The arts have been a local tradition

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, January 3, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Smithfield has long been known for its ham, but over the years it has also quietly built on a tradition in the arts.

Music, drama, visual art and more can be enjoyed regularly in Isle of Wight — a county also prized for its rural atmosphere.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Along with the many venues that have developed — some old, some new — is a legion of supporters who provide the audience and funding needed to keep the arts alive and vibrant.

The Smithfield Times is launching a series of features on each of Isle of Wight’s arts venues — the Arts Center @ 319, the Summer Concert Series, the Smithfield Little Theatre, Sundays at Four, Smithfield Music, Smithfield’s public art displays, the monthly bluegrass concerts at the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department, the summer concerts in Windsor, the Isle of Wight Writer’s Group and several more. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The arts enrich our lives no matter what the avenue, be it the visual arts, music or drama, said artist Diane Milner, who along with being a resident artist is also the president of the Isle of Wight Arts League.

Milner said the arts teach children patience, discipline and dedication and should be part of every child’s life.

Karen Willard has taught music in Isle of Wight County schools for 40 years and is known in the community for leading the Carrollton Elementary School chorus in the annual Christmas parade and other venues. She is also a strong supporter of Smithfield Music, whose annual events help fund music education in Isle of Wight County schools.

Music and art allows children and adults to express their thoughts and feelings through a creative outlet, and is something that can be accessed for a lifetime, Willard said.

Others, like Eugene Carter, who has attended the Smithfield Summer Concert series for nearly 20 years, have an easy answer for why they support the arts.

“I just like music,” said Carter, who said his appreciation started as a child with impromptu concerts hosted by his father and friends. 

Elaine Dairo, who is active with the Arts League as well as the Smithfield Little Theatre, made sure her children took art classes, although they were not destined to take up a paintbrush or instrument for a career.

“We required both our boys take art from the toughest art teacher in high school. She didn’t treat art like an ‘elective.’ She was the teacher art majors sought; art was serious. Some of their early high school art is still displayed in my home,” said Dairo, whose sons grew up to be an anesthesiologist and a regional sales director. 

Smithfield High School art teacher Jessica Jackman believes the visual arts hone imagination and creativity, which can be used in any number of careers that require problem-solving and critical thinking.

Carrollton resident Jim Henderson is a strong supporter of the Sundays at Four concert series. As a former physicist, as well as a part-time tenor soloist in Cleveland, Henderson believes the concert series is a unique find, particularly on this side of the James River.

“It’s so rare you have to help it along,” he said of the series, which has also helped several young singers and musicians go on to schools such as Julliard and the Curtis Institute of Music.

Smithfield also has a mix of public art on view year-round, ranging from bronze statuary created by Colorado artist George Lundeen to the painted pigs, and most recently, approved the painting of park benches by Smithfield High School art students to go in Hayden’s Lane.

Windsor recently began providing several musical concerts in the summer that are open to residents and visitors.

It was seen as a way to bring the community together for fellowship, as well as an opportunity to meet others, said Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings.

Windsor also provided funding for a mural to be painted on one of its historic buildings as a way to enhance the appearance of the town.

Americans for the Arts published research many years ago on the value of the arts, from education, to civic life and the economy by enhancing innovation and stimulating learning — as well as simply for the sake of art.

Several years ago, the town of Smithfield decided to enhance its historic district by pursuing another designation — an arts and cultural district. Arts and Cultural Districts, a designation enacted by the Virginia General Assembly, allows for tax and fee incentives for arts related businesses.

In Smithfield, that translated to a break on business licenses and fees, such as waiving the fee for sandwich board signs.

The idea was to make Smithfield “arts friendly,” said Kim Pugh with the Isle of Wight Arts League.

Meanwhile, many venues struggle to keep the donations, ticket sales and audiences coming.

“The key is identifying what’s most important to the majority and providing it. We can assume we know what people like, but it could be what “we” like and not tapping into what the masses like. Without the masses we can’t survive. A few wealthy contributors can keep you afloat for awhile; those that refuse to let these venues die. In the long run we need community support to thrive,” said Dairo.

Next week, The Isle of Wight Arts League.  {/mprestriction}