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The creative economy being developed throughout the area is one industry that can't be exported overseas, said Chris Shackelford, director of Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.
CCSA has and will continue to bring new businesses into the area, add jobs, create mixed-use buildings and improve the quality of life as Galax works toward transitioning into a place of entrepreneurial development and tourism, Shackelford said.
As some question why the city is making such an investment in tourism — with CCSA being a key component of the cultural arts district — the developers of the art school believe it's already headed in the right direction.
CCSA “is already serving as a model of transition,” said Shackelford. “It has just exploded and is going faster than we expected.”
With a mission to preserve the cultural heritage of the area, CCSA will offer a variety of classes, including day-long, weekend, month-long and seasonal classes.
And this new project means more than drawing tuition dollars; it's a major tool in regaining economic momentum.
So far, CCSA, which recently opened on Main Street in downtown Galax, has resulted in seven new businesses in downtown Galax — Chestnut Creek Coffee House, Purple Feet wine shop, New River Outfitters, City Gallery, Artifax Art & Education Supplies, Oldtown Pottery and artisan studio space near Oldtown Pottery. As shops continue to fill vacant spaces throughout downtown, these new businesses alone have created at least 15 new jobs, estimated CCSA development director Penny Moseley, who conceived the idea for the school in 2003.
Since its opening, when it was temporarily housed in the former Galax Public Library building, the art school has created 28 part-time jobs for artists, two full-time administrative jobs and two other part-time positions at the school.
And 100 volunteers have contributed 50 hours per week.
CCSA has offered 130 classes and has served 200 students since March 2008 — a full two years before the school opened its permanent home at the corner of Main and Grayson streets downtown. Twenty percent of its students are out-of-towners who are staying at local hotels, dining at area restaurants and shopping in downtown. Some students have traveled from Texas, Florida, Maryland and Tennessee, and many are from North Carolina.
With an average of $10 per hour per student, and six students per class, CCSA alone is projected to generate $250,000 in additional money to the area the first fiscal year. CCSA will offer 700 hours of class time each term.
“The school is helping to diversify the local economy. We were a manufacturing-based economy, now an entrepreneurial economy...,” said Galax City Manager Keith Barker.
“The economy can't just be trading dollars from industry to industry.”
By focusing on tourism, “this piece of the puzzle draws students from outside the region.”
About 15 years ago, Barker said, there were three times as many vacancies in downtown buildings as there are now.
Since the idea of CCSA was conceived seven years ago, empty buildings have been occupied, business owners have renovated their locations and some are cleaning out second floors and basements to support student housing and residential living.
“Buildings have become desirable properties rather than a liability,” said Barker. “The art school is helping to bolster what store owners have done and continue to expand.”
On top of that, cultural arts districts increase the values of area properties, since artists tend to draw better earnings.
“People will come to the area and buy blighted buildings and fix them up,” said Moseley, who is also part-owner of City Gallery in downtown Galax.
Moseley said since she and the other owners purchased the building in 2005, the value of the property has more than tripled.
As the downtown revitalization project is in full swing, renovations to the Galax Farmers' Market are made and a new welcome center is nearly ready to open, downtown is becoming a hub for shopping and dining.
“This is a vital piece of the economy,” said Barker. “Downtown will become a one-stop shop to find your needs...We need to support downtown and make sure it's a thriving piece of the economy.”
“Rural residents have had less exposure to the arts than in urban areas,” said Moseley. “Art improves the quality of life. People involved in the arts are more likely to vote, volunteer and take part in community events.”
In five to 10 years, Shackelford said she envisions an artistic campus throughout Galax and extending into the international market.
The art school is a $3.5 million project, with $1 million raised through grants and an anonymous donation, which funded the facility and improvements.
And $500,000 is estimated for Phase III — a luthier (instrument maker) and woodworking shop. The city and CCSA are in negotiations for the property at no cost to the art school. Grants for renovations will be requested from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Also, $2 million in pledges and donations over the next five years will be invested, as CCSA enters a capital endowment campaign. Income earned from the investment will close the gap between earned income from classes and the city appropriations.
Nearly $156,000 will be used for operation of the facility, but this year, most will be covered by the anonymous donation of $300,000.
In five years, CCSA is projected to be self-sustaining.
“It's a major initiative and a wise investment,” said Barker.