Creative connections: Arts organizations bridge the divide between students and locals

Julia Kudravetz is making a focused effort to attract UVA students, as well as recent graduates, like assistant manager Sarah Valencia, to New Dominion Bookshop’s events. Image: Eze Amos Julia Kudravetz is making a focused effort to attract UVA students, as well as recent graduates, like assistant manager Sarah Valencia, to New Dominion Bookshop’s events. Image: Eze Amos

For a university with such a dominant sports culture, it’s easy to forget that the arts community is thriving, too. UVA boasts over 100 visual and performing arts organizations, from aerial dance clubs to filmmakers’ societies.

The vast majority of these groups are Contracted Independent Organizations. This lack of a direct university connection can spell difficulty when finding spaces on Grounds to rehearse or congregate. Between the infamous “concrete box” of the Student Activities Building and the still hypothetical arts building to fill the lot where the Cavalier Inn once stood, it can sometimes feel as though the necessary space for university creatives doesn’t exist.

That’s where the community steps in. Many Charlottesville arts organizations make an effort to welcome UVA students.

Just ask Julia Kudravetz, owner of New Dominion Bookshop. Since taking over operations in November 2017, Kudravetz has set her sights on ensuring that the bookstore’s capacity for hosting community events is preserved, and even amplified. Selling books is only part of her mission statement, she says. Just as important is for members of the community, “a nice mix of humans,” to attend New Dominion’s events and engage with each other.

Aside from the Thursday night MFA readings, New Dominion hosts student-focused open mics. Kudravetz is branching out to more performative groups as well—one of the most recent events at the bookstore was a staged reading of Much Ado About Nothing, co-hosted by UVA drama group Shakespeare on the Lawn. She’s also expressed interest in a cappella groups performing in the store, and says she’s waiting for a student to pitch her “an avant-garde puppet show.”

Rather than see a divide between the university and the rest of the city, a tendency both students and locals can fall prey to, Kudravetz considers the two communities inextricably linked. “The fate of the town is tied to the fate of UVA, and we need to be more aware of each other’s communities,” she says.

Kudravetz also admires “the energy that college students bring to projects”—in fact, her staff is partially composed of current UVA students and recent grads. New Dominion’s assistant manager, Sarah Valencia, graduated from the creative prose writing program last May.

Valencia has an intimate understanding of why UVA creatives might not see eye-to-eye with their Charlottesville counterparts. “There’s definitely a divide,” she acknowledges, “but we’re working on that.”

Valencia is less concerned with whether students know about New Dominion and more so with whether they feel like they belong. “I wish more students would come out,” she says, describing some of the readings she went to while attending the university in the comparatively “dreary” UVA Bookstore. “We just have to make sure…they feel welcome.”

Gorilla Theater Productions is less centralized than New Dominion, but just as committed to student involvement. Artistic Director Anna Lien describes it as a “counterculture, offbeat organization…just now kinda getting in the limelight.”

Located in a tiny black building tucked into Allied Street, Gorilla Theater is easy to overlook but impossible to forget. The organization’s programming tends towards the violent, absurd, or otherwise controversial—but its intent is not to shock, Lien explains. Rather, Gorilla wants to foster conversation.

“We have a big focus on LGBTQ issues and transition,” she says, explaining her plans to partner with a transition support group at the university in order to bring visibility to these students in creative fashion. Gorilla Theater’s current student- based project is its annual Summer Shorts, which consist of short plays typically directed by and starring high school or university students. “It’s young people being able to rise to an occasion that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Lien also acknowledges that a barrier exists between UVA arts and the Charlottesville equivalent, but she doesn’t think it’s a mental one. “The biggest challenge we have is transportation,” she says. “That’s something that I’m working towards figuring out. How can I bring theater to UVA? How can I build that bridge?”

Alan Goffinski seems to have found an answer. As executive director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, he has poured his organizational efforts into a partnership with the UVA music department to create the Telemetry Music Series, a monthly event that features both student and local performers.

When he took on the role a couple years ago, Goffinski says he “wanted to build on the assets that Charlottesville already has.” He recognized the enormous resources possessed by the music department and, with the help of its technical director Travis Thatcher, created Telemetry. The goal was to foster a “cross-pollination of ideas,” he explains. Based on the typical crowds at the events, which he judges to be half Charlottesville residents and half UVA students, the two have succeeded.

“Some students are less inclined to explore the quirkiness of their community,” Goffinski admits. “There’s oftentimes not a perceived reason to venture out…we like to try to provide that reason—to show students what they might be missing.”

Even if you’re not artistically minded, he urges students to better appreciate their city. “I would ultimately just recommend that students look around every now and then at what might be happening in the community in general…Charlottesville is less than five miles wide. There’s no excuse.”

Julia Kudravetz is making a focused effort to attract UVA students, as well as recent graduates, like assistant manager Sarah Valencia, to New Dominion Bookshop’s events.

Eze Amos

Julia Kudravetz
considers the two
communities
inextricably linked. “The fate of the town
is tied to the fate of UVA, and we need to be more aware of each other’s communities.”

Rather than see a divide between the university and the rest of the city, a tendency both students and locals can fall prey to,

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