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Chestnut Creek School of the Arts made a giant leap forward with their Woodworking Studio project on Monday, when it was announced that they received a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development announced the grant on Monday, along with awards for 10 other projects in the ARC region that together total $2.2 million.
City grants administrator Brenda Marrah and executive director of CCSA Chris Shackelford were all smiles following the news. With the grant award now in place, the vision of the woodworking studio seems more like a reality than a dream.
The studio, which was originally included in building plans for CCSA, will cost around $1.1 million to build and get off of the ground. The cost includes everything, including the construction, equipment and starting pay for employees.
The city has been looking at a site behind Roberts Citgo, off South Main Street, for the woodworking shop.
Following renovation of the school’s main building in downtown Galax, CCSA’s original plans for the studio took some unexpected turns. “The city had deeded a property trust to CCSA, with the idea that they would see how we did and what we could make useful for classes,” said Shackelford.
Since the school’s inception, downtown Galax has seen a surge in revenue, Marrah said. “We’ve seen an infusion of new businesses that offer more jobs, and more people are wanting to live downtown.”
Shackelford explained that the original vision was for the downtown area to become the school’s campus, drawing in local artisans and tourists.
“The art school is limited in what they can do in what they call the ‘dirty arts,’” said Marrah, referring to mediums like woodworking and pottery, which require more space and generally leave more of a mess after work is done.
Oldtown Pottery, though it was not in the original plans, is an example of the school’s vision to offer more diversity and explore different mediums.
Woodworking still remained an important part of the school’s development, due to the rich history of instrument- and furniture-making in the area.
“I look at Galax as a place founded on wood manufacturing,” said Marrah. “What a dynamic place to bring in a woodworking studio!”
Claude Turner, who was a member of the development committee until his passing in 2012, was strongly committed to helping the studio become a reality. “He told me, ‘Chris, I don’t get behind much, but I believe in this studio, I believe in this school and I believe in you,” said Shackelford.
After his passing, it was requested that donations be made in his name to CCSA for the studio. These donations were a first step in the project’s funding, and in that respect, Shackelford noted that it was a wonderful way to begin.
Not only was Turner’s name honored by each gift given, but the money became a grassroots effort to get a local project off of the ground.
To give local citizens a better idea of what they were planning, they asked Randy Jones to create sketches of the finished building.
“People were coming out of the woodwork to help out,” Shackelford said. “Everyone has really embraced this idea. They have confidence in what we’ve done so far.”
The donations given by the community totaled $75,000, with several donors contributing $500 or more.
“The local giving was spearheaded by Jim and Mary Lilly Nuckolls, who donated $25,000 right out of the gate,” said Shackelford. “They included a handwritten letter of support for the woodworking studio to accompany their gift and both were included in the grant application itself.”
Other contributors include Mickey and Tina Cunningham, Theresa and Bob Lazo, Rosamond and Esko Lehtinen, Bill and Janet Nuckolls, Todd and Gloria Price, Southern Door Supply, Nancy Stone, Irene Turner, Anne Vaughan, David and Elizabeth Vaughan, The Vaughan Foundation, Doris Ward and several others.
With local donations and the new grant, the project is moving forward, but the journey isn’t over yet. “This is a great start and we feel confident that this will happen,” said Shackelford.
Marrah confirmed that the city will be applying for two additional grants to help with funding. One grant will help with a long list of equipment needed for the school, including unique items like a guitar side bending machine and a banjo rim turning lathe.
The school will also continue to challenge the community to help create a piece of history in the city. After naming rights and giving levels are determined during the facility’s final layout revisions, the school will begin another campaign to help launch and sustain the studio, and benefit CCSA as well, Shackelford said.
Ideas are being put forth by an advisory board made up of city officials, musicians/luthiers and furniture makers. The list includes Shackelford and Marrah, along with Gerald Anderson, Keith Barker, Terry Clark, Jimmy Edmonds, Greg Korbler, Wayne Henderson, Bill Nuckolls, Jim Nuckolls, Jeff Sebens, Bill Simpson, Spencer Strickland, Sheila Key and David Vaughan.
Once it is built, the woodworking studio will focus mainly on education, while offering a historic exhibiting component. Classes will be offered for two separate art forms: furniture-making and the building of musical instruments.
“We need to make the space as flexible and multipurpose as possible,” Shackelford said. “And there will be a studio rental to empower community members.”
To give tourists a look at the work that goes into these pieces, the board has discussed implementing areas in the studio where visitors can walk by and see the instruments and furniture as they are being made.
And of course, a major goal of the studio is to work as a resource for continuing education by offering classes for college credit.
“There has already been an outreach through the school systems,” said Shackelford, referring to local schools’ work with STEM academy, an educational resource that gives high school students a chance and learn the science, technology, engineering and math skills necessary to help foster the area’s growing workforce. “I can see kids from the program throughout the county doing these classes.”
Last year, a series was put together at Crossroads Institute for students of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical education, which serves the Carroll, Grayson and Galax school systems. CCSA lent a hand in preparing classes for the series, such as woodturning with Terry Clark and instrument making with Spencer Strickland.
With these goals in mind, and with several notable local individuals famous for their woodworking, such as Wayne Henderson, the completion of the school could prove a major turning point for the city.