Creative community finds support at The Farm House

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The Farm House provides studio workspace in a historic 1925 farmhouse where artists and community members meet, create and collaborate. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet The Farm House provides studio workspace in a historic 1925 farmhouse where artists and community members meet, create and collaborate. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet

For Lauren and Stephen Stonestreet, good hospitality runs in the family. As cicadas hum and the neighborhood sounds of 10th and Page reach the porch of their 1925 farmhouse on a Sunday afternoon, the siblings share stories of traveling missionaries and artists visiting their grandparents’ home near Charleston, West Virginia.

They say these memories of building community, breaking bread together, storytelling and creating art and beauty through respite laid the foundation for creating The Farm House in March 2015. At its core, The Farm House provides studios and workspaces for artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders in the Charlottesville area. Last year, 26 dancers, musicians, painters, designers, photographers and writers honed their craft in the provided spaces.

“We’re a home for artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders,” co-founder and director Lauren says. “We’re furthering people in their various gifts and callings, tending to the growth of the city.”

“It’s a space for the community, by the community,” co-curator and artist-in-residence Stephen says. “This is so much more than a co-working space. This is a place to find family and be encouraged in your art and also in your personal life.”

As artists themselves, Stephen and Lauren see The Farm House as a means to erase the loneliness, isolation and lack of energy that impacts creativity. Stephen is a filmmaker and art director for Stonestreet Creative and Lauren is a photographer, musician and dancer, who spends much of her time in The Farm House mentoring, choreographing and teaching.

“It’s a focused space where it’s quiet and steady,” says Lauren. “A lot of people have said this space has been very peaceful for them and they find rest when they’re working. Out of that place, I think you create your best work.”

The home is open from 8am-8pm during the week and hosts a weekly coffee hour, community art hours, monthly workshops and potluck dinners. Performances are often open to the public and take place on a makeshift stage near a separate tiny home studio where visiting artists can reside, write, paint, teach and find refuge for a few weeks.

Almost every furnishing in the home tells a story. Stephen points out a mustard-colored sofa from their grandparents’ home. And underneath a mirror from a courthouse in Albemarle County, Lauren flips through a welcome book bearing the signature of nearly every visitor to The Farm House.

Lauren and Stephen serve monthly dinners on a piece of furniture that is especially important to them—a long dark-stained, handmade pine table built and assembled in the kitchen by their friend, Richard Vo, while he applied for medical residency and needed a creative outlet.

“[Visitors] can bring a salad or something to drink or whatever, so they can feel like they’re coming to receive,” Lauren says. “That is a huge part again, in building a home.”

She and Stephen see each dinner as an opportunity to bring people together who may never have crossed paths.

“I’ve seen full-blown projects that are launching this fall that began at the dinner table,” Lauren says. “Just by people bringing some type of intentional question, or asking how you are really doing, or going around the table and sharing as little or as much as you want.”

In addition to providing space for inspiration and community building, The Farm House seeks to “connect the dots,” as Stephen says, by bringing people of different faiths, art backgrounds, ethnicities and generations together. Lauren and Stephen attribute their deep appreciation for imagination, wonder and beauty to growing up in a faith-based home. It’s a faith that they say evolved over time to focus on people, community and the present moment.

“Our desire is—through our personal lives and our faith—to create spaces of peace and to encourage people on their walk,” Stephen says. “There’s an image of beauty that we’re missing in our culture, too. And there’s a sacredness to that, so I think that’s the root behind our desire to build this space. And it comes through our faith, too. There’s no shying behind that.”

He and Lauren both emphasize that The Farm House is neutral, safe and, above all, meant for artists.

“Eternity is not later,” says Stephen. “It’s now. And we’re sharing in it through love, joy and creating.”

Since March, the pair have accepted 14 new members and are looking for more who are interested in a six-month commitment.

“It’s about tending to the individual, the artists, their art and their craft and asking, ‘What do you need?’ We figure out that they need more skills in an area and we provide that,” Lauren says. “It’s curating what needs to happen when, and asking artists, ‘What things do you need before you even start here?’”

For Lauren and Stephen, community comes over competition. “A lot of artists are just trying to make it,” Stephen says. “And we’re trying to further them. That’s the focus here. It’s not just space: In giving you receive; in receiving you give.”

Contact Mary Shea Valliant at arts@c-ville.com.

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