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Galax receives award for art school

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Chestnut Creek School of the Arts is recognized for helping turn around city's economy while preserving the region's cultural heritage.

By April Wright, Reporter

 The City of Galax is this winner of the President's Award from the 2010 Virginia Municipal League Annual Achievement Awards, presented during the annual VML conference, which was held last Tuesday in Hampton.

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Galax's entry, involving Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, was selected from among 60 entries in the Community Achievement Awards as the winner in the population category of 5,000-10,000 and the best overall community project. The President's Award is presented to the winner of the population category judged to have fulfilled VML's entry criteria the best.

The city's application for the award described how it responded to a downturn in the economy by embracing cultural heritage through Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, which “tapped the creative economic asset of the region,” according to the VML magazine, which features CCSA on the cover. The city was judged as the best of the five population category winning entries.

Mayor C.M. Mitchell said he believes Galax stood out to the judges because of CCSA's unique mission to help develop the economy and embrace the heritage of the area. 

“As far as economic development, artisans make money, and then there is the tourism aspect, in which people are coming from out of town and staying here while learning an art or hobby,” said Mitchell. “CCSA also embraces heritage, with people learning to play and make instruments. But it's not only musical — they're taking in the beauty of the environment through painting, photography and other artistic avenues.” 

Chris Shackelford, director of CCSA, presented the VML President's Award to Galax City Council during its regular meeting on Monday night.

“The President's Award is typically given to much larger cities — Virginia Beach and Alexandria — so now we're playing with the big guys,” Shackelford told council. “This award is a testament to your vision.” 

Shackelford noted that the school has been positioned as a model, and other city representatives are coming in to check out how it operates and how a similar school might be incorporated into their own communities. 

The magazine article explained that more than 200 people participated in 111 class offerings during the past fiscal year at CCSA, with 20 percent traveling from outside the region. More than 30 part-time jobs have been created at the school, several new businesses have opened downtown and 100 volunteers have worked an average of 50 hours a week at the school.

“This is credence to the work you've done, the work of the volunteers and the thoughts and passion of a lot of people who have put themselves into it,” Mitchell told Shackelford.

Shackelford said the award should be displayed in a trophy case at the art school soon. 

“The story of the development of Chestnut Creek School of the Arts showed a real entrepreneurial spirit and an embodiment of creative thinking,” according to comments from the judges in the VML magazine. “Its creators looked at what made their region unique (music, arts and crafts), identified how they could preserve that unique heritage and culture (performances and sales of artistic goods) and paired that with what would serve the creative individuals in the city and region (the provision of classes/opportunities not offered nearby). 

“The result serves an unmet need in the community, promotes economic development and entrepreneurial thinking and serves the whole region through fostering individual creativity and artistic expression. Bravo!”