Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The arts district may be struggling, but art in Williamsburg is still growing

An Occasion for the Arts is one of the groups that benefits from the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission. (WYDaily/Courtesy AOFTA)
An Occasion for the Arts is one of the groups that benefits from the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission. (WYDaily/Courtesy AOFTA)

When visitors come to Williamsburg, it’s usually to experience history or bring their family to theme parks.

But with grants from the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission, Susan Smith hopes it will also be to experience art.

“We want to keep our name in the public eye so that when people think of art, they’ll think of Williamsburg,” she said.

Smith, the commission’s vice-chairwoman, said in the past six years, there have been a growing number of organizations applying for grants to help build their artistic presence in various ways.

The WAAC is comprised of nine members from Williamsburg, James City County and York County that help the Board of Supervisors in allocating funds to organizations that contribute to a growing artistic atmosphere in the area, according to the city’s website.

Michelle DeWitt, economic development director for the City of Williamsburg, said more art in the area will create an overall positive economic impact.

Currently, certain aspects of the arts in Williamsburg are struggling. The area’s arts district, which was established in 2011, has had a less-than quick growth as the city struggles to create an artistic character.

The arts district does not have any connection with the WAAC, but they both are trying to grow Williamsburg into an area that will draw in tourists for theater, singing, and other forms of artistic expression.

The problem with growing the arts district can be broken down broadly into two issues, DeWitt said.

“We lack large empty industrial spaces that are commonly used in other cities for art and artist housing space,” she said. “(And) the demand for rental housing in the city has raised the cost to a working artist to rent space in the city and we did not reach the minimum demand needed to access federal tax credits to build subsidized space.”

But the WAAC is helping from another perspective to keep art alive in the city.

In the past two years, the commission’s funds have gone up to $159,000 from $120,000, which had been its budget since 1991, Smith said. The increase in budget not only reflects inflation but it also demonstrates a growing desire from the localities to support an artistic culture.

“Back in 1991 when the commission got started, there were only a handful of applicants,” Smith said. “But the council was forward thinking about wanting to bring the arts in, it’s grown since then to allocate about 30-40 groups.”

The funds go to a variety of activities for the organizations, such as educational visits from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra or building a greater marketing budget for an event.

The WAAC begins to deliberate on the applications beginning in early January, Smith said. The members look at an organization’s current economic stability and the unique qualities it could bring to the area.

On a list of grantee’s for the commission, residents will find familiar organizations like the 50-year-old Occasion for the Arts. But there are also a number of groups that have cropped up in the past decade, such as Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre and Panglossian Production Inc.

The commission will begin deliberating on grants next month and Smith said she hopes to use the funds to keep growing art in Williamsburg.

“We want to have an active arts community,” she said. “When someone has a vision for something and the public appreciates it, that’s something we support.”

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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