Spotlight Southwest Virginia: Strengthening Downtowns Through Performing Arts Networking

The Barter Foundation, Incorporated d/b/a Barter Theatre

Funding Received: 2014
Multiple, VA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months

Abingdon, VA (population 8,200) is located in rural, southwest Virginia, a geographically large region with many isolated rural communities that have rich traditions of artists and storytellers. Although jobs, industry, and household income have declined in this region, many communities have retained their own unique and vibrant cultural identities. Abingdon’s Barter Theater is partnering with 9 of these communities that have identified their existing historic theaters as potential catalysts for reinvigorating their downtowns; addressing the disappearance of gathering places, downtown businesses; and providing access to arts and live entertainment in their communities. “Spotlight Southwest Virginia: Strengthening Downtowns Through Performing Art Networking” is a creative industry cluster development which is utilizing capacity building, shared best practices, technical support and a regional touring network for live performance to strengthen these theaters. The identified communities and theaters are: The Star Theatre, a privately owned multi-use theatre space in the heart of Stuart, VA; the Lyric, a movie and performing arts theater located in downtown Blacksburg, VA; the Rex, known for it's Bluegrass and Old Time music shows on Friday night, this theater located in downtown Galax also plays host to touring theater performances, music and movies throughout the year; The Pulaski Theatre, located in it's namesake town has been renovated and continues to expand it's offerings of live music, touring acts, local theater groups and touring theatre productions along with movies; The Lincoln in downtown Marion, VA is on only 3 surviving Mayan Revival theaters in the country, with a variety of events throughout the year including the public television show "Song of the Mountains"; The Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, TN a multi-use space which hosts Theatre Bristol (community theatre) performances, music and lots more throughout the year; The Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, VA which is a recently renovated space located in the heart of the downtown used for touring shows, music and local performances, The Jettie Baker Center in Clintwood hosts music, plays and more throughout the year. 

Over this past year, we have started meeting with the theater partners on a bi-monthy basis, bringing them together to learn, collaborate and share. Every other month when we meet, we visit another of the theater partners so that the other theater managers or board can experience each other's spaces and see how they work. This has been a great experience for the theater partners. Each gathering has a different idenitified capacity building theme from marketing to block booking to working with multi-generational audiences and volunteer management. We have brought in consultants that have provided great insight and support information for the partners and we have two new theater partners that are in early stages (not yet renovated) that have started to attend the meetings to gather information. 

We are moving ahead in the later half of 2015 to complete our outlined project and do all we can to support the theaters that are part of our network.