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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Marcia & Marvin Gilliam support the arts

Marcia and Marvin Gilliam
Marcia and Marvin Gilliam

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2017

Marcia and Marvin Gilliam have been huge supporters of the arts for many years. They have served on boards for arts organizations, spoken in favor of strong arts communities and provided generous support for many performing and visual arts organizations throughout the region. Their foundation supports Barter Theatre, William King Museum of Art, Bristol's Art in Public Places, the Symphony of the Mountains and UVA Wise, where the Gilliam Center for the Arts was recently built due to their generosity.

Their love of the arts dates back to their childhoods and eventually brought the two of them together. Marcia traces hers back to elementary school music class. "I had a music teacher in the third grade who enhanced my appreciation for music," she says. "She was a young, very artistic teacher who only had a one-year contract but introduced me and others to a variety of music previously not taught in 1968 in our area. Being the daughter of a lay minister, I grew up in church exposed to gospel music, so the various forms of music we listened to and sang were eye opening."

Marvin's mother, Betty Gilliam, was a professor of art at Clinch Valley College. "When I was in the first grade, I went for a half-day at Wise Elementary School. Mom taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so she would pick me up from school and take me to the college with her as she taught her afternoon classes. I had a school year experience of attending college art classes. CVC also had a theater department, and I was friends with the professor and attended all the college productions as a child. I learned to love live theater at an early age."

When Marcia was a senior at John I. Burton High School, she was selected to attend a conference for local students, "Three Days in March," through Wise County Pro-Arts. It was held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, and they toured an exhibit of Salvador Dali's work and attended breakout sessions discussing art and artists that might interest them. "I was honored to be selected, and it continued the progression of my love and exposure to the arts."

Meanwhile, Marvin's mother put him to work at the art show at the Wise County Fair (which she chaired). "I would spend hours at the fair working the exhibit checking in paintings from local artists and discussing their works, hanging paintings and talking about the different pictures to visitors at the exhibit. This gave me exposure to a group of incredibly talented artists with dramatically different perspectives of artistic expression," he says.

His love of theater grew when he took a drama class during his junior year at J. J. Kelly High School. "We had an outstanding and energetic young teacher who loved theater. I learned all facets of play production from building sets, sound technician's work, directing actors and putting on actual performances. Mr. Dotson also got tickets for the students to drive to Abingdon and watch professional theater at the Barter, and I saw several plays in my junior and senior years in high school. I loved the performances and had an incredible respect for their quality. I took two more theater classes in college at the University of Virginia and attended most of the productions they presented during my four years there," he says.

Marcia's college years were spent at Clinch Valley College, where her art history class changed her life.

"As the first person in my immediate family to attend college, I was thrilled, scared and excited about my future. As a business major with concentrations in marketing and management, I was intrigued that I had to take so many courses out of my major. However, I soon realized what a liberal arts education means and especially to a young woman who had not been exposed to many of these subjects. My art history class was truly life changing. It was taught by Betty Gilliam, who turned out to be an awesome teacher, a dear friend and my future mother-in-law. She showed slides of the "David" in the Uffizi Gallery in Italy, Picasso in Madrid and Barcelona, the "Mona Lisa" in the Louvre in Paris and many others to our class. Because of her passion, love and desire to teach us about these treasures, I believed I would eventually see them. Thanks to Mom Gilliam's encouragement, I have," she says.

"Marcia and I have traveled across the United States and Europe and enjoy the museums, theaters and historic architecture of both regions and continue to find new things we haven't seen before. The creative genius of the artists, architects, builders, playwrights and performers never ceases to fascinate me and leave me inwardly and outwardly delighted at what I see and hear," Marvin says.

Teachers and family started the Gilliams' love of art and led them to support the arts and teaching the arts.

"I think that children and youth should always have artistic outlets to either observe or participate in expressions of creativity," Marvin says. "An early understanding and appreciation of local artistic outlets is important to cultivating and opening minds to the classics and to works nationwide and worldwide of a scale not imaginable growing up in a rural atmosphere, such as our region. We hope that our contributions will make that possible for the children of our region."

Marcia says, "If you think teachers, encouragers and patrons don't make a difference in the life of a young person, you are wrong. My life has been touched by the arts, and I believe it is essential to not just young people but to people of all ages that they have exposure to the arts. I believe we all become better citizens contributing to our community and society because of the arts."

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