Someday in the future, this celebration of the Art Center's 10th anniversary won't seem like a major event. But imagine what it was like 12 years ago when the community found itself with a beautiful, but empty, building that was under some threat of being razed. Meetings were held with a sense of urgency, ideas were bandied about, and finally a consensus emerged about making it a performance venue for the already significant artistic and musical community that lived in this region.
So, a group of citizens incorporated as the Randolph County Community Arts Council in August of 2000, and they purchased the old St. Brendan Church in February 2001. Then, the next step was to find funding to renovate the building, which had been built in 1927. Under the leadership of Margo Blevin who, as Director of the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College, was familiar with grant writing, the Arts Center received two capital improvement grants from the WV Division of Culture and History totaling $150,000.
These kinds of grants require a matching amount of money to be raised from the community. And you did it! People talk about "public/private" partnerships as the way to advance a community, and that's what we had. Many local businesses, especially the banks, were key contributors in the early days. Also, many individuals gave generously, although it is important to point out that we had no one "patron" as so many arts groups do. The largest single gift from an individual we received during that time was $10,000. Most were far less; it was truly a community effort.
The "public" part of that partnership, at that time, was represented by Sens. Walt Helmick and Mike Ross and Delegates Bill Hartman and Bill Proudfoot. And, later, Sen. Clark Barnes lent his support. They tirelessly worked to get Budget Digest funds to support our efforts. While those types of funds have now been greatly restricted, our current elected officials at the state, county, and city levels have are still very supportive of the Arts Center's efforts to improve the cultural, and economic, life of the community. For example, this summer's Civil War art exhibit, which was seen by over 2,500 people from 30 different states, would not have been possible without the support of the WV Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the Randolph County Commission, and the city of Elkins.
The Arts Center started its programming in the summer of 2002 with arts classes for children in the Elkin's City Park summer program. We gave a few concerts and produced an art exhibit or two that year. To raise funds for this programming, we held our first Gala in September of 2002. This past year, we produced 26 concerts (half of them free), 12 art exhibits, and arts classes for over 700 students. Next week, we will hold our 10th Gala/Fund Raiser, and we hope that all of our supporters - or future supporters - will join us on Sept. 9 to celebrate this milestone, which, to those of us who remember the early days, is a very major event.