Roanoke Cultural Endowment Thu, 24 Feb 2022 22:41:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Roanoke Cultural Endowment 32 32 How to Become a Roanoke Arts Advocate Thu, 24 Feb 2022 22:34:42 +0000 So you want to be an arts advocate? Maybe it’s the excitement of setting goals in the new year, or maybe our recent interview with community leader Jason Bingham inspired you – no matter the reason, we’re excited to hear you’d like to get more involved!

Arts Advocacy is Easier Than You Think

When it comes to the Roanoke arts and culture scene, the opportunities to get involved are endless. There are so many established organizations looking for support and new community-led programs popping up all the time. The hardest part is choosing the right path to take. From volunteering at an event to buying tickets as gifts – you don’t have to choose just one!

We spoke with some local leaders in arts advocacy to explore different ways you, too, can support our thriving arts and culture community in Roanoke and beyond.

Become a Board Member

There are over 30 arts organizations and galleries in the City of Roanoke that rely on community members to provide guidance and leadership on their Board of Directors. Arts and culture Board members can be successful strategic leaders if they nurture their sense of group responsibility to support the organizational mission, vision, and values. It’s also an incredibly rewarding experience.

Just ask Courtney Campbell, one of the Roanoker’s 40 Under 40 recipients and president of the Local Colors of Southwestern Virginia board of directors. Courtney has lived in the Roanoke Region her whole life and has become a highly engaged professional in the area. Since 2016, Courtney has worked with Local Colors to foster ethnic diversity, inclusion, and multicultural understanding through events, education, and service in Southwest Virginia.

“The best thing you can do is not be intimidated by board membership,” says Courtney. “A lot of times we see board membership as reserved for a certain group of older, established professionals. But many boards are actively trying to recruit younger generations to bring in new and different perspectives.”

For Courtney, board membership is about giving back to the organizations that made a difference in her life. Since joining Local Colors, she’s had the opportunity to shape the organization’s strategic plan and help find and hire a new Executive Director.

While Board membership responsibilities may vary, Board membership typically includes the attendance of monthly meetings and participation on various committees (i.e. fundraising, marketing, etc.) If you think you’re up for the commitment, start to network with leaders of your favorite organizations!

Keep an Eye on Legislation & Budgets

One doesn’t typically think of politics in the same vein as arts and culture, but legislation has proven to have a major impact on the vitality of arts and culture communities. At every level, local, state, and national, budget and policy decisions impact arts and culture organizations. These decisions can impact arts education programs in public schools and budget allocation for local nonprofit organizations.

Arts Policy Advocacy doesn’t have to mean busting down the doors of the General Assembly. Participating in focus groups, writing letters to representatives, or even sharing information on social media can make an impact. Here are a few great resources to help you become an advocate:

National Arts Advocacy –

Arts Advocacy Basics –

Virginia for the Arts –

Prioritize Community Collaboration

It’s no secret that Roanoke is an incredibly welcoming community. You can expect to see individuals, community groups, and nonprofit organizations teaming up for a community cause on any given day. The best results come from collaboration.

Just ask Jennifer Hayward, Marketing Coordinator for the Berglund Center. Not only does she support one of the largest venues in the area as an employee, but she’s also been a professional photographer for a decade.

As a photographer, she prioritizes finding other businesses and creators to work with on her projects.

“If I have an idea in mind for a photoshoot, I’ll work with a local small business owner to source clothing and find a local venue to collaborate on a set,” she says. “Roanoke’s a really beautiful community for that. People have been so warm, open, and genuinely eager to work together.”

Ashley Fellers, freelance writer, content creator, and adjunct instructor at Virginia Western Community College echoes this sentiment.

“It took me a little bit of time to find out the sectors and angles of the community,” she says. “After a few years, it felt like time for me to give back and shine a light on the people doing good things in the community so I started freelance writing, highlighting local artists and creatives. It can feel really lonely as a creative person, so I wanted to shine a light on the people doing great stuff.”

You spend your whole life building up a network of friends and professional contacts. Why not leverage that for a common goal? Wherever you get involved in arts and culture, always remember: Collaboration is key.

Donate Money or Time

Many nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the financial support of their donors. Donations and corporate sponsorships pay for employees’ salaries, art supplies, performing talent, and so much more that goes on behind the scenes. While it may feel like a small donation won’t make a difference, those small donations add up!

Another option for monetary support is to leverage your peers to make a joint gift. Talk to your employer about doing a team donation or a corporate matching donation. A little bit from everyone can go a long way.

Finally, you can donate more than your money. Donating your time is just as important to help nonprofit organizations achieve operational success! Become an usher at the Jefferson Center or volunteer to host a LAB Chat at the Science Museum. Most nonprofit organizations will have an area on their site with volunteer information and an easy signup process.

Be a Consistent Patron

There’s no denying the joy that attending a symphony performance or spending the day at the museum can bring, but it’s easy to get caught up in life and neglect to seek out these simple pleasures.

If you’re prone to only attending a few arts and cultural events a year, we recommend setting a goal to increase your attendance! Whether you aim to visit one organization each month, or purchase a whole season of tickets to the Opera, do your best to be a consistent patron to your favorite organizations.

“When I first moved here, I started regularly going to the Taubman. It was still new and felt like the perfect venue to experience the arts in Roanoke,” says Ashley Fellers. “Before I knew people, going to the Taubman was life-giving.”

Did we mention tickets make really great gifts?

“All I can say is ‘buy the ticket!’ Even if you can’t attend, gift it to someone who can enjoy that experience,” says Jennifer Hayward. “I also encourage people to attend an event outside of their normal comfort zone.”

And Ashley agrees: “Be open-minded about what forms of art might resonate with you. Some forms of art like ballet or opera can feel intimidating if you haven’t been in those spaces before. In Roanoke, any art scene is so open to so many people. There’s an open invitation to get involved.”

Create Your Own Opportunities

While joining committees and attending your favorite events is incredibly fulfilling – it isn’t enough for everyone. If you have a spark of passion about an area of art and you don’t see an event or community to support it yet – start it up yourself!

Macklyn Mosley, a Community Organizer/Music Artist/Graphic Designer who recently joined the Roanoke Small Business Development Center as a Regional Minority-Owned Advisor, is the perfect example of someone who can generate a lot of community engagement from moments of inspiration.

“I’ve been able to put on a lot of really cool programs through the Libraries,” says Macklyn. “We’ve done Arabic classes to help locals connect with refugees, sign language classes, a hip-hop program, and more. We want people to be able to feel like the library and Roanoke is a place that they feel welcome.”

Outside of his role at the library, Mackyln spends a lot of his free time finding other opportunities to start up programs for a cause. “The best advice I can give is to build relationships with people in the community.”

He’s spearheaded programs like neighborhood porch talks where neighbors are invited to break down race, cultural, and economic status barriers by having an open conversation on the front porch of someone’s home. He seizes every opportunity to collaborate with photographers, musicians, and artists to produce events where people from a variety of backgrounds recognize and honor different perspectives in culture.

We can’t wait to see what kind of community support he will bring to his new Small Business Development Center role!

What inspires you? What would you like to do in your community and who are the people who can get you there? Great questions to ask yourself as an arts and culture advocate!

Share Your Stories

Have arts and culture impacted your life in a big way? Maybe you won tickets on the radio to see your favorite artist. Or maybe the first time you took your child to the Science Museum of Western Virginia, you saw a spark of inspiration in their eyes.

Whatever your story is – share it! Post photos when you’re at an event, send your positive experience to the Director of your favorite arts and culture organizations. Nothing is more fulfilling than hearing the impact all of their hard work has made on someone’s life.

Which path to arts advocacy will you choose?

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Roanoke Cultural Endowment Receives ARPA Grant Funds from the City of Roanoke to Spotlight Arts Impact Thu, 17 Feb 2022 17:23:52 +0000 Grant funding was awarded from the City of Roanoke through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in the amount of $30,000 for a Collective Arts & Cultural Marketing project.

This project, facilitated by the Roanoke Cultural Endowment (RCE), in partnership with the City of Roanoke, will use the ARPA grant funds as an investment to develop collective storytelling tools around collaborative arts and cultural events, strategies, and challenges.

The goal is to benefit the entirety of the arts and cultural community in the City of Roanoke through a recovery and resiliency marketing project.

Shaleen Powell, Executive Director of the Roanoke Cultural Endowment

The funding will be used to produce six episodes of BUZZ, a Roanoke-based public television show that features nonprofit organizations receiving pro bono marketing resources. These episodes will highlight the innovative and engaging nature of arts and cultural organizations as well as the contributions of the arts and humanities. 

The initial episodes will showcase Roanoke Arts Pop! hosted by the Taubman Museum of Art on March 4-6, 2022. This event spotlights 25+ arts and cultural organizations bringing joy and vibrancy to Virginia’s Blue Ridge region. The goal is for Roanoke Arts Pop! to grow into an anchor annual event.

The first episode airs Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. on Blue Ridge PBS. It previews Roanoke Arts Pop! and will focus on attracting visitors to attend. The second episode will cover the actual event promoting participating organizations as well as future years of Roanoke Arts Pop!

The remaining episodes in this project series are still taking shape and will likely focus on collective efforts such as Arts in Healthcare, Arts in Education, Long Term Endowment strategies and need, the Year of the Artist, and the overall identity of Roanoke Arts and Culture.

Freedom First Credit Union is a major sponsor of this six-episode project. Carilion Clinic will be the presenting sponsor of one of the episodes that focuses on the healing power of the arts in the Roanoke Valley.

All six (30-minute) episodes will be produced in partnership with Buzz4Good.  Buzz4Good engages local advertising talent in providing marketing expertise and resources around specific needs for nonprofit organizations. Buzz4Good will also support the episodes using additional media offerings including radio, podcasts, and online stories as part of the overall marketing strategy. Michael Hemphill, creator and host of Buzz4Good, said “Our very first BUZZ episode was produced at the start of the pandemic and featured Southwest Virginia Ballet. Given the challenges that permeated our country during this time, the beauty and joy of the ballet’s music and dancers offered comfort. That’s the power of art. We’re honored to share that story and bring more ‘buzz’ to the artists and organizations who provide that to Roanoke.”

Special thanks goes out to the Roanoke Arts Commission for advocating for the arts and administering this grant opportunity.  The arts help us express our values and build bridges between cultures. The arts are also a fundamental component of a healthy community strengthening social, educational, and economic benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times. 

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Q&A: Community Leader Jason Bingham On the Importance of a Sustainable Arts & Culture Community Fri, 10 Dec 2021 15:38:46 +0000 There’s no questioning how impactful the support of Jason and Shelby Bingham has been to the arts community in Roanoke, Virginia. From their initial stopping in town for a quick dinner and catching a show at the Mill Mountain Theatre, to now being two of the biggest advocates of the Roanoke Cultural Endowment, their support is monumental.

Q: Tell us about your journey to the City of Roanoke and how you got involved in the arts and culture community.

Jason: My wife, Shelby, and I have been in Roanoke since 2000. It actually all started with the arts. I had an employment opportunity arise which brought us here for a visit from Huntsville, Alabama. We were very happy there and we weren’t really looking to move. We came up and met with the team, then they sent us out to dinner in downtown Roanoke. We ended up at a show at the Mill Mountain Theatre. That is what closed the deal for us. We walked into this community and saw the quality of life this community had to offer. The arts are what brought us here.

Q: What draws you to be heavily involved in the City of Roanoke’s arts and culture community?

Jason: Well, my mother was a ballerina, so that was probably the very start of it for me. I’ve seen more Nutcracker performances than most people!  But Shelby and I always found that we liked those smaller towns with a vibrant arts community. Huntsville, AL was a great example. It was a smaller town, so it was easier to get involved and there was always a great emphasis on the arts.

But the main genesis is our kids. This community is not only an amazing community, but it has given our kids great opportunities. Shelby got each of our kids interested in arts by starting them with piano. Then the community support took over. At the Southwest Virginia Ballet, Miss Post gave amazing instruction to our daughter, who has ended up as a professional ballerina performing with the Mallette Miami Theatre for Arts, Richmond Ballet, and the Santiago Ballet in Chile. My son switched from piano to the upright bass and Roanoke City Schools certainly nurtured that passion. He also became involved with the Jefferson Center where he got to see and play with amazing musicians like Wynton Marsalis, Mavis Staples, and Snarky Puppy. Now, he is a professional musician, and his current band, Hiss Golden Messenger was nominated for a Grammy Award this year.

Alex Bingham with Mavis Staples

Q: How have you been involved with the arts community in Roanoke since you’ve moved here?

Jason: We both got heavily involved because we loved the community from day one. We love the city itself and we wanted to give back. With my daughter’s involvement in the ballet, my wife Shelby became a Board Member and greatly supported the Southwest Virginia Ballet. I got involved with the Mill Mountain Theatre and became a part of the team that was involved with shutting it down and reopening it. I also served on the Roanoke City School Board for 8 years.

Sara Bingham guesting for Southwest Virginia Ballet’s Swan Lake

Q: How have you seen the City of Roanoke support the arts in your time here?

Jason: When I was on the School Board, we had a big arts focus with help from the VH1 Award. Through this award, all the elementary and middle schools got new instruments.

Then you think about Jefferson Center, Taubman, and Center in the Square and you see clearly our community’s commitment to the arts. 

Q: Considering your involvement in so many other organizations, why is it important that you also give to the Roanoke Cultural Endowment?

Jason: The key is “culture.” Together, we’re enabling an arts culture for the long term. In Santiago, Chile, we got to see a community that actively supports the arts. Santiago is a neat place and we feel the same about Roanoke and the potential to build that long-term funding in a way culture can thrive. We want to see core support for the arts that assure our quality of life, even in financially challenging times.

Q: What kind of impact do you hope to see from the funding that the Roanoke Cultural Endowment will distribute to local non-profit organizations?

Jason: First, a sustainable and vibrant arts culture. That is the end goal. With the right funding, you can do some really cool things. When my daughter Sara was in the Richmond Ballet, they had a fund that enabled a live orchestra to perform with the ballet. It’s that kind of experience we can create right here. We can create a world-class arts community and art instruction.

Q: What advice do you have for people who want to donate or get involved with these organizations?

Jason: If you love Roanoke like we do and if you appreciate the quality of life that we all enjoy, this is one of the greatest investments you can make to strengthen our community and our quality of life.

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In the News: A long-term lifeline for the arts Mon, 15 Nov 2021 14:41:00 +0000 In early November, Mike Allen of The Roanoke Times cast a spotlight on the Roanoke Cultural Endowment’s mission and fundraising progress towards a sustainable arts and culture endowment for the City of Roanoke.

As we celebrate our fundraising achievement to date, it is important to re-direct that spotlight onto the many individuals and corporate donors who have collectively built the endowment to this point. We thank Roanoke’s arts and culture nonprofits for making Virginia’s Blue Ridge a phenomenal place to live. And we applaud our partner, the City of Roanoke, Virginia – Government, for both initiating the creation of the RCE and supporting our efforts through the years. Here’s to building, together, a long-term lifeline for the arts!

Editorial: A long-term lifeline for the arts

Mike Allen, November 9, 2021

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Local Nonprofits Pivot to Meet Families’ Needs During COVID-19; Innovative Ideas Outlast Pandemic Wed, 07 Jul 2021 16:31:29 +0000 Summertime and The Living’s Easy 

Unless you’re a parent. 

After end-of-year testing and field day fun, the school bell rings one final time, and parents are left to navigate the need for productive, educational, and safe care for their children throughout the break, while the responsibilities of their professional workload continue all summer long. 

The task at hand is no easy feat in a normal year, but the difficulty of navigating productive and educational opportunities for children in the wake of COVID-19 during the summer of 2020 was unlike any other. 

COVID-19 turned normalcy on its head in every way. Schools sent children home months earlier than usual, and overnight parents who simultaneously were becoming full-time, remote employees were also becoming full-time teachers, camp counselors, and so much more. And for those filling essential roles in the community, staying at home to attempt to fill these essential roles for their children was never even an option. 

So on top of navigating the unknown surrounding the virus in the early days of the pandemic, parents were also navigating the fear of how they could meet the needs of their children during such a demanding time – worrying about the physical safety of their children, as well as their educational, social, and creative pursuits that are often so characteristic of summer break. 

With schools closed and most private childcare facilities and camps shuttering their doors, our local nonprofits were actively pivoting to find ways to assist families in time of need. 

The Show Must Go On

For Virginia Children’s Theatre (VCT), COVID halted plans for a booked season of shows, but it never once stopped their commitment to the community. 

As the pandemic unfolded last spring, VCT, previously known as Roanoke Children’s Theatre, found ways to sidestep challenges to execute new programs that would meet the needs of the community where they were at — at home. 

“We felt it was so crucial that we executed programs so that our community could lean on us at a time when so many kids were at home and didn’t have resources or access to educational and fun opportunities,” said Brett Roden, VCT’s producing artistic director.

The organization successfully shifted both its student-centered and professional performances outdoors and also began a new series of socially distanced performances at families’ homes.

VCT created virtual programming like “VCT At Home” and “Sleepy Time Stories,” making educational theatre opportunities free and accessible from the safety of home. Kids and their parents could log on to learn about everything from costume design and set design to dance and improv or tune in before bed to experience bedtime story performances. 

“Virtual programming expanded our audiences and our network,” said Roden. “We reached new families and worked with theatre artists from around the world that we never would have otherwise this past year.” 

By June, VCT was fully prepared to offer a lineup of summer camps, shifting camps to be offered completely outdoors. VCT was able to provide camp options for children anywhere from age three to 12th grade. 

As the pandemic crept on forcing ongoing isolation it highlighted concerns of mental health in both adults and youth. VCT ensured that its VCT for Teens program continued, partnering with the Tudor House of Roanoke to use performance as a way to break down the stigma associated with mental health and approach the topic of suicide among teens. 

 “When it comes to our educational programming these are life skills that kids and young adults are learning through performance,” said Roden. “We navigate tough topics, and we have kids who come into our classes and camps who are nonverbal or shy and by the end of it, they get up on stage and they are singing and dancing and acting. So, the discussion was never if we move forward when COVID hit, but how we move forward – because these are life-changing moments.”

For Roden, the most exciting thing was to see his team overcome challenges and be fearless in their attempt to try new and innovative ways to serve the community. He says the innovations that came out of necessity last year, are continuing and have enhanced how VCT is carrying out its programming this year. 

“In a year when we felt bogged down and felt limited, we tried things that we never would have otherwise, and now those are things that we will be continuing doing in the future,” he said. “I never would have thought that we would be doing concerts in living rooms or outdoor theatre, but it’s become sort of a niche in what we offer now.”

Changing Focus to Meet the Need

Just down the street, the team at the Science Museum of Western Virginia (SMWV) was navigating exhibition closures forced by COVID, while also attentively listening to the concerns and needs of those in the community. Executive Director Rachel Hopkins and her team heard loud and clear how parents were struggling with the shift at-home learning, so the team made the intentional decision to keep exhibitions at the museum closed and turn their attention to providing the community with educational support.  

Right away the team developed virtual educational materials such as videos and activities to help with the home-schooling process and organized an open-air market, offering free educational materials for at-home learning. Within 45 minutes of the market opening, all of the materials were accounted for.

Like Virginia Children’s Theatre, SMWV also saw the dire need to help families find ways to providing educational havens of care for children whose parents didn’t have the option to work from home and oversee remote learning. Canceling their summer camps wouldn’t be an option. 

“We knew how important it would be to maintain our camps, so we ran them at 50% of our enrollment capacity to be able to maintain strict COVID protocols,” said Hopkins. “We were filling a desperate need for childcare services for the parents and the kids were learning and having a good time.” 

Once it became clear that schools would not return to normal in the fall, the SMWV team continued its focus on educational support and by August 2020, it transformed the museum into an onsite academy known as “The Lab,” hosting Kindergarten through 7th graders Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5 p.m. 

In just four weeks of planning, SMWV envisioned and executed a holistic educational experience offering a curriculum that covered everything from STEM to performing art, to yoga. 

“At the heart of everything we did during COVID, we just wanted to make sure that we were a space for these students to go to learn and have fun and be a space where families could feel confident that they were doing what they needed to do to provide for their children,” said Hopkins. 

And like VCT, SMWV’s innovative programming that budded from the challenges of COVID are thriving today. Summer camp enrollment at the museum is at an all-time high this year, and The Lab is now a permanent educational opportunity for the community now offered in multiple formats.

The Power of Nonprofits

In the wake of the pandemic, both VCT and SMWV faced huge financial burdens, relying on donors and local funding opportunities to continue operations. They were navigating pandemic-initiated staff furloughs and strict social distancing and safety requirements. It could have been easy to lay low to save funds or simplify operations.

But through their example and their determination to serve at the highest level during hard times, we experience the power of our nonprofits. Organizations like VCT and SMVW are driven by a deep sense of purpose to the community — their power is in the passion of their people. Staff find ways to serve at the highest quality, even when times are hard and resources are scarce, navigating funding shortages, furloughs, and more. 

It was a year of challenge and yet a year of innovation for these organizations. The creative endeavors they implemented last year were so successful they remain in the way they operate today.

Our community benefits greatly when these organizations prosper and are given the freedom to release their creativity and their passion back into the community. That’s why the Roanoke Cultural Endowment seeks to lift up these organizations to breathe a little more deeply in the hard times and push their creative limits in the good. Our children, our families, and our community are better because of their commitment to serve, and we think that’s a worthy reason to ensure they thrive. We are working to cultivate a legacy of stability, engagement, and vitality for our arts and culture organizations in the City of Roanoke and we need you to help us achieve our vision. 

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Q&A: RCE Board Member Nancy Gray on The Importance of Arts Education in Our Community Mon, 07 Jun 2021 16:20:28 +0000 Roanoke Cultural Endowment Board Member Nancy Gray has more than 40 years of experience in higher education. Many of those years were spent leading major gift and fundraising efforts for institutions of higher education and then moving on to serve as president of both Converse College in South Carolina as well as Roanoke’s Hollins University, where she served in the role for 13 years.

She now leans on these experiences in her current role as a consultant, where she advises colleges, universities, and national and local nonprofits. In addition to serving on RCE’s Board, she is also past president of the Mill Mountain Theatre Board, and a member of the boards for the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Roanoke Symphony.

At the core of her impressive resume, is an ongoing love and passion for the arts, one that she began exploring and developing from a very early age. From playing piano throughout elementary school to directing and performing holiday plays with her brother in their family’s living room, her early exploration of the arts led her to major in English and theatre where she spent her college years taking “whatever cool courses were offered and acting in one role after another.”

When asked which role made it to the top of her list of favorites, she claimed “The Rivals,” where she played Mrs. Malaprop, a character who had a habit of using the wrong word all the time.

“I do the same thing all the time, so I related to her,” Gray told us.

But when we sat down with Nancy to hear her thoughts on the importance of arts education and the impact it has on our community, we found just the opposite to be the case. Her passion for the subject and the poise and confidence she attributes to her time on stage, shined even over a virtual interview, which we’ve previewed below in this Q&A.

How has your personal background in the arts impacted you professionally?

Theatre, specifically, has been a huge influence. I think more than anything it has enriched my joy for life. I still enjoy live theatre — there is nothing like it when the curtain goes up and the lights go down. But theatre also developed so many skills that have contributed to my professional pursuits.

Teamwork is one example. Plays are a team sport. The show can’t be produced, you can’t open without the lights working, without the set being built, without the actors being on top of their game, without the box office running smoothly. Through theatrical performance, I learned about teamwork and how to appreciate the gifts and talents of every person involved in the production. I also learned about improvisation and the need to be flexible and solve problems in the moment. If one person misses their cue for an entrance or if the prop isn’t there, you have to come up with something on your feet.

And I certainly learned to develop my own confidence and comfort level being in front of an audience, but theatre also taught me how to have empathy for others. To be in character, you have to understand that character’s motivation. You have to develop greater empathy for what makes that person tick as you step into that character’s shoes for a period of time and they can be very different often from your own way of being, thinking, feeling, and interacting.

You’ve had an extensive career leading institutions of higher education. In your opinion, why are the arts an important element to the student experience?

Even though we understand the importance of career preparation for college students given how fast the world is changing, the skills students learn through formal education, in all likelihood, will be out of date or limited within a very short period of time. What’s most important is the ability to communicate, think, learn and solve problems. If you can’t express yourself well, if you can’t think critically and creatively, if you can’t continue to learn or solve problems, you are going to be at a professional and a life disadvantage.

In so many ways an individual’s ability to think both critically and creatively is further enhanced and expanded through the arts. Whether it’s interpreting a painting, experiencing an original dance performance that pushes our boundaries of thinking, or using creative writing as a means of expression, the arts have a way of encouraging us to step outside of ourselves and think beyond ourselves.

How can arts education impact our community at large?

When people choose to settle down in Roanoke, when someone makes the decision on where to establish their career, they are going to be looking for arts and culture. They are looking to see what opportunities exist in the community and how those opportunities will enrich their lives. They are also looking to see if the arts will be a part of their children’s lives.

And when it comes to education specifically, there is concrete evidence on how the arts impact our children’s educational experience, and what that means for our community long term. I’ve been interested particularly in a study that was done by the Brown Center at the Brookings Institution, where they studied the impact arts had on stimulating learning among K-12 children. In addition to seeing a decrease in disciplinary incidents and an increase in writing effectiveness in students who were exposed to the arts, they also documented increased levels of compassion for others.

Compassion is such a huge piece of all of this. The arts have the ability to build community, and that is so important right now. We live in a multicultural, international, multiracial society, and through the arts, we begin to understand each other and each other’s perspectives better than we can do without the arts in our lives. The arts bring us together.

So how are Roanoke’s nonprofit organizations playing a role in bringing our community together through arts education?

We are so fortunate in Roanoke to have many arts education programs going on in the schools, which are very strong in many cases, but often it is the nonprofits in our region helping to really enrich these experiences.

For example, the Roanoke Symphony offers the opportunity for youth to come together from all walks of life to make music together. For many students, that’s given them a huge enrichment to their education in schools. It’s given them a way to relate to people differently and for some of them, it has given them an identity that goes beyond what can be offered in their schools and as they perform.

Similarly, I think of Mill Mountain Theatre and the performances they make available to school-aged children. They did Glass Menagerie not very long ago, in part because it was in the schools’ curriculum. Students could come to see the play they were required to read for credit. It’s one thing to read a play that can be difficult to understand or relate to, but when you see it come alive in a performance by equity-level actors, all of a sudden you’re relating to that material through a memorable experience and in a way that you might not otherwise.

Those are just two examples, but the list goes on and on. I can think of so many ways in Roanoke where our arts and culture organizations are fostering individual growth in our young people and adults alike and how they are bringing us together as a community, no matter our age. Whether it’s through performance and music, or through street art and cultural festivals, I think there is a really intentional effort right now in our community by all of the arts organizations. We are learning about diversity, inclusivity, and equity and how that applies to the arts. We’re choosing plays, music and artistic endeavors that are accessible to everyone in Roanoke, and that ultimately translates to more ways for our community to learn compassion and empathy for others.

What challenges lie ahead for these organizations and their ability to offer opportunities of enrichment to our community?

The people who work at these organizations are incredibly committed people. They are doing what they do because they believe in it so strongly and they are passionate about what they do. Many of them are multi-tasking and working without enough staff. Some of these people are struggling because the salaries are not as high as any of the Board members would want them to be nor are the benefits as generous. So the people doing this work are doing it simply out of a deep commitment to the arts and a passion for what they do.

That is so hard to sustain year over year, and so I think financial stability and sustainability is the biggest challenge each of these organizations face. That’s why a strong Roanoke Cultural Endowment is so important. It will provide a permanent source of funding that will persist in perpetuity. These organizations will be able to tap into additional income when RCE reaches our $20 million goal and can award 5% of the endowment income annually in grants, approximately $1 million.  Such support enables these organizations to breathe a little more deeply. It allows them to be more creative in their programming.  And for the Roanoke community more broadly, it ensures that these organizations and the artistic endeavors that they contribute will be secure and permanently ingrained in our community.

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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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