When he returned home to Charlottesville after earning a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Joshua Galloway wanted to keep up with his drawing, so he enrolled in an advanced drawing course in the evenings at Piedmont Virginia Community College for three years in a row. With the help of Elizabeth "Chica" Tenney, his drawing teacher and mentor at PVCC, Galloway went on to exhibit his work at places such as the McGuffey Art Center. Today he is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture at UVA. Galloway is not alone in utilizing the resources within PVCC’s art program as a stepping-stone for his career; his is but one example of how PVCC’s artsSure, PVCC is well regarded for its nursing program and as a stalwart source for workplace skills, but its standing as an arts source may not be as readily appreciated. That, however, has been changing, especially since the dedication of the V. Earl Dickinson Building in 1999–complete with music labs, composition studios, two galleries, five practice rooms, a ceramics studio equipped with three kilns, art studios, a black box, a 500-seat theater and a lakeside outdoor amphitheater. The structure has been nothing less than pivotal in allowing the arts to blossom at PVCC.
PVCC has gone "from nothing to a basket of riches," says S. Kathryn Bethea, a professor in theater and music. Indeed, promotional posters around town attest to the 2002/2003 bounty: artist workshops, master classes, faculty music recitals, ballet performances and children’s theater.
Carrington Ewell, the administrator for the PVCC Fine and Performing Arts Series, says the eclecticism is deliberate. "I try to find something for everyone," he says.
"PVCC is a crossroads in the community, one of the few places in the community where everyone comes together from six counties. There’s no one else in town doing music and dance and theater and films and visual arts and lectures and master classes. I consciously book and represent the widest possible mix of cultures," Ewell says, "the whole gamut of disciplines and artistic traditions." The combination of the Dickinson’s stellar facilities and Ewell’s programming has enabled PVCC to essentially quadruple performances, now up to nearly 150 per year.
As well as being a regional arts venue, the Dickinson building is a performing arts studio for a growing student body–more than 500 this year. Enrollment is up about 80 percent during the past five years. The college offers certificates in painting and drawing. The visual arts, theater, drama and music degrees are two-year programs for students planning to transfer to a university or seeking professional development in the arts. Those students who transfer do so most often to UVA, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Maryland Institute College of Art or Mary Baldwin College.
The arts faculty, which too has grown during the past several years, is a richly diverse and well-plugged-in group. Tenney, for instance, has worked with the arts at PVCC since 1976, and she identifies PVCC’s "main mission" as "community connection." Tenney herself was among the founders of McGuffey Art Center. She serves on the board of Second Street Gallery and is involved with Art Reach, a non-profit organization affiliated with FOCUS that targets children who could benefit from having more art in their lives.
Tenney is one of 22 on the arts faculty, a number that has literally tripled since1997.
At $339,000 annually, total arts education funding, including salaries, supplies and personnel costs, accounts for about 3 percent of PVCC’s $11 million budget. Yet, measured by intangibles such as community outreach, rising public profile and growing popularity of class offerings, the small investment yields a large return. Still, PVCC, like other state educational institutions, faces the threat of severe budget cuts. Dr. Frank Friedman, PVCC president,
cannot go into details about possible pending budget cuts except to say that the impact would be felt "across the board."
Evidence of Tenney’s goal to get her art students immediately "connected with the Charlottesville arts community" is everywhere. She’s trying to create partnership events with local arts institutions such as the UVA Art Museum and Fayerweather Gallery, as well as Dot-2-Dot, a new gallery on Water Street. In November, PVCC’s Art Gallery will have a joint exhibition with Les Yeux du Monde gallery, featuring the paintings of John Borden Evans. There is a lot of "cross pollinating," Tenney says. "Carrington and I are working hard on that."
PVCC’s past few seasons are testament to such work. New Lyric Theater, Live Arts and Shenandoah Shakespeare have brought their productions to the Dickinson building. The arrangement worked out well for Live Arts when it brought its March production of The Wiz to PVCC, says Live Arts General Manager Ronda Hewitt. "We played to near capacity crowds the entire week," she says. "The facility was really state of the art." Indeed, PVCC has been a full-ranking member of what Tenney terms the "explosion of arts in Charlottesville" following the renovation of the Downtown Mall. Almost in concert, there were the births of the McGuffey Art Center, the PVCC art program, the UVA Art Museum, Second Street Gallery and Fayerweather Gallery, each supporting the other yet filling different niches within the community.
Over the past quarter-century, this network of arts institutions has only expanded. Downtown Charlottesville is seeing the opening of new galleries, such as Dot-2-Dot; Live Arts, Second Street Gallery and video documentary studio Light House are constructing a new building on Water Street; and the 1,000-seat Paramount Theater is in the midst of a City-supported restoration. It’s not just the love of the footlights or watercolors that’s driving this renaissance, either. As City Councilor Kevin Lynch notes, the local arts institutions are "economic engines," which help to support local restaurants and businesses and are integral to the livelihood of the community. Indeed, John Gibson, Live Arts Artistic Director, maintains, "Downtown Char-lottesville is becoming the arts destination for the region."
And while PVCC, located south of town on Route 20, is not exactly Downtown, "every theater is part of this network," Gibson says. "We have a common goal, which is bringing people together."
The community came together in turn to support PVCC when its art department (still the largest among its arts programs) was housed in the college’s main building, where inadequate space hindered its growth. Clifford Haury, the dean of humanities at the college, says that when the community saw PVCC’s need for a more functional space, given the quality of its teachers and the work being produced there, the response was simple: "How can we support you?"
The answer was the $7 million Dickinson building, which allowed Haury to instantly double course offerings. The demand was there; Haury discovered that, with a "loyal contingent of people," PVCC was able to quickly fill those courses.
Unlike Live Arts, which is entirely privately funded, or a venue like Starr Hill Music Hall, which runs off door receipts, PVCC is at the mercy of State funding. In fact, most of the money for the Dickinson building came from Richmond. These days, that relationship means potential trouble for the school–and its arts programming. Recently, Governor Warner required State-funded schools to submit proposals outlining 5 percent, 7 percent and 11 percent budget cuts. "We’re looking at having to live through severe cuts," says Robert Chapel, who chairs UVA’s drama department. "It will definitely affect our programs, especially during the academic year, and it will trickle down to affect production."
Over at PVCC, the irony isn’t lost on anyone involved in the arts. Just when PVCC’s class offerings and arts programming is catching on in the region, outside forces may hinder their growth. "If we have to cut at the highest level," Ewell says, "the college will be dramatically changed. It’s pretty frightening and, right now, it’s the not knowing that’s scary."
Regarding potential cuts, Haury says, "If our money were restricted, we might have to cut the number of course offerings in order to keep the program up. We’d see what’s essential and what’s not.
"Much of our money is in personnel," he continues. "Ninety-five to 96 percent of our money is in people, not in things." This could jeopardize the arts programs, as the "name identification is phenomenal" and this reputation for quality instruction is a big part of what draws students and community members to PVCC. However, there is a bright side: Haury says, "The community college system has one advantage." Just adopt an "entrepreneurial perspective"–make sure that classes have a sufficient number of students to pay the instructor. Such an attitude "may be a cushion for us in a budget cut," he says.
Councilor Lynch views potential budget cuts through the prism of all that PVCC has offered to the community in the past, namely its "role as a grassroots economic development." In terms of community colleges, PVCC "is certainly one of the most aggressive in the area.
"When you look at their relationship as an educational institution with the City," Lynch says, "it has really been nothing but a positive relationship. If their past performance is any indication, they have a consistent track record of delivering goods."
In fact, Lynch is sharply critical of cuts in educational budgets. "To cut investment in the work force in order for a short-term balance sheet gain is incredibly short-sighted," he says, "and I have faith that our legislature will be able to see that. It will be difficult for a respectable legislature to justify cutting it. These are the future tax payers of the Commonwealth."
Live Arts’ Gibson comes to a related conclusion: If budget cuts were to hinder PVCC’s capacity to deliver quality arts programming to the public, he says, "the community will be poorer. Charlottesville is hungry for theater and welcomes it in every possible venue."
Meanwhile, back at the Dickinson building, there’s no hint of budget-cut anxiety as the new season gets underway. Students of all ages, economic backgrounds and experience levels settle into their classes and the show goes on.
"We are letting people know what art can do in your life," Tenney says. "It is a positive force, a hopeful activity. In difficult times, people need art more than ever. It is such a key factor in the quality of your life, in the quality of a civilization. It bring richness to your life."