Visual Arts Center celebrates 50 years with Craft + Design Show

In the late 1960s, the Visual Arts Center operated out of a Church Hill residence. It’s now a bustling 30,000-square-foot epicenter for art.

The Visual Arts Center formally celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with its annual Craft + Design Show at the Science Museum of Virginia. About 60 artists from across the country have been handpicked to sell their ceramics, jewelry, wood work, and other items.

“It really, truly is all about high-quality, museum-quality crafts,” said Visual Arts Center Director Ava Spece. “This is a juried process, and we carefully select those artists.” Roughly half of them are new to the annual show. All purchases will benefit the artists.

This year’s event will also feature crafts of a different sort. Local craft breweries Bold Rock Hard Cider, Center of the Universe, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, and Strangeways Brewing will be on hand to serve specially created craft beer recipes for the event. Proceeds from beer sales will go to the Visual Arts Center. A select number of commemorative tasting glasses will also be available.

In addition to the special brews, local artists have been paired with breweries to design commemorative pin casks. Those artists are Ed Trask, Chris Milk, Mickael Broth, and Diego Sanchez.

Mosaic and Alamo BBQ will also be available at the event, as will craft and design demos on ink drawing, pastels, rug hooking, and Zendoodles. The Craft + Design show takes place from November 23rd – 24th at the Science Museum of Virginia. Tickets range from free to $12 per person.

The annual event is just a slice of what the Visual Arts Center does today, but a giant leap from its beginning.

Getting RVA’s hands dirty

The Visual Arts Center began in 1963 when Elisabeth Scott Bocock1 created The Hand Workshop, which operated out of a Church Hill residence at 316 N. 24th Street. The workshop was designed to facilitate and promote high-quality crafts and artists because, in those days, crafts and craft artists were of little cultural value. “Crafts in the US has become far more respected as an art form compared to years and years ago,” Spece said. But the goal of The Hand Workshop soon changed. “It very quickly became focused on teaching neighborhood kids how to create with their hands,” Spece said.

For the next 22 years, the home of The Hand Workshop hopscotched across Richmond. In 1985, it moved to 1812 W. Main Street,2 where it’s remained since. In 2002, The Hand Workshop purchased the building outright, and in 2005 changed its name to the Visual Arts Center.3

The center believes art should be done and not merely seen.4 “As people and technology change and we look around us for activities…certainly the human population, and the citizens of Richmond, are looking for something that gives them an experience. They want to be involved,” Spece said.

“One of our most significant roles in the community is to provide [people] an opportunity…to come and be involved and get their hands dirty and make,” she said. “You’re involved in this creative culture we call Richmond.” The Visual Arts Center is “someplace to put that creativity to work.”

Last year, Visual Arts Center served 29,000 people, offered 443 adult classes and 225 youth classes, six exhibitions, and additional outreach events. “We would like to be able to expand that and support even more activity in the city,” Spece said.

Fifty years from now, Spece hopes the center offers more classes, more exhibits, and reaches more people. She said art creates meaning and fulfillment in people’s lives–children, adults, and seniors alike.

The Visual Arts Center is located at 1812 W. Main Street. The Craft + Design Show takes place from November 23rd – 24th at the Science Museum of Virginia.

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  1. She also helped found the Richmond Symphony, among other organizations
  2. Where Virginia Dairy formerly operated. 
  3. In 2007, the center remodeled its 30,000-square foot location. 
  4. That’s the motivation behind the center’s Art is a verb bumper sticker. 

photo courtesy of the Visual Arts Center

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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