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The ACV is back

If I want to know what’s going on with the Artisans Center of Virginia, the easiest way for me to find out is to get up from my computer, walk down the hall toward my old office on the other side of the Augusta Free Press Publishing building and ask Sherri Smith, the ACV’s new executive director. 

Smith and the Artisans Center have set up shop at AFP Publishing as they begin the work of reorganizing the Center following the decision of the Center’s Board of Directors earlier this year to shutter the once-thriving ACV retail gallery in Waynesboro in the face of the economic downturn that seemed to hit the Artisans Center particularly hard.

So hard, in fact, that after the rest of the staff had been let go it might not have been that much of a stretch to say that the Artisans Center of Virginia was wherever Smith happened to be at the time, be that her home in Montebello down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the River City or often setting up shop at Stone Soup Books and Cafe at the entrance to downtown in between meeting artisans and local business contacts.

“This has been painful in a lot of respects, but it’s also been a golden opportunity,” said the ever-positive Smith, who with the ACV Board is tweaking the Center’s operational model from being almost entirely Waynesboro-centric to having Waynesboro as the hub with activities across the state as the spokes emanating out from the hub.

“We’re looking at this as a statewide concept. Without having an office, a bricks-and-mortar location, a place for people to come, how do we still serve the artisan community and the community at large all around the state in various different areas?” Smith asks, rhetorically, then tells the story of how the Artisans Center stumbled into a solid new idea to that end during its darkest hour around the time of the closure of the Waynesboro retail gallery.

Local artisan Bert Smith had been on the schedule as the gallery’s next featured artist, “and now there was no gallery for him to exhibit in.” The decision was made on the fly to host Smith’s exhibition in two locations – at the Waynesboro Heritage Museum and The Virginia Shop in Barracks Road in Charlottesville. “Which worked great, because then we had a sponsor to help us cover some of the exhibition expenses,” Smith said.

That basic model is now going to be used statewide, Smith said. “The artisan in the community where they live finds the sponsor, finds the venue where they can do their exhibition, and we provide all the branding and support and marketing,” Smith said.

“When we had exhibitions at the gallery, and the artists were from out of town, it was hard for them to get people from their communities to come here. So we were reliant upon this community to take an interest in that artisan. Unfortunately, the exhibitions were generally lightly attended. I feel that having these exhibitions in their communities, they’re going to be able to have their peers come out in full support of them,” Smith said.

The question of the future of the retail gallery is one that Smith isn’t ready to answer just yet. “It’s too premature right now to say what we might be able to do to recreate a centralized retail gallery,” she said.

“Artisans need to be visible. Their work needs to be tangible. And the gallery served that need. And it truly, truly is a shame that we aren’t able to sustain it right now. We’re trying to get creative with what we can do to find ways to do it in this environment,” Smith said.

“The craft we represent is the kind that people need to get out and touch. So we need to get out there and look for ways for people to be able to get out and touch,” Smith said.

For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with the office in the back of the AFP Publishing building. I can tell you from all the chatter that I hear down the other end of the hall that Smith seems to have some irons in the fire, and if any of them strike, well, after me, you guys will be the first to know.


– Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press