‘Main Street Square’ stage debuts at Arts Fest

Published 5:24 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Smithfield and Isle of Wight County officials celebrated the completion of the new stage outside the Smithfield Times office on May 20 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that coincided with the second annual Smithfield Arts Festival.

The new 37-foot-wide stage, which now includes a wheelchair lift, replaced a 23-foot-wide gazebo-style stage dating to 1997. The renovations included rebranding the lawn outside the Times office, affectionately known for decades as Smithfield’s “Times Square,” as “Main Street Square.”

The site serves as host to an annual summer concert series begun by Times Publisher Emeritus John Edwards and his wife, Anne, in 1987. 

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The Friday evening concerts, now run by the Isle of Wight Arts League, will return for the 2023 season starting May 26 with a performance by Peninsula-area blues musician Bobby BlackHat.

He won’t be the first to perform on the new stage, however. That honor has already gone to the Smithfield High School Jazz Band, which performed at the ribbon-cutting.

The new stage was funded via a $10,000 donation from TowneBank, $15,000 from the town’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief money, and another $10,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s DRIVE 2.0 program – a statewide initiative to make the tourism industry more sustainable amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Work on the new stage briefly paused in February when an Isle of Wight County building inspector required that the covered stage be supported by a steel beam, which drove the project’s cost up roughly $7,000. TowneBank stepped in to make up the difference and then some with its donation.

The town acquired the Times property in 2019 from Edwards and presently leases the office to the newspaper.

The Arts Festival, which made its debut last year, replaced a June festival known as Olden Days, which the town’s and county’s shared tourism department scrapped in 2019 in favor of a more family-oriented and inclusive event held earlier in the year to avoid the heat-related medical emergencies that contributed to the Olden Days festival’s demise.