Betsy White & William King Regional Arts Center
The Woman Behind the Institution & Its Programs
By Angela Wampler | October 28, 2008William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon, Va. recently received a Virginia Governor's Award for the Arts. Since its founding less than 30 years ago, the Arts Center has become a dynamic, indispensable institution in Southwest Virginia and a source of great community pride and loyalty, as it serves artists, art lovers, art educators, students, the general public, and visitors to the area.
Essential to the Arts Center's growth and success, from its inception to the present, has been the leadership of Betsy White who will retire as its executive director in December.
White has served as the Arts Center's director for 20 years, except for a three-year period during the 1990s when she initiated and led the Center's Cultural Heritage Project, a field survey of regional decorative arts and material culture. The Project is a first-time documentation of the culture of the region and has resulted in more than 20 exhibitions at the Arts Center, as well as a permanent archive and a book, Great Road Style: the Decorative Arts Legacy of Southwest Virginia & Northeast Tennessee, authored by White and published by the University of Virginia Press in 2006.
White also spearheaded the Arts Center's early development that formulated a regional mission emphasizing art education, with particular emphasis on school audiences, and high-quality art exhibitions.
During White's tenure, the Arts Center renovated its 1913 building, adapting it as a high-security gallery; became nationally accredited by the American Association of Museums; developed extensive art education programs for elementary schools across 14 school districts in Southwest Virginia; and maintained an active affiliation with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA).
White's visionary leadership included what she calls "the wonderful task of pulling together the creative spirit of lots of people locally, but also including the staffs of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Commission for the Arts and Virginia Association of Museums, who helped us enormously to create our own institution as we know it today."
What Others Are Saying
"As our Executive Director, Betsy has been a dynamic and innovative leader. Under her guidance, the Arts Center has grown from a dilapidated, obsolete building to a high-security, nationally accredited museum. While this accomplishment is amazing, Betsy's true legacy will no doubt be her constant emphasis on providing art education to the children of this region. Betsy has built a strong foundation upon which the Arts Center will grow," said Byrum Geisler, former president of the Arts Center's Board of Trustees.
"The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has been privileged to work with Betsy over the years. Her stellar leadership of the William King Regional Arts Center and her tireless advocacy for arts education in Virginia has significantly contributed to our state's cultural advancement and well-being. In addition, Betsy's expertise and scholarship in the decorative arts have recognized and thus safeguarded Southwest Virginia's vital artistic heritage. I look forward to her future contributions, for I know they will be many, and to continuing our mutual support of the arts in Virginia," said Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director.
Arts & Museum Involvement
White is active in arts and museum communities, nationally, statewide, regionally, and locally. On the national scene, White serves as a peer reviewer for the American Association of Museums and is a past reviewer for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
In Virginia, she was recently appointed to the new Cultural Heritage Commission as chair of the Cultural Assets Committee. She currently serves the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a grant reviewer, a peer reviewer, and board member and currently represents Southwest Virginia on the board of Virginians for the Arts. She has served the Virginia Association of Museums as a past vice president.
Regionally, she is on the founding board of the new, craft-based regional organization 'Round the Mountain, and is on the management team for the new artisan center, Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway.
Locally, she has twice served as president of Abingdon's Virginia Highlands Festival and recently completed two terms on Abingdon's Architectural Review Board, where she served as chair for three years.
A native of Virginia Beach, Va., and a graduate of Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, White has lived with her family in Abingdon for 30 years.
— Besty White: Going, Going .. But Not Gone
— Funding for Arts Center Project
— The Rose Cabinet Shops
"Virginia Collects Art from Capitol Square" (2005) was on loan from the Virginia Art Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. (Contributed photo)
The Arts Center's Cultural Heritage Project resulted in more than 20 exhibitions, a permanent archive and a book, "Great Road Style: the Decorative Arts Legacy of Southwest Virginia & Northeast Tennessee," authored by Betsy White.
Through the years, the Arts Center's exhibits have looked at life near and far, such as this exhibit on Africa. (Contributed photo)