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After close to a year of campaigns and grant applications, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts (CCSA) has secured the final funding piece to move forward with a new woodworking studio in Galax.
The final grant was awarded on Sept. 26 by the Virginia Tobacco Commission in the amount of $125,000; which topped off the required $877,000 needed to get the project started.
The new facility to be built in the West Oldtown Street/South Jefferson Street area will provide a wide array of equipment and plenty of working space for instrument building, furniture making, wood-turning and other skills that draw from the area’s rich history of woodwork.
CCSA Executive Director Chris Shackelford is thrilled to see the effort move forward. She shared with The Gazette on Monday that this had been a plan since the school was first opened three years ago.
The project began last year with preliminary sketches of the building, which were created using funds donated in memory of Claude Turner. A former member of the school’s development committee until his passing in 2012, Turner had been one of the project’s strongest supporters.
“He told me, ‘I believe in this school, and I believe in you,’” Shackelford said.
In February, the plans quickly took shape when the school received a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The grant required a $75,000 local match, which was met within months by several individuals who backed the idea as passionately as Turner had.
“What happened through these donations showed that, even in this hard-hit economic area, people were so excited about this project, and willing to dig into their own pockets to support it,” said Galax’s grants administrator, Brenda Marrah.
Marrah confirmed that approximately 80 percent of the funding obtained for the studio was from grant awards. The city pitched in by donating a space on West Oldtown Street in downtown, behind Roberts Citgo, valued at around $102,000. City workers will also provide demolition and removal of the vacant building that is currently on the site.
The final funding piece was awarded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which met on Sept. 26 for the final decision. “The Tobacco Commission told us that our proposal was phenomenal, and we received positive staff recommendations to fund this project,” Marrah said.
Mandy Archer of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Small Business Development Center drafted a two-year plan for the funds, Marrah noted. At this time, Archer is projecting the entire operation to be self-sufficient by its three-year anniversary.
During their campaign, CCSA staff reminded the community of how woodwork has become so strongly integrated into local culture. The goal of the studio is to foster that culture so that it grows and provides opportunity to others who are interested in developing their craft. To aid in the development of the studio, a 16-person advisory committee was made up of city officials and professional woodworkers such as woodturner Terry Clark, custom cabinet builder Bill Simpson and musician/luthier Wayne Henderson, just to name a few.
“When you’re working with a group with similar abilities like this, everyone not only gains from each others’ experience and skill, but there is something about that creative synergy that just bounces off of people. You get a lot of good ideas,” said Marrah.
When designing the studio, the committee’s main focus was function. “Our aesthetics went towards our mission — we focused on what we wanted the building to do,” said Shackelford. The final floor plan depicts a large work area in the center of the building that is easily pliable for any kind of woodworking class imaginable. The side of the building is lined with large windows and a spacious outdoor walkthrough that doubles as a stage for musical performances.
Marrah and Shackelford confirmed that the building will be environmentally friendly in design, and will possibly include any usable construction materials left from the old building’s demolition.
The finished studio will offer classes to anyone with an interest or skill in woodworking, and allow several opportunities for career advancement, such as classes taught by local artisans, skills training for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students in the Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education, and workforce development training sessions. It will also provide local luthiers and woodworking entrepreneurs access to specialized tools and equipment to grow their small businesses.
Co-ops will be provided just like the ones offered through the art school’s Oldtown Pottery Studio, where open studio hours will be available to groups and individuals for project work, following the proper safety training.
“We had an idea of starting a local jam. In Floyd, during the evening you will see the streets packed with people playing. And I thought, why doesn’t that happen here?” said Shackelford. “This studio will complete the whole triad. We’re in the heart of downtown Galax, in close proximity to shops, restaurants, lodging, our other studios and our schools that will benefit economically. That’s what we always wanted to do: support our economy.”
Not only will this give locals a place to congregate, but Shackelford shared an additional goal of drawing in other artisans from outside the Twin County limits. Marketing campaigns will target experts, who will visit the studio from out of state and provide their own expertise. “There are the inter-generational people who continue the traditions of their family members in this area. But because of the richness of our culture, we are drawing newer people to this area that see it and think, ‘I want to live this life,’” she said.
Shackelford hopes to support the growing tradition and give these tourists another reason to consider becoming residents.
With the introduction of this new resource, the community now has a brand new opportunity to grow from traditions built by the hands of their own ancestors. And with this tool, the school plans to put a surge in the area’s economy and take steps to becoming self-sufficient once again.
“These talents for woodworking and the incorporation with the music c this isn’t something that is going to go overseas. This is something that is ours. It belongs to Galax and the Twin County region,” Marrah said.
In the coming weeks, the committee will be working on the planning stages of the studio. As of Monday, there was no groundbreaking date set.
One of Turner’s wishes was to highlight the “founding fathers” of the city’s furniture industry, and that is a goal that Shackelford plans to accomplish through the studio. She and the committee are currently working to identify surviving family members of the founders of companies like Vaughan, Vaughan-Bassett and Webb.
She noted that any help that the community could provide would be appreciated.
CCSA is currently excepting pledges in exchange for naming rights, which will be applied to everything from the courtyard bricks to building itself, depending on the donation amount that the donor chooses. Six different naming rights were already on hold as of Monday, so those who wish to pledge should contact the school quickly before all rights are reserved.
In addition, Shackelford noted that additional donations are always welcome in the interest of supporting this project and moving it forward.
• For more information about how to help the Woodworking Studio, visit Chestnut Creek School of the Arts at 100 N. Main St. in downtown Galax, call (276) 236-3500, visit www.chestnutcreekarts.org or find the school on Facebook.