryl hopes to instill that passion in her community through her work at the Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center and through the Roanoke Cultural Endowment. When you build a community centered around inspiration and open exchange of perspectives, great things can happen.

Providing Solutions at the Center of a Community

As Director of Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center, Cheryl Mosley can continue her work on her passion – her community.

At its core, Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center on Melrose Avenue is centered around improving accessibility for underserved populations. It’s obvious that as an employee of FWSVA, Cheryl feels arts and culture are included in that mission.

The FSWVA Community Solutions opened in May 2018 to provide fresh meals to children through meal production training to unemployed and under-employed adults in the community. It also provides FSWVA a meeting space and outreach center to empower the community.

“Where we are located is considered a “food desert” where the community faces challenges having access to quality food and resources,” says Cheryl. “We intersect with different areas of support, so the work we do isn’t strictly centered around food, but it’s definitely at the core.”

Day-to-day Cheryl, her team, and children’s feeding program staff work to distribute food to children at different sites around the city, including libraries, recreation centers, and after-school programs. Since Covid-19 hit, they’ve opened their own doors on Melrose to serve children and families right out of the facility. They’ve also expanded their offerings to families, adults in need, and have launched a monthly senior food box program.

On-site, there is also a Meal Production Training and Safe Serve Certificate Program, which trains the unemployed or under-employed to become gainfully employed or even start their own business.

“This program is near and dear to my heart because I am a baker by trade,” says Cheryl. “I love being in the kitchen with the students. Being an entrepreneur, I owned my own brick-and-mortar for a few years, so I’m able to bring that added perspective to the program.”

Beyond Food Access

Recently, the FSWVA Community Solutions Center working in partnership with Carilion Clinic offered a Covid-19 vaccination clinic. Many individuals in the community do not have transportation or have limited access to transportation to attend one of the other vaccination events across the region. During the clinic, they had a central location they could easily access for their vaccination.

“We do our best to live up to our name ‘Community Solutions Center’ in every way we can,” says Cheryl. “For me, our ability to expand our programming to fill those gaps has been the silver lining of the pandemic.”

Cheryl has also worked to incorporate arts and culture into the FSWVA Community Solutions Center Programming. Prior to Covid-19, she was planning an art exhibition and sidewalk art show that the center would use to bring together well-known and little-known artists in the community.

“Once folks’ basic needs are met, they can begin to explore themselves a little deeper and do things that inspire them,” says Cheryl, a mother of two budding artists. “This community has so many hidden gems. Just because a community faces challenges doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve the same opportunities as others.”

While the art exhibit is on hold, Cheryl has found other creative ways to incorporate art in her programming. When families come to pick up food, we offer little arts and crafts projects for the children.

“We’re inviting the children to draw pictures on notecards so that when we need to send a card to someone in the community, it’s decorated by a local budding artist,” she adds.

Cheryl Mosley is just one of the many bright figures in our community who is using her knowledge, resources, and connections to build a community centered around arts and culture. If you’d like to find out how to support our advocacy efforts, explore our website and subscribe to our newsletter!

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Community Leader Spotlight: Douglas Jackson Thu, 17 Dec 2020 16:56:41 +0000 Image: Artist Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Arts Commission Treasurer Meighan Sharp, and Arts and Culture Coordinator Douglas Jackson at the dedication of Jones’ “Rhapsody in Knowledge” at Melrose Library in January 2020.

Nurturing a Vibrant Arts Community

Douglas Jackson, Arts and Culture Coordinator for the Roanoke Arts Commission (RAC), has his work cut out for him. Wearing many hats in a part-time role, Jackson leads the efforts for RAC in establishing Roanoke as a vibrant, prosperous community where arts and culture engage people in all aspects of life.

“I definitely stay busy, but it’s work I enjoy,” said Jackson.

Jackson is filling the shoes of long-time Arts and Culture Coordinator Susan Jennings, who retired in July 2019. Jackson has worked on the Commission in various roles for years. In the early 2010 and 2011, he was a member of a steering committee of citizens that was tasked with developing an arts and cultural plan for Roanoke. Through public workshops, surveys, and interviews with stakeholders, the committee asked the community what they hoped to accomplish through arts and culture.

The result was the “Roanoke Arts and Cultural Plan” which the City Council adopted in April 2011, making it a part of the city’s Vision 2001/2020 Comprehensive Plan.

“It was really exciting because this was the first time Roanoke had attempted something like this,” said Jackson, “and we’ve accomplished 75% of the plan. I think that’s a testament to our in-depth conversations with the community. We really made an effort to understand what they wanted, and our work paid off.”

Impact of Arts in Roanoke

If you live or have visited Roanoke in the last decade, you’ve likely noticed the impact of “Art for Everyone” on Roanoke’s landscape. One prominent project is Elmwood Art Walk, which features sculptures surrounding a specified theme in Downtown Roanoke’s Elmwood Park. New sculptures are rotated in every few years, the newest batch being “Roanoke Rising,” which was installed in May 2019.

Additional projects include Little Free Libraries, started through a partnership with citizen Dan Kuehl, an art teacher at Breckenridge Middle School, and the Wasena Mural, in which Philadelphia artist Jared Bader painted the underneath side of the Wasena Bridge along the Roanoke River Greenway.

But perhaps what Jackson is most excited during his own tenure as Arts and Culture Coordinator is how art can impact the community. “Art is valuable in and of itself, but our question is, how do we take things we’re passionate about, like art, and connect that with community development?” said Jackson.

“Passion points like art, dance, music, and literature are excellent ways to engage the community,” said Jackson. “We’re not asking them to come to a meeting about community development. Instead we leverage the things they’re enjoying and doing anyways to enhance community development.”

For example, Thunder of Roanoke offers an all-age drum corps and indoor winds programs. “A group of adults wanted to play in a marching band, even thought they had graduated from high school or college,” said Jackson, “so they formed a group that allowed them to continue playing.”

“This is an excellent way to bring people together around music. Art helps people work together,” said Jackson. “Our job is to facilitate groups like this so that people can become more deeply rooted in the Roanoke community.”

“Strong organizations equals strong neighborhoods, which equals strong cities,” said Jackson. “And at the heart of it, that’s really our goal in all of this.”

Looking Ahead

When the Public Arts Program was established in 2003, Roanoke was experiencing a general decline in population and economy. But Jackson is excited to use Roanoke’s recent growth to guide conversations around arts and culture. “Are we growing the way we want to grow? Are there specific ways we want Roanoke’s arts and culture to grow in the next ten or twenty years?” asked Jackson. “These are questions that we asked back in 2003, and we’ve seen great success in. Now we have an extraordinary opportunity to keep effecting change in Roanoke.”

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Carilion Healing Arts Program Changes Format to Continue Programming Tue, 28 Jul 2020 16:38:17 +0000 Carilion Clinic believes that providing the highest quality of patient care means more than treating their physical symptoms. The Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program launched in 2011 based on this notion and is designed to support the whole human experience of patients, caregivers, visitors, and staff by integrating the literary, visual, and performing arts within the healing process. 

Research shows that healing arts programs can impact patients and families in a variety of ways including shortened post-operative recovery, raised pain thresholds, increased morale, lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and more.

“Professional artists in the community offer bed side art experiences for patients, family members, and caregivers,” says Katie Snead Biddle, Healing Arts Program Consultant. “It really encourages them to heal beyond the physical body.”

Katie served on the advisory board since the program started and became the official consultant in 2018. She pulls from her background as an expressive arts therapist and strives to provide evidence based programming.

“There is such a huge need for the arts right now,” says Biddle. “Arts has always been a part of healing, since ancient times.”

The program leverages artists-in-residence to build a community connection to the arts and culture leaders in the area. The current artists in residence include:

  • Lawrence Reid Bechtel, sculptor, author, and storyteller
  • Kirsti Kaldro, music educator and harp therapist
  • Sandee McGlaun, creative writer and memoirist, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Roanoke College
  • John Pence, musician, producer, and songwriter
  • Pedro Szalay, dancer, choreographer, and educator, Director of SWVA Ballet

Arts from Afar

As the world continues to feel the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, the healing arts program is more important than ever. While it’s unsafe to provide the same bed side programming they typically offered, Biddle is proud of how agile they’ve been to create a whole new kind of experience for patients.

“We have completely transformed the way we provide arts experiences for patients and employees,” says Biddle. “In partnership with our artists-in-residence, we’ve created new virtual arts experiences to support the healing process.”

New art kits, including modeling clay, watercolor, and collage kits are being distributed to inpatient hospital unites and to some hospice patients and families. Demonstrations on how to use the kits are available on their YouTube Channel or via the GetWellNetwork – the inpatient television network at Roanoke Memorial. Since the beginning of the crisis, they have distributed 250 kits and will expand distribution in the coming weeks.

“While nothing can replace an in-person visit with an artist, the custom content from our artists provides an aspect of social community connection that still promotes healing,” she adds. “The kits are designed to promote physiologic and emotion regulation, and a sense of agency and expression – factors that are also known to improve physical health.”

The artists-in-residence have provided custom programming each week to be shared on the YouTube channel. One of the most recent examples is Pedro Szalay from Southwest Virginia Ballet collaborating with musician John Pence.

“I have been heartened by the local arts community’s response to this situation and the truly collaborative and innovative spirit of our community partners,” says Biddle.

The Importance of Arts & Culture in Our Community

Biddle and the dedicated advisory board of the Healing Arts Program believe engaging in creative activities is truly one of the best ways to cope with uncertainty. Through the data they have collected from the program over the last two years, the benefits of artistic endeavors in healthcare settings are clear.

“We are glad to be able to draw on the healing power of the arts during a time when creativity is increasingly important,” says Biddle.

The Healing Arts Program at Carilion is just one of the many examples of arts and culture organizations working together to strengthen Roanoke in this time of crisis.

“The work that Shaleen [Powell] and the Roanoke Cultural Endowment are doing is truly supportive of the arts and culture organizations in this community,” she adds. “The fact that the endowment will support operational funding is huge, because most of the grants we apply for must go directly into programming. They can help fill that gap for operational costs.”

The Roanoke Cultural Endowment is thankful for leaders like Katie Snead Biddle and the dedicated artists-in-residence for stepping up to provide healing interactive arts experiences from afar. Check out the Keeley Healing Arts Program YouTube Channel to participate in some safe arts and culture experiences!

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Arts & Culture Provides LGBTQ+ Roanokers With a Safe Space for Self-Expression Mon, 22 Jun 2020 12:59:27 +0000 A few Sundays a year, while driving around the City of Roanoke, you might spot a group of people being led by scholar, historian, and activist, Dr. Gregory Samantha Rosenthal, or one of their colleagues, walking around Old Southwest. This walking tour informs attendees about the historic inner-city neighborhood and its role as a home to segments of the Roanoke LGBTQ+ community for the last 50 years. 

Rosenthal co-founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project in 2015, which is committed to researching and telling stories of the LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations in the region. In addition to hosting walking tours in three Roanoke City neighborhoods, the group compiles and delivers these stories through digital archives, document libraries, and oral history recordings through partnerships with the Virginia Room, Roanoke Public Libraries, and Roanoke College, and Roanoke Diversity Center.

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Hey all, So… in Roanoke this weekend? Looking for something to do? Maybe you've got an interest in local LGBTQ history? Or you just want to wander around downtown Roanoke for say 90ish miniutes. Listen Up! The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ History Project is having their newly redesigned and refurbished (wow so sparkling new and gorgeous) Downtown Roanoke walking tour this Sunday (10/20) at 2pm. The tour is about 90 miniutes long and explains different aspects of local LGBTQ history including but not limited to: historic gay bars, sex work, gay rights activism and more supported by numerous quotes and stories recorded from those who lived through it! If you would like to join in on the adventure, we will be meeting up on Sunday at 2pm inside at the Ronoke City Market Building (located 32 Market Square, Southeast Roanoke) But if you can't make Sunday, do not despair! We offer tours just about every month on varying Sundays as well at private group tours at request. To find out more, please follow the link at:

A post shared by SWVA LGBTQ History Project (@swvalgbtqhistory) on

According to their online exhibition, “Coming Out: Gay Liberation in Roanoke, Virginia, 1966-1980“, Roanoke’s “gay liberation” picked up in the 1970s after the political and social movements in the second half of the 1960s. The Old Southwest neighborhood had been abandoned by the city’s upper-class white citizens during that same time in the nationwide phenomenon now known as “white flight,” opening the area to Roanoke’s LGBTQ+ community. Queer Roanokers built safe spaces, like the historic Trade Winds bar or the Horoscope, across downtown and on the edge of Old Southwest, for queer men and women to connect.

The LGBTQ+ community’s investment in Old Southwest improved property values and reduced crime, making the neighborhood more attractive to heterosexual, cisgender citizens. Though the neighborhood isn’t what it was fifty years ago, the neighborhood retains its nickname and identity as Roanoke’s “gayborhood” and continues to be a neighborhood that many queer residents call home.

Today, many arts and culture organizations provide the safe space that the LGBTQ+ community seeks. When relocating from Wichita, Kansas, Vice Mayor Joe Cobb discovered that space through his neighborhood friends in Old Southwest.

“My first introduction to the [Roanoke] arts and culture scene was at the theatre,” Cobb reflects. “One of the first productions I remember seeing was The Laramie Project about the reaction of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shephard, a gay American college student.” 

Cobb describes the arts as a place to find sanctuary but also as a launching pad for artistic expression of the LGBTQ+ community to be shared with the world.

“If you imagine the stage, there’s an effort to create a space on the stage for people to be who they are: to be authentic, to live lives of integrity, to have a place to speak to who they are and to be honored for who they are.”

Shortly after moving to Roanoke, Cobb began working for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra doing public relations, marketing, and development. This opportunity opened him up to the local arts and culture community, where he discovered how hard they worked together to make Roanoke an arts and culture destination. 

“The arts and culture organizations were already on the forefront of making a difference in the city,” says Cobb. “It’s because of the way arts get into our souls and give us expression to whatever it is that we’re feeling. It feels like that safe space to dwell in uncertainty, but it also helps us find expression for it.”

As Vice Mayor of Roanoke City, one of Cobb’s platform priorities is “energizing our creative spirit to grow an inclusive city”. He encourages the arts and culture community to continue to work with local government and businesses to find ways to rebuild, reshape, and recover our community and economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think humanity has always appreciated the arts, but I think we’ve underestimated their value in terms of economic impact, of life-saving characteristics, and of their ability to bring people together in ways that business and government are not able to,” says Cobb. He admires the grit the arts and culture organizations have shown in the depth and beauty of how they have risen to the occasion in times of crisis. 

It is the responsibility of the mainstream arts and culture community to continue to operate within these collaborative spaces – not just with one another, but with the smaller organizations within subcultures. While the LGBTQ+ community has a prominent presence in the mainstream arts and culture community, they have also pioneered their own sub-culture in the area. 

The Taubman Museum of Art is home to Morning Brew Coffee, where Soul Sessions Roanoke takes place. Founder, Bryan Hancock, created the ally program to provide a space for artists to express themselves and share experiences, no matter their ethnic, racial, religious, or gender identities. 

Theatre 3, led by Ami Trowell, supports under-resourced and under-represented communities, using improvisation and company written works that represent a diverse set of perspectives, with a focus on illuminating the artistic expression of frequently marginalized populations along the lines of race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation and other social markers.

While the Roanoke Diversity Center primarily provides the LGBTQ+ community with education and health and wellness resources, they also have programming that embraces artistic expression, whether it’s open mic night or a Rainbow Cinema showing of an LGBTQ+ film. They also house the LGBTQ+ resource library, managed by the SWVA LGBTQ+ History Project. 

Fashionista Roanoke frequently hosts their fashion shows at Center in the Square and the Taubman Museum of Art. At the end of 2019, founder Garland Gravely launched Roanoke’s first Ballroom House, House of Expression, for the LBGTQIA POC community to know that they are loved and welcomed into a family. In this family, members can count on this house to have a place to go to be accepted, whether or not their biological families do. They partner with organizations like the Drop-In Center and Planned Parenthood to provide health and wellness education and support and hopes to hold a drag ball one day. 

The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project has also partnered with Community High School to produce an LGBTQ+ history-themed zine and worked with Diversity Camp to provide interactive theatre workshops for LGBTQ+ youth. 

It’s through partnerships with organizations like these that can change lives from a grassroots perspective. That’s just the kind of grassroots engagement Joe Cobb stands for.

“My guiding principles are based upon building a city that believes in equality, and on a deeper level, equity,” says Cobb. “The arts community gets that.”

Arts and culture organizations create those spaces, and to the degree that we can continue to expand them for LGBTQ+ is critical. Pride Month in Roanoke looks a little different this year, but as you go on to celebrate pride throughout the rest of the year, remember what Joe Cobb says: “Continue to be queer. Continue to be who you are in your expression.”

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Give the Gift of the Arts This Holiday Season Mon, 02 Dec 2019 15:31:32 +0000 Lasting Impact of Arts & Culture

Most people think of the holiday season as a time to give the latest toy or gadget that hit the shelf this year or a shiny new piece of jewelry. Sure, those things bring joy to your loved one, but what if you could make that impact last longer than the “latest and greatest” thing? 

When you give the gift of an arts and culture experience, you’ll help them create memories that can last a lifetime. Your purchase will also impact your local economy and community quality of life. Money spent on local arts and culture organizations will go to support local artisans, hospitality workers, and community outreach programs. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Top Five Arts and Culture Gift Ideas

While there are endless ways to give the wonder of arts and culture in your community, here are a few of our favorite ideas!

  1. Tickets to Their Favorite Performing Arts Show – Is your loved one a fan of the performing arts? Consider purchasing a set of tickets to their favorite show or season tickets to their favorite performing arts group! The Roanoke Symphony OrchestraMill Mountain Theatre5 Points Music Sanctuary,  and Opera Roanoke are just a few of the local performing arts organizations that offer season passes.
  2. Buy Lessons – What better gift can be giving than inspiring their own creativity and growing their skills with lessons in their favorite form of the arts?! Aspiring young artists have access to a wide variety of lessons and classes that can make their dreams of channeling their creative side come true. RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families offers acting classes and camps, the Jefferson Center’s Music Lab is perfect for musicians, and the Grandin Theatre’s Film Lab is the perfect program for the future Spielbergs. They’ll gain artistic and professional skills that will last their lifetime. 
  3. Donate on Their Behalf – Some people would rather you give to others than themselves. More and more people ask that money originally spent on gifts for them go to one of their favorite organizations instead. If you know that they’re passionate about a local arts and culture organization, let them know you plan to give in their name. Organizations like the Virginia Museum of Transportation, the Historical Society of Western Virginia, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia are some of the many local organizations that have a great impact on our community that would greatly benefit from your support. 
  4. Plan a Day or Night Out -Sometimes the best gift is quality time with one another. If you have a shared interest, why not include yourself in the gift too? Purchase tickets to your favorite classic film showing at the Grandin Theatre and have dinner at your favorite spot in Grandin Village. Does your little one adore animals? Buy tickets the Mill Mountain Zoo and stop at Blue Cow Ice Cream Co. on the way up the mountain! Art fanatics would love spending an afternoon at the Taubman Museum of Art before drinks at their favorite downtown restaurant. The possiblities are endless! 
  5. Buy From a Local Artisan – Independent artists need love too! Works of art from independent artists are lurking in every corner of our beautiful community. RIOT Rooster Indie Craft Fair and downtown Dickens of a Christmas are both great one-stop-shops for local artisan vendors to sell their goods. Downtown is also rich with art galleries with beautiful pieces the put the perfect finishing touch on someone’s home. You can even find pieces for sale at your local coffee shop. 

Whatever you choose to give your loved ones this holiday season, make sure it comes from the heart. Roanoke Cultural Endowment wishes you the happiest of holidays!

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Art to Rescue the River: a Partnership between Mill Mountain Zoo, Clean Valley Council, and Local Artists Mon, 02 Dec 2019 15:30:00 +0000 The Problem with Plastics

Americans consume 1,500 bottles of water every second, and only 23% of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled. That means that 38-50 billion single-use water bottles produced here every year end up as trash, piling up in our landfills and even our waterways.

“It’s a serious issue, especially for our animal habitats,” said Bambi Godkin, Mill Mountain Zoo’s Education and Conservation Manager,” and it can sometimes feel like no matter how much you change your own behavior, you’ll never make an impact on the big picture. I wanted to do something to at least raise the public’s awareness about the problem.”

Using Art to Create a Cleaner Valley

When Godkin had the idea to run a program for artists to create sculptures out of trash collected from Roanoke Valley’s waterways, it felt like an appropriate way to draw different groups together.

“I thought that it would be a good opportunity to form a partnership with another organization in the valley,” said Godkin. “Plus, it seemed like the project would be more successful the more people we got involved.” 

She reached out to Clean Valley Council (CVC), a local environmental advocacy group that runs programs focused on recycling, litter prevention, stormwater protection, and stewardship.

“Clean Valley Council does a lot of great work in and around Roanoke to collect litter that is thrown into animal habitats,” said Godkin. So far in 2019, Clean Valley Council has been involved in fourteen clean-up days, including Fall Waterways, Clean Valley Day, Melrose Clean Sweep, and Tinker Creek Adopt-a-Highway. Over the course of these events, CVC has mobilized more than 2,300 volunteers and collected 1,500 tons (3 million pounds) of trash.

Together, Mill Mountain Zoo and the Clean Valley Council applied for a grant from the Roanoke Arts Commission to get the program off the ground. “It was the perfect match,” said Godkin. 

Last year, the inaugural year of Art to Rescue the River, two sculptures were placed in Mill Mountain Zoo by two local artists: Ruby-Throated Humming Bird by Katherine Devine and Beaufort the Black Bear by Toobz Muir.

“For the contest, we require that the sculptures be of an animal native to Virginia. We want the art to depict animals dealing with the impact of our litter here in Roanoke,” said Godkin.

How You Can Support Art to Rescue the River

Mill Mountain Zoo and Clean Valley Council are in the midst of the submission cycle for next year’s sculptures. They are accepting conceptual sketches of the sculptures and hope to choose the winners by the end of November. Artists will have the winter to produce their sculpture, and the completed pieces will be unveiled in April.

“We are excited to keep pushing forward with Art to Rescue the River. We got it off the ground last year, and we’re ready to continue growing the program and gaining more public exposure this year,” said Godkin.

Mill Mountain Zoo is located in Mill Mountain Park, a beautiful 568-acre regional park just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their mission is to promote an appreciation and understanding of wildlife and habitat preservation through the use of quality exhibits and educational programs, and to work in cooperation with other animal conservation programs. Today, the Mill Mountain Zoo is the only major non-profit wildlife attraction on the entire 469-mile span of Blue Ridge Parkway, and enjoys continued success thanks to the support of the community, philanthropic organizations, and private donors.

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Center in the Square and Roanoke County Launch Illuminights at Explore Park November 29 Wed, 13 Nov 2019 15:20:29 +0000 Christmas lights spark a sense of joy and warmth in a single instant. How warm do you think you’ll be walking through a dazzling world of over 500,000 lights with the ones you love?

Illuminating a Community Partnership

Starting November 29, you’ll have the opportunity to find out. Center in the Square and Roanoke County Parks and Recreation have partnered to present Roanoke’s first Illuminights – Explore Park’s Winter Walk of Lights. This special event is an expansion on last year’s holiday village, creating a half-mile walking tour lighting up the beautiful sights of Explore Park. 

This project was a joint effort through and through. Center in the Square worked diligently to fund the lighting for the project while Roanoke County Parks and Recreation covered the logistics, building, and staffing of the winter wonderland. Both organizations are hopefully that the attraction will bring thousands of families to the Roanoke region for holiday festivities and proceeds from admission fees will be split. 

Winter Walk of Lights Activities

Attendees are encouraged to take their time exploring the illuminated walking path, interacting with the lights as they go. Guests will also enjoy nightly marshmallow roastings and an artisan craft Christmas Market. 

The walking trail is open nightly and bonus activities are featured on select evenings: 

  • Children’s Santa Shop – Let the kids shop for gifts on their own, under the supervision of our staff. Dec. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 only.
  • Santa Visits – Santa will be available for stories and photo ops. Dec. 16-19, and 23 only.
  • Edible Art – Decorate holiday cookies with us. Dec. 1, 5, 8, 12, 15, 19, 22, 26 & 29.
  • Carriage Rides – For an extra fee, enjoy a magical ride on a horse drawn carriage. $10 per person for wagon style seating. $15 per person for a covered Cinderella carriage. Dec. 5, 12, 19, 26, 31.

How to Attend

Admission for adults (15+) is $13 in advance and $17 at the gate. Children (ages 2-14) will be admitted for $6 in advance or $10 at the gate. If you’d like to volunteer, positions through Roanoke County Parks and Recreation are available online.

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RCT4Teens Tackles Tough Topics Through Theatre Wed, 13 Nov 2019 15:15:24 +0000 There’s a certain stir of excitement during the short pause between the lights going down, the curtain coming up, and the first actor stepping into the spotlight on a stage. All of the playwriting, staging,  and rehearsals finally come together to produce an incredible work of art that pulls the audience in, makes them feel, makes them think, and changes their perspective, if only for a moment.

Since opening in 2008, RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families (formerly Roanoke Children’s Theatre) has strived to provide these impactful moments to young audiences and families in the Roanoke Region and beyond. Through the production of four mainstage plays and musicals throughout the year, academy-based classes, workshops, and theatre camps, RCT provides an opportunity for local youth to learn to appreciate theatre education directly from theatre professionals. They  truly believe that “Theatre skills are skills for life”. 

Purposeful Programming Tackles Tough Topics

One year after opening, RCT launched the RCT4Teens program with the goal of writing and producing performances that focus on relevant, challenging topics that local teens face in their daily lives. These plays are performed at public schools in Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Botetourt, and Salem and cover a wide variety of topics such as bullying, drug abuse, and difficulties with home life. At each performance, RCT partners with local human health organizations to address these issues in group Talk Back sessions and provide counseling and support for teens who reach out for help.

“In 2016, our Ice Cream Man play targeted the rampant issue of heroine abuse in our community,” Pat Wilhelm reflects. “I’ll never forget the moment when a young man raised his hand and said ‘That goes on in my house but they said not to tell. What do I do?’ That was all the proof we needed to know the kind of impact we are making with is program.”

The team at RCT believes that when teens are faced with real stories about real problems in an open and supportive setting, the effect can be life changing.

Tracking Progress

While those live and in-person moments with students confirm Pat’s belief that engaging, relatable performances can change the perspective of a young mind, RCT has taken measures to truly evaluate the impact of the program. By partnering with students at Virginia Tech, they created surveys to provide to students before and after the performances. Since beginning this tracking in 2011, they have seen significant statistical changes in the behaviors and perception of risk for the young people who have participated in the RCT4Teens program. 

For example, the surveys following 2016’s Ice Cream Man performances at Northside, William Byrd, Glenvar, and Cave Spring High Schools revealed that 79% of students said that the performance strengthened their choice to not use illegal substances. They also reported that the performance, paired with the Talk Back, increased their understanding of substance use, abuse, and addition. Finally, they were able to collect additional information through open ended questions that will now guide the Prevention Council of Roanoke Valley in providing resources to local youth regarding these issues. 

Why It’s Important to Your Community

These perspective-changing moments produced by the performances of RCT4teens provide both an immediate and long-term impact in our community. These stories and surveys give students and organizations the opportunity to make changes right away. They also provide a lasting impact on students as they become active members of society. Students who are able to deal with issues like bullying, substance abuse, and mental health head on, at a young age, are more likely to overcome challenges as they grow into adulthood. 

RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families is just one of many amazing arts and culture organizations that fuse engaging experience with education in hopes that they can make a lasting impact on the lives of individuals in the communities they serve. We are proud to support RCT in their mission to provide purposeful program to our local youth. This year, RCT4teens will be tackling the dangers of the Internet, how teens can protect themselves from predators, and the possible effects of social media on mental health. We look forward to seeing the community response on this very important topic. 

About RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families

RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families is an independently owned and operated 501c3 organization located in The Jefferson Center in Downtown Roanoke. RCT is dedicated to providing high-quality theatre education and entertainment to families, schools, and children with year-round programming. 

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The Grandin Theatre: The Last One Standing Tue, 12 Nov 2019 18:11:55 +0000 Roanoke’s Grandin Theatre has undergone several revisions over the years and today stands as an example of what can be done when the arts community is serious about a project.

The Grandin Theatre, once one of more than 15 neighborhood movie palaces in Roanoke now occupies a niche that is unique in Western Virginia. Its four screens still feature popular movies on a daily basis, but they also screen foreign films, documentaries, independents, specialty movies and even those locally produced.

In recent years, it has been an occasional music hall, a live theater and a film lab where students turn out their own movies, some of them quite impressive. The Grandin is a community center, an art museum and a perfect setting for birthday parties. You can still find Saturday morning matinees for children there. It is at the center of a neighborhood economic development experiment that has become a role model for other neighborhoods and even other cities.

Over the years since it opened in 1932, showing “Arrowsmith,” the first movie with sound shown in Roanoke, the Grandin has changed hands several times and is now a non-profit owned and operated by the Grandin Theatre Foundation, formed in 2001 by Roanoke business notables Ed Walker and Warner Dalhouse.

Following is a look at how the Grandin Theatre developed and what it has become.

The Early Years

Roanoke’s history with movie theaters is more than a century old now, formally beginning with the opening of the Jefferson Theater in 1910. Many of the early free-standing, single-screen theaters—one a 5-cent small screen and three others Nickelodeians—closed by 1930 and most of the rest were shuttered by 1978 with the razing of the Jefferson Theater downtown.

Remaining today and standing alone is the Grandin Theatre, an entertainment center not as grand as the American was for many years, but one of the country’s last old-style, architectural mish-mash community movie house that has found a stable, healthy place in Roanoke’s culture.

Roanoke theaters in the first half of the 20th Century were plentiful, including the grand American, the Lyric, the Bijou, the Isis, the Princess, the Comet, the Virginia (for African-Americans), the Lee, the Electric Parlor, the Wonderland, the Azusu, the Boston, the Roanoke, the Jefferson, the Rialto, the Park and the Virginian.

When the Grandin opened on March 26, 1932 tickets cost a quarter for adults and a dime for kids. Fresh, aromatic popcorn, candy and soft drinks refreshed the audiences. The theater held 944 people on the floor and balcony and had “special equipment for the hard of hearing”.

Eubank & Caldwell architect John Zink’s creation mixed Spanish colonial, colonial revival, Italian Renaissance and classical revival—an odd combination if one exists. But it works, especially the gargoyles overlooking the main theater.

The Grandin remained an ordinary neighborhood cinema for more than 40 years, until it closed in 1976. It was, as it still is, the center of Grandin Village and a destination, though there was plenty of competition for the movie dollar (or dime, as it were). For a number of those years, the neighborhood and the theater were linked to downtown Roanoke by trolley, basically shrinking the size of Roanoke.

The Playhouse Years

The Grandin closed in 1976 because of financial challenges and was taken over by Mill Mountain Theatre which produced 30 shows like “The Sound of Music,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Annie Get Your Gun” over the next seven years. Mill Mountain’s home on the mountain had burned to the ground, leaving it with no place to go.

Jim Ayers and Mona Black helped lead the MMT back at the Grandin.

Jere Hodgin, former creative director at Mill Mountain Theatre after it moved to its permanent home in downtown Roanoke, says, “Fewer than a dozen people acted in all three Mill Mountain venues and I’m the only one left who directed at all three. I stood there and watched Mill Mountain Theatre burn on the mountain.”

Today, Ginger Poole the MMT creative director, says simply, “Without the Grandin Theatre, we wouldn’t be here.”

The first season for the live theater was called the “Phoenix Season” and actor/director Ernie Zulia (now head of the Hollins University Theatre Department) says, “We had theater ghosts and movie ghosts at the Grandin.”

The legend of those movie ghosts remain strong.

The Music Hall

In 1983, Jack Andrews bought the Theatre and screened classics, second run movies, and art films. He also presented live music shows. During this time, blues musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles and BB King rocked the house.

In 1984-’85 Phillip Poff began bringing in music shows, most of it reflecting his taste for blues and jazz: Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Buddy Rich, John Prine, Delbert McClinton (who kicked off the series with the local Rhythm Doctors opening for him). Chet Atkins and Tammy Wynette added a country flavor. Poff did it on a wing and a prayer: “We didn’t have much money,” he says.

Beginning in 1984, there were 13 shows in 13 months. He had to schedule two Ray Charles shows in a day to pay the legendary musician. In the end, “we lost a lot of money but …” His voice trailed off.

The Lindsey Years

In 1985 the Grandin closed its doors once again, this time due to financial issues. However, in 1986, the theatre opened under the ownership of entrepreneur Jim Lindsey and the guidance of manager Julie Hunsaker, his sister.

They brought in art house, indie and foreign films, re-decorated the theater with 1930s flair and added programming to get the community involved. Hunsaker even brought in comedy legend Bill Murray, who in 1990, hosted a benefit to help the Grandin pay its bills.

Lindsey says buying the Grandin was not a spontaneous decision: “I had been obsessed with having a movie theater for years,” he says. “I went all over the region looking for one and even considered the Jefferson when it closed. I looked at a lot of buildings with converting them in mind.”

When the Grandin Theater came up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity, looking at the Vinegar Hill theater in Charlottesville for inspiration. “It is what the Grandin became,” he says, “but we did things they didn’t do.”

The theater had one screen at the beginning and that was found to be financially limiting. “We were showing two or three different movies a day, and having mini-festivals. But we finally realized we couldn’t do it with one screen.” So two screens upstairs and a screening room downstairs were added. Another screening room downstairs behind the concession stand came a bit later. All of that increased capacity and potential for variety.

“We had been losing money rapidly,” says Lindsey, but the bleeding stopped with the additions. “We started climbing back and in less than a year after we opened” the theater was doing well.

Lindsey credits his sister with making a huge difference in perception and in fact. She was the creative genius and the face of the theater in the community. “Julie created so much enthusiasm,” Lindsey says.

Then unanticipated problems arose with distribution, which would eventually lead to the theater closing again. “We were getting sub-runs, foreign films and films that didn’t come here,” Lindsey says. “We had to juggle the mix. Distributors, however, “got stronger and meaner, trying to block us at every turn. The big theaters were dominant in the area” and didn’t want the Grandin to succeed.

Grandin was operating with 93 percent of its revenues coming from tickets and concession sales. The generally accepted blend is 60 percent tickets/concessions and 40 percent from other sources. In November of 2001, The Grandin Theatre was forced to close for the third time because the numbers just didn’t add up.

The Grandin had become a community treasure again under Lindsey and Hunsaker, even to the point of helping raise a lot of Raleigh Court’s children at its ticket booth, concession stand and film room. Several of them went on to careers in the movie business.

Up To Date

The effort to save the Grandin one final time fell to the people of the Roanoke Valley. Under the guidance of developer Ed Walker, whose specialty is renovation of old property, and retired banker Warner Dalhouse the Grandin Theatre Foundation was formed. Over the next year, the Foundation raised $1.5 million to buy and renovate the theatre, with architect Richard Rife providing the drawings.

At one point, Roanoke City Council held a vote to approve a $50,000 matching grant for the theater. Walker called a Foundation board meeting to announce Council’s decision and led with this: “City Council has just unanimously approved our funding on a 6-1 vote.”

Now, the work had to begin.

Jason Garnett, who had been with the theater in one capacity or another since his teenage years in the 1990s became projectionist and later general manager. He recalls the renovation in 2002:

“When I started, there were five screens. Where the concession stand is now was another screening room that sat maybe 35 people. The booths were a mishmash of equipment. Every booth was different with its own idiosyncrasies with various models of Simplex and Century projectors, all made between the 1930s and ’50s but they were workhorses and were part of the charm. The sound systems were a mixed bag too. Every room had something different.

“When we renovated the theatre in 2002, all the booths were made uniform with the exception of the main, where we splurged for Dolby Digital.” More improvements followed.

Garnett says, “The theatre reopening was an exciting time. There was a bit of nostalgia for Julie’s time there, though. She brought a charm to the place that was missing after the renovations. I remember opening night being extremely stressful. We had been working 15-plus hour days trying to get the booths up and running.

There was a gala next door to the theater opening night and the theater was to open with an evening show, but the late Mark Jamison, known as the Neon Man had not completed the marquee. He was on a ladder working furiously until virtually the last minute. Says Garnett, “We couldn’t find a color photo of the original marquee so he estimated the colors by the grey scale of the black and white photo we had.” That worked and people who recalled the original marquee said the reproduction was spot-on.

Success was sporadic for the next few years under the guidance of Executive Director Kathy Chittum. She was quite good at getting movies and running the theater. But she made it clear she was not a fund-raiser, something the board expected from her. Eventually, the board dismissed Chittum, replacing her with the estimable Ian Fortier, who was at the Jefferson Center at the time in August of 2014.

Fortier almost immediately stabilized the theater and established its Film Lab, a school for youngsters to learn film-making, something Garnett had suggested to the board for years.

Buying the theater from the Lindseys, says Stavola, “was a leap of faith. When we agreed to buy, we didn’t have the money.” That meant creating ways to bring it in and the ideas came fast and furious with much of the community taking part. There were sidewalk stars ($1,000 each, which could be paid for with a credit card), plaques on seats, children-led fundraisers, and others.

Rife says, “We expanded programs with special events and showings, building a relationship with interested groups.” Autistic children were brought in for a film with lights up and sound down; there were programs for the city’s Jewish community, for African-Americans and “we brought in people to expand the base.”

With Fortier running the show, the theater stabilized financially in a hurry. The pay scale has improved and the Grandin has gone to green power use and green habits (composting drink containers, for example).

Fortier had earned a reputation as an innovator while second in command at Roanoke’s Jefferson Center and he almost immediately proved how sound the reputation was. There was considerable operational chaos at the Grandin when he stepped in. Fortier recalls, “Ads were not screened, movies not beginning on time, staff morale down, no leadership, a non-friendly environment, cleanliness, inconsistencies throughout.”

Fortier says, “A lot of people came to the theater, but they were not made to feel good about it.” That was about to change. He was looking for what he calls “standard business protocol.” In 2015, he sought to rebrand the theater. It was an historic landmark, an icon and that was useful. “It was so much more than a theater” and the challenge was how to present that reality.

The Grandin is now in its seventh straight year in the black and has no debt mostly because it has expanded its base and found new ways to bring in money. “I’m surprised how quickly it happened,” Fortner says. “We just stormed through it in 2014” and the success has continued unabated. “It was 90 percent ticket sales and concessions when I got here, but now it’s 65-35” and the theater was just granted permission by the state to sell alcohol.

“The Grandin will continue to evolve,” says Stavola. “It is a product of this community believing in itself and investing in itself.”

(Dan Smith is a veteran journalist with more than 50 years’ experience, much of it in Roanoke. He is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and a former Virginia Business Journalist of the Year. He has won many awards in all phases of news production, including design and photography, news, sports, feature writing and editorial. His Public Radio essays have won state awards and he is the founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University.)

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City of Roanoke’s Nonprofit Arts and Culture Industry Generates $64.2 Million in Economic Activity and Supports 1,774 Jobs Annually According to Americans for the Arts Thu, 10 Oct 2019 14:30:31 +0000 At an event today at the City Market Building, the Roanoke Cultural Endowment unveiled the results of Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, the most comprehensive economic study of the City of Roanoke’s nonprofit arts industry ever conducted. According to the study, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $64.2 million in annual economic activity in the City of Roanoke – supporting 1,774 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $6.5 million in local and state government revenues. Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 was conducted by Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education.

Results show that the City of Roanoke’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations spent $25.4 million during the fiscal year 2018-19. This spending is far-reaching; organizations pay employees, purchase supplies, contract for services and acquire assets within their community. Those dollars, in turn, generated $18.8 million in household income for local residents and $2.4 million in local and state government revenues.

As a Roanoker who feels a great deal of pride for the cultural vibrancy of our valley, Roanoke Cultural Endowment board member, Katherine Fralin believes “the arts make a difference in our region that takes form in two outcomes: they connect every one of us as human beings, and together, the arts propel our economy. This study sends a clear and welcome message: the arts are an investment that delivers both community well-being and economic vitality.”

Nationally, the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 reveals that the nonprofit arts industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity in 2015. This activity supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments.

“This study demonstrates that the arts are an economic and employment powerhouse both locally and across the nation,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “A vibrant arts and culture industry helps local businesses thrive and helps local communities become stronger and healthier places to live. Leaders who care about community and economic vitality can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts. Nationally as well as locally the arts mean business.”

Arts Industry Boom for Local Businesses

In addition to spending by organizations, the City of Roanoke’s nonprofit arts and culture industry leverages $38.8 million in event-related spending by its audiences. As a result of attending a cultural event, attendees often eat dinner in local restaurants, pay for parking, buy gifts and souvenirs, and pay a babysitter. What’s more, attendees from out of town often stay overnight in a local hotel. In the City of Roanoke, these dollars support 982 full-time equivalent jobs and generate $4 million in local and state government revenues.

“This study is a myth-buster,” says Roanoke Cultural Endowment board chairman, David Wine. “It alters the perception that the arts are luxuries worth supporting in prosperous times but hard to justify when the economy is struggling. At a time when governments at all levels are making tough budget choices, this study sends an important message: That support for the arts does not come at the expense of economic development. Rather, it is a vital industry – one that supports jobs, generates government revenue, is the cornerstone of tourism and economic development, and drives a creativity-based economy.”

The Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study was conducted by American for the Arts and supported by The Ruth Lilly Fund of Americans for the Arts. Americans for the Arts’ local, regional, and statewide project partners contributed both time and financial support to the study. Financial information from organizations was collected in partnership with DataArts™, using a new online survey interface. For a full list of the communities who participated in the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study, visit

Read the Full Report or One-Page Summary.

About the Roanoke Cultural Endowment: Roanoke Cultural Endowment is a non-profit community endowment formed in January 2015 by resolution from Roanoke City Council as a private-public fund comprised of both city dollars and private dollars. Upon reaching a goal of $20 million within 10 years, the Endowment will award operational grants to arts and cultural organizations in the City of Roanoke. This will provide operating funds to organizations through a
process that is less random, less political, more predictable, and more stable. The Roanoke Cultural Endowment’s vision is to foster the growth, vitality, and future of a vibrant community where arts and culture are accessible to all and valued as a critical component of a healthy region. 

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