Music and conversation filled the air Friday evening as the community gathered at Social Graces Dance Studio on Main Street for an opportunity to meet and talk with members of the Shenandoah Arts Council. The meeting was orchestrated by Allen Kitselman and Christy Dunkle who have been spearheading an ongoing effort to organize an arts council in Clarke County.
The initial effort started with a Community Arts Summit in November where stake holders and community members gathered to discuss their vision for an arts council and the goals for the proposed organization. The well attended meeting generated many ideas but three important activities pressed to the front of the discussion: advocacy for the arts, promotion of art events, and coordination of activities and events among members. As the effort gathered steam, the group contacted other nearby arts councils to see if they could provide advice and guidance from their experiences. The Shenandoah Arts Council (SAC) was one of the entities contacted. Based in downtown Winchester, the SAC serves the northern region of the Shenandoah Valley and has already been active in Clarke County working to help promote artists and events. The SAC expressed an interest in meeting with the Clarke group to discuss the ongoing effort. At that meeting, Tracy Marlatt (Executive Director) and Bob Lesman (board member) from the SAC offered to enhance the Clarke County side of their organization through the possible modification of their mission statement and edits to their web site and directory. This would essentially put Clarke under the SAC umbrella and would not entail the formation of a Clarke Arts Council. Artists and organizations would be members of the SAC.
Christy Dunkle commented on the proposed direction after the December meeting saying, “The general consensus was, instead of starting up another group of volunteers who are already strapped for time and resources, that this would be a better situation.”
This represents a different approach than the initial direction the group in Clarke had envisioned. When asked about the change Christy said, “I think it is a good move. We have representation on their board and buy in from the rest of them. If it doesn’t get the results we expect, whatever those results might be, we can certainly go with Plan B.”
Tracy Marlatt, Executive Director of the SAC attended the Meet and Greet Friday and said, “I have been working with Clarke County it’s just not been in an official way. Opus Oaks and Josephine School are already members so we’ve done partnerships here and worked with the arts community.”
Tracy advocated the proposed partnership agreement saying, “I think part of the idea is why reinvent the wheel? Another part of it is funding. Things are very tough economically right now and to start a new arts council would take start-up funding.”
Fund raising is a perennial challenge for not-for-profit organizations and with a limited pool of donors, concerns have been raised throughout the process about limited resources. The Barns of Rose Hill has been a shining example in the community of long term fund raising with significant results. Many have hoped that once the Barns of Rose Hill opens, it will be a center of gravity for the arts in Clarke. Tracy supported that sentiment, “I think ten years from now Clarke should probably have their own arts council. I think it might actually evolve from the Barns of Rose Hill, but for now let’s all work together and see what we can do.”
The next step involves the relaunch of the SAC website. Their new site will be an information hub for artists and those interested in the arts. Tracy said, “The new website happens next, and I think building awareness through the website so people can see the benefits of membership in the Shenandoah Arts Council.”
The idea of affiliating with an out of county organization was questioned by some community members but Tracy expressed her thoughts about the relationship saying, “The 12 miles between us shouldn’t be a mental block. It’s only 12 miles and it’s a quick 12 miles.”