WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center (WCAC) has been around for a long time.
The organization was founded in October 1959 by painters Christine Bullock and Sandy Shifflett.
“They were what we would call ‘Contemporary Artists’ at the time,” said President of WCAC’s Board of Directors Janis Wood in an interview with WYDaily. “They wanted to form a gallery space where other contemporary artists could gather and do what they were doing.”
Along with other interested individuals, Bullock and Shifflett raised enough money to incorporate a non-profit organization known as Twentieth Century Gallery.
The art gallery’s original space was located on Nicholson Street where it rented an eighteenth-century building known as “The Redwood Ordinary.”
When Nicholson Street closed to traffic in the 1970s, the gallery moved into the basement of the Craft House in Merchants Square, where it was located for 10 years.
In 1982, the gallery moved once again. This time, it took up residence on North Boundary Street after the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) offered the organization the opportunity to use a converted Sears Roebuck catalog house as its new space.
Then another change came in 2000 when the name of the organization was changed to “This Century Art Gallery (TCAG).” In 2015, the organization changed its name once again to the “Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center.”
It wasn’t until 2017 that WCAC moved all of its operations into the blue building its currently located in on Westover Ave.
This is the location that WCAC has been calling its home for the last couple of years. The blue building features three galleries, an office space, and an art education facility where the organization offers art classes and workshops for all age groups.
“Since we moved, we changed our business plan considerably,” said Wood. “So, we started adding shows. We added the co-op show, and we started thinking of ways to pay the rent and continue all of our programs and operations. We became more member-focused.”
There was only one show at the time that really focused on the art gallery’s members and that was the annual member show. Moving into the blue building was considered a fresh start for the organization. So right out of the gate, WCAC began to focus more on member events.
“The bulk of our exhibits throughout the year are now member related,” Wood said.
Some of the exhibits include:
- Annual High School Student Show: Features art made by students from the Greater Williamsburg area high schools. The organization works with art departments and teachers to invite students, select artwork, and choose judges for the exhibit. The organization awards cash and other prizes to winning students.
- Extravaganza Shows: The extravaganza shows are open to both members and non-members of WCAC. The show focuses on one specific type of art form and features art that showcases many styles and variations of that medium. These shows have become a big hit for WCAC because it brings in visitors to the art center who are curious to learn more. The first extravaganza shows that WCAC tried out was a textile show a couple of years ago. Now, the art center offers two of these shows per year.
- Members Co-op Shows: There is a Members Co-Op Show that takes place in both the Spring and Fall seasons. Right now, WCAC is in the midst of its Spring co-op show. The shows provide member artists with gallery space to showcase their work to the community. Art includes paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and pottery, among many other art forms.
- Annual Members Show: This is a judged art show that offers cash and other rewards to winning artists.
- Regional Juried Show: The regional juried show is open to artists from all over Virginia. It also features an established judge who chooses winning pieces, and the winners are offered cash and other awards.
- Fireside Gallery Shows: These shows run concurrently with the Main & Middle gallery shows and consist of both theme-based 2-D and 3-D shows and WCAC’s Artisan Corner.
The new member-focused shows have proven to work for WCAC while also helping to promote artists of all skill levels in the Greater Williamsburg area.
“We have Zoom classes, and, actually, we can have zoom classes and live classes at the same time,” said Wood. “What we found when we were closed for the pandemic was that we can pull people from out of the area to these classes because they didn’t have to leave their homes. They didn’t have to travel. They would just link up with us. So, that was extremely popular.”
WCAC offered virtual art shows and virtual classes during peak moments of the pandemic.
“We had to do something because we couldn’t have anybody come into the art center. At least, not during those times,” said Wood. “We probably had eight or nine virtual shows.”
Now as the pandemic is less of a looming challenge, WCAC is welcoming guests back to the art center.
Part of the community outreach for the organization is to bring both established artists and emerging artists and give them a space to display their work.
The current exhibit is the Spring Members’ Co-Op show, and it is a prime example of this community outreach in action. However, there is also a whole calendar of planned events that are scheduled through out this year.
Visitors can find out more information on WCAC’s on its website.