Home Shenandoah Valley Art Center director: Main Street location is the ‘realization of a big vision’
Arts & Media

Shenandoah Valley Art Center director: Main Street location is the ‘realization of a big vision’

piper groves SVAC
Photo of Piper Groves by Crystal Abbe Graham

The Shenandoah Valley Art Center has a lot to celebrate on Saturday as it wraps up a seven-year effort to expand the footprint of the center in downtown Waynesboro.

On Saturday, patrons, artists and the community will gather for a black-tie ticketed event at 416 W. Main St. to get a first look at the renovated 9,500 square foot property spread out over four floors, which will house an educational gallery, seven artist work spaces, a large classroom, an artist residency apartment, additional office space, a printmaking studio, a picture framing studio and two libraries, and it will serve as an event space for weddings, galas or other community gatherings.

On Tuesday, volunteers and staff were putting the finishing touches on the nearly $1 million renovation of the old Augusta Furniture Store and Touch of Love pawn shop.

“We decided to have a big party for a couple of reasons,” said SVAC executive director Piper Groves. “One, because we’ve been working really hard for a lot of years. And also because we need to have the first formal event in here belong to us so that we could manage the space and the flow so that when we use it as an event space, we fully understand how it works.

“Two, we wanted all the people who have given their time and resources to this project to be able to come and see it,” she said. “And we wanted a chance to publicly thank and sort of celebrate the tradespeople that came in here and did this work because it’s unbelievable.”

The strategic plan for the Art Center always included the need for more space, and the goal was to try to remain downtown if that proved feasible.

In 2016, the Art Center was presented with the unique opportunity to purchase a nearby building literally footsteps from the back of the original 126 S. Wayne Ave location to the back entrance of the West Main Street location. The Art Center was able to buy the building with seed money from investments and a memorial bequest from Kirk and Gina Snell.

“We knew we wanted this to be a gallery,” said Groves. “And we knew we needed more studios for artists. We needed more educational space. We knew those were on the list, but we weren’t exactly sure how we would use each space.

“We sat on it for a couple of years because we wanted to feel how it was and what we wanted to do with it.”

Taking a tour throughout the space, to each floor and nook throughout the building, it’s clear that Groves is proud of the investment in the arts which will likely be a large part of a cultural renaissance in the downtown area.

“I’m still reeling. It feels amazing,” said Groves, a woman who wears many hats. In addition to her role as executive director, she is a printmaker and mixed media artist. “It’s been a lot of years in the making.”

svac art center west main st safe2
Safe that belonged to Augusta Furniture Store; photo by Crystal Abbe Graham

It was important to the SVAC staff and board, she said, to honor the bones of the building – complete with a large safe that served the furniture company – and keeping railings and walls true to history.

“It’s art on its own,” Groves said. “We wanted to keep the age and the character of this beautiful building.”

The 126 S. Wayne Avenue location features an invitational gallery with group and solo exhibits, eight studios for artists, a smaller classroom, office space, a pottery studio, and most visible to the public, an artisan gift shop.

SVAC educational gallery
Educational Gallery at 416 W. Main St.; photo by Crystal Abbe Graham

The 416 W. Main Street first floor will serve as an educational gallery, Groves said.

“This space is really to educate the community about art and to have a chance to showcase things that are a little bit different that people haven’t seen in this area and aren’t likely to see in another venue.”

The goal is for the new space to also generate revenue through studio rentals, a short-term rental apartment and for use as an event space for a wedding, business meeting or any kind of community gathering.

The apartment and back wall of the building was transformed from a solid brick wall to capturing inspiring mountain views with large windows and a walkout balcony and separate entrance. The apartment, designed to house an artist in residency who will create and teach at the Art Center, will also diversify the income for the Art Center – renting it out as an apartment when it’s not dedicated to an artist.

svac art center west main st artist space
Shenandoah Valley Art Center, 416 W. Main St., artist studios – Photo by Crystal Abbe Graham

The design of the artist studios is a tad unconventional with bathroom stall-like walls (in part due to code regulations) that allow natural light to flow through each 10×10 foot rental space. They are designed to hold a desk and provide storage as well as showcase an art installation by the maker – a true communal space with a library, coffee bar and sitting area for artists to soak in their creative spirit. The artist space was funded through a memorial gift in honor of watercolorist Carol Martin, who died from cancer in 2021.

“She very much valued putting your feet up and digging into an art book,” Groves said.

svac art center west main st art installation
Executive Director Piper Groves stands in front of a unique art installation commissioned by SVAC; photo by Crystal Abbe Graham

The Art Center commissioned a sculpture by Dale Morse with the Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing in the former Virginia Metalcrafters Building and Joshua Solomon, who worked out of the South River complex in Waynesboro but now is at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, to add a unique element to the event space.

“It’s made out of vintage, raw materials that they make fiber optic cables from,” Groves said. “We wanted clear glass and colored lights. The glass has ridges on it, which throws light around a little bit, but are also a nod to the Crompton factory where they made corduroy.”

The Crompton-Shenandoah Co. was located in Waynesboro and served as a corduroy dyeing and finishing plant dating back to 1928.

svac art center west main st
Shenandoah Valley Art Center West Main Street location, photo by Crystal Abbe Graham

The exact opening of the 416 W. Main St. building isn’t known but Groves said, it should be no later than June 1. They plan to have a full slate of exhibits announced by the start of summer.

“I’ve been here 15 years,” Groves said. “This is the realization of a big vision for me and a big dream. And I’m really delighted to see it coming together.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.