The Arts Council Offers Cultural Opportunities !

Are you looking for some interesting activities to attend in the Harrisonburg area?  Or perhaps you're looking for an opportunity to volunteer for an arts-related activity.

Then you should definitely check out the Arts Council of the Valley, which is among a number of cultural institutions in the city and county that offer a variety of activities and services to residents.

Founded in 2000 by a group of citizens who had a dream of bolstering the arts within the community, the Council now operates the Court Square Theater and Smith House Galleries and helps coordinate First Fridays Downtown. It also offers grants to artists and art educators. Jenny Burden, the daughter of Sunnyside residents John and Ann Speer, has been director of the Council for four years, and Sunnyside resident Mary Rouse is on the Board of Directors.

The Court Square Theater, on the downtown square as the name indicates, offers a variety of performing arts and films “that you won’t see at Regal Theaters,” Burden quips. “Apollo 11,” a film about the celebrated NASA mission, is currently running through April 11.

On Sunday, April 7, the Royal Opera House Presents: “Don Quixote,” a prerecorded screening of the live opera performance, to be followed on May 13 by a similar presentation of the opera “La Forza Del Destino.” Beginning May 2, the local Valley Playhouse troupe presents “The Diary of Anne Frank” on stage for eight performances over two weeks. Other performances in recent years have included such well-known bluegrass music groups as Ralph Stanley II & The Clinch Mountain Boys and the Virginia group Nothin’ Fancy.

First Fridays Downtown began in 2009 as a partnership between the Council and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance as an expansion of the biannual Art and Gallery Walk in support of the downtown art and cultural district. In the beginning, 15 retail shops, restaurants, galleries and museums exhibited artwork monthly from April through October. Now, the event is coordinated solely by the Council throughout the year, bringing hundreds of people downtown every first Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to enjoy more than 30 participating venues.

The visual arts and other types of performances are offered by the Arts Council of the Valley at the Smith House Galleries at 311 S. Main Street. In 2005, the Daily News-Record gifted a home known as the “Smith House” (ca. 1867) to the Council in an effort to save the historic building from demolition. However, the house had to be moved from its location on Liberty Street to its current site, which was accomplished after an ambitious capital campaign to raise the money for the move and renovation. “With generous support from the Strickler family and local business owner James McHone, the Smith House slowly evolved into the gallery space that it is today,” according to the Council’s web site.

In addition to housing the Council’s administrative offices, the Smith House includes the Rhapsody Room and the Darrin-McHone Gallery to provide local and emerging artists the opportunity to display their work through exhibitions that change monthly. The galleries are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (except April 20 and 27 and May 25).

Jenny Burden said she would be delighted to have Sunnyside residents become involved with the Council by taking tickets at Court Square Theater events, volunteering on Saturdays at the Smith House Galleries, or serving as “greeters” at First Fridays receptions. “We can always put them to work,” she said.

For more information about the Arts Council of the Valley, check its web site at: here or call 540-801-8779 and request the Council’s newsletter.

--Galen Moses