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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

The Arts Depot today

The 6x6 fundraiser provides an opportunity to buy a piece of affordable original art.
The 6x6 fundraiser provides an opportunity to buy a piece of affordable original art.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | May 27, 2015

The Arts Depot, Abingdon, Virginia, celebrates its 25th anniversary June 19, and it remains focused on fostering community and welcoming people into the gallery. The day I visited everyone was gathered to play with Administrative Assistant Lisa May's, grandchildren.

"I wasn't expecting to hold a baby this morning, and what a sweet way to start the day," Sara Reese, resident artist, says.

Welcoming people and sharing the arts with the community is what makes everyone at The Arts Depot thrive. "The resident artists are required to be here Thursday through Saturday," Susan Yates, arts administrator, says. "That's one of the things that makes the organization work well. The studios are always open for visitors. When people come, that's part of the experience, meeting the artists and hearing their stories. It's what makes this place unique."

Located in the old freight depot, it houses seven resident artists and three galleries.

The original goal was to support the community through artists' studios, arts education and to give the arts community a place to show and sell their works, Yates says.

"The mission has never changed. Other organizations evolve and change, and there's something good about that. We revisit our mission all the time, but it's working and is still supported by the community. Everyone's quite proud that it's still working. It's a good model."

Their relationship with the town also helps. "They are so supportive of the arts here," she says. "It's wonderful. We're allowed to be here rent-free which is a tremendous help. This whole area is recognized as an arts and culture district. The Abingdon Convention and Visitors' Bureau is phenomenal. They get most of the 10,000 visitors we have a year here for us. Abingdon is really on the map as an arts and crafts cultural destination. They really support us. I think we're why visitors come back, but the CVB helps us get them here."

To support its mission, The Arts Depot houses seven resident artists (see sidebar story) and three galleries. It also offers classes, typically 10 to 15 a year. Resident artists also offer classes through the College of Older Adults at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center.

"One of the things we're most proud of is the relationship we have with Highlands Community Services for Behavioral Health. We have been offering monthly scholarship classes to their clients." The depot pays the artists, and the students attend classes for no charge. A second monthly class for this group is starting soon.

Members also teach classes, lead art talks and give lectures. Admission to these is always free. "We are just happy to make art accessible to everyone in the community. That's one of the basics behind the fundraiser we started two years ago 6x6. It's been really successful. We sell the 6" x 6" canvases for $36. Everyone said "you could get so much more for these.' We said "that's not what this is about.' It lets someone buy an original piece of art by an at least regionally-recognized artist for $36. That's why we do it like that." They typically offer 150 pieces from 75-80 artists.

The Depot buys the canvases and all year long they pass them out to artists and ask them to create a piece of art on them and donate them back. "Back come these gorgeous pieces of artwork. We accumulate them and hide them year-round," Yates says.

The Arts Depot has three galleries: the Members Gallery, the Spotlight Gallery and the Founders Gallery. The Members Gallery features seven group exhibits of regional artists annually. The Spotlight Gallery features six major juried exhibitions, and the Founders Gallery exhibits six specially selected exhibits.

The Members Gallery is open to members. Memberships are $30 a year for an individual, $50 for a couple and $10 for full-time students. If you're a member, you simply sign up to be in a shared show and await your turn. Members can also place their work in the gallery on consignment. More than 200 artists sell their work through the gallery. There is already a waiting list for 2016 exhibits.

"Typically it's a learning experience. Our gallery chair, Kathy Gibian, helps them to hang the shows. Some of them might be new to the interaction with a gallery, and she helps them through the experience. We feel that's part of the heart of the organization."

The Spotlight Gallery juried exhibits are chosen by a committee, headed by Gibian. They publicize the call for entries and have begun receiving proposals for 2016. The jury meets in mid-June and chooses five artists from the proposals. One show is reserved for the artist who wins an award sponsored by The Arts Depot at the Virginia Watercolor Society Exhibit. The award is a cash prize and a solo exhibit at The Arts Depot.

"It's relatively competitive; we have 30 to 40 proposals and only choose five," Yates says. The proposals come from Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and North Carolina. "We've had people from as far away as Pennsylvania put in proposals. Everyone is welcome to make a proposal; you don't have to be local. Logistically, it's a bit more difficult for those who are out of the area," Yates says.

The Founders Gallery is reserved for six special group shows a year. Those include the students at one of the county schools, the Wednesday Morning Painters, the Highlands Camera Club, Emory & Henry art students, the Virginia Highlands Festival Fine Arts Show and one more chosen exhibit.

Many of the resident artists have been a part of The Arts Depot since the beginning. When a studio does become available, which Yates says is a fairly rare occurrence, they publicize its availability. A rental review committee meets and chooses from the proposals. "The criteria includes the artist's ability, their availability on weekends which limits a lot of people, but we really want you to be in your studio. It's not just a place to work in the off hours. We want you to communicate with the guests, and we want a diversity in the types of artists," Yates says.

The Arts Depot is governed by a 15-member board of directors and has two part-time employees Yates and May, who also volunteer.

"We're a team. We don't direct around here, it just kind of rolls on its own with the artists and the support of the community," Yates says. "We work the business and logistics side and do a lot of volunteer coordination."

At least 145 volunteers serve more than 3,000 hours each year. Dozens of artists donate their time and talent to various fundraising events and community activities. If you would like to volunteer, just walk in.

"We're pretty well established as a recognized arts venue, so people just walk in the door and say "I like to do this, maybe I can help.' The Master Gardeners of Washington County do the gardening. We have professors, artists, members and people who bake cookies. We've been known to have some pretty good grub at our receptions that is prepared by a group of people who've been doing it for a long time," says Yates. "I think when you put good people together, treat them nice and add good quality art, it all comes together."

Yates is excited about hosting a new exhibit in April 2016 the Women Painters of the Southeast. "I recently went to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to see this year's exhibit. It was wonderful world-class art and was hosted by an organization very much like ours. Women artists from 15 to 20 states are juried into the exhibit. It's a big deal for us, and we are thrilled to be hosting it next year."

The Arts Depot will host the exhibit, the juror's demonstration, a "paint-out," two receptions and an awards ceremony, among other activities still being planned.

Yates says that most of their challenges are financial in nature, but the community always supports them.

"Again and again it comes back to community support. We feel it every day. When we need help, people come. I think the uniqueness of the whole experience here is key. There are a lot of dedicated people who love this place, and when people visit they feel a real sense of community that's comfortable for them."

The Arts Depot is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and until 8 p.m., during Abingdon's First Thursday gallery tour.

> Resident Artists

Topics: Achievements

The Spotlight Gallery at The Arts Depot hosts special exhibits throughout the year.