Galax Becoming an Artistic Destination
Chestnut Creek School of the Arts Opens
By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | May 16, 2010*** Published May 13, 2010 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
GALAX, Va. – You could sign up to make a mandolin.
Build a bowl. Fashion a fiddle. Craft a candle.
Or you could work on a walking stick with Jim Arnold, a Grayson County, Va., woodcrafter, who says, "My bread and butter is walnut and maple."
While attending a class at the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, you might also make a vacation out of exploring parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the New River and the New River Trail State Park – all near Galax, a tiny Virginia city wedged between Grayson and Carroll counties.
Such scenarios, at least, are part of the visions for this multi-faceted, open-ended, sky's-the-limit school.
"I think it is fantastic," said Arnold, who recently relocated from Florida. "I think the range of classes offers something for everybody."
In the planning stages for seven years, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts moved to its permanent home – the old First National Bank building – in April as part of a two-day celebration that featured a Galax gala plus a parade.
Now the leaders of this city of 6,700 people praise this non-profit facility as an integral solution to help save Galax – a furniture-factory town that has lost more than 1,000 jobs in recent years.
The city government helps oversee the school, which was built with a series of grants and volunteer labor, plus a $300,000 anonymous donation.
"Overall, it's just part of an economic development of our local economy," said Keith Barker, Galax's city manager.
Yet, to Todd Christensen, the executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission, Chestnut Creek means much more.
Chestnut Creek – like Heartwood, an arts and cultural center now under construction in Abingdon, Va. – could serve as a regional draw to re-brand Southwest Virginia as a major tourism destination, Christensen said.
"Galax has been nationally and internationally recognized as a center for quality of life," said Christensen, praising the city's "music, crafts and wonderful downtown."
The school, already, can be stitched squarely into the highlights of the Cascade Highlands region along the North Carolina-Virginia border, said Chris Shackelford, the director of the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.
And, it is a school that will fit into Galax's role as a mountain music capital along The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail, said Joe Wilson, an author, historian and founder of The Crooked Road.
"The quality will be real good here," Wilson promised. "There's a group of people determined that Galax will be as good as any other place."
"NATIONAL ART SCHOOL'
Shackleford assumed the reins as director of the school in 2008, with help from an associate director, Penelope Moseley.
"I think this is a local art school, a regional art school – and a national art school. We have things that we offer here that you can't get anywhere else," said Shackelford, a former educational program director for the Jacksonville Center for the Arts in nearby Floyd, Va.
Classes on the July-December 2010 schedule include lessons in making earrings, paper mobiles, pottery, pastel painting and weaving. You can also learn to write a novel, with teacher Maggie Bishop on Sept. 11, and play a hammer dulcimer with Jeff Sebens on Oct. 16.
Many of the weeklong classes are modeled after craft schools, said Theresa Lazo, the chairman of the school's board of directors.
"You also attract people," Lazo said. "It's a quality of life issue."
So far, the school has lured 200 students since offering its first classes about five years ago.
"And out of those 200 students," Shackelford said, "we're really covering the gamut – all ages – all skill levels."
And the campus?
Well, to Shackelford, the school takes in more than simply the 8,800-square foot building on Main Street that was once home of the First National Bank.
"We look at downtown Galax as a campus," Shackelford said. "This is our campus. Visitors can experience the whole town."
So, if at least part of the city leaders' dream scenario comes true, visitors to Galax will take a course while they take a vacation near the Blue Ridge, Shackelford said.
"Part of our mission is to preserve and promote the Appalachian tradition," Shackelford added. "Our motto is "Be creative.' And I believe everyone has an inherent ability to create."
IF YOU GO
What: Chestnut Creek School of the Arts
Where: 100 N. Main St., Galax, VA 24333
Classes: Cost range from $10 to $180 per class. Course subjects include music, performing arts, fiber, literary, two-dimensional art and three-dimensional art.
Info: (276) 236-3500
Fax: (276) 236-2620