State of the arts in Chesterfield bittersweet

In spite of current economic and budgetary apprehensions, last week two arts organizations, one established and one still on its way, gathered to present the “State of the Arts” in Central Virginia. About 50 arts enthusiasts heard a history of performing arts in the Richmond area and got a glimpse of what the Chesterfield Center for the Arts could be during a presentation at the Highlands Country Club.

Phil Whiteway, managing director of the Barksdale Theatre, explained that the success of performing arts in the Richmond area had much to do with a collaboration of arts organizations and programs.

“Although Barksdale and Theatre IV are separate theatre companies, they rely on the same funding,” Whiteway said.

Betty Matthews, Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation chairwoman, said she was desperate to bring the arts to Chesterfield. She said there was only one arts venue in Chesterfield, and asked if anyone knew what it was. “Swift Creek Mill Playhouse,” said several members of the audience.

Matthews reminded the group that the John Rolfe Players, a now-defunct Chester theatre group, planted the seed for the current effort to build an $8-million arts facility connected to the Chester Library. As Matthews presented the plans, including artist’s renderings of the proposed building, her enthusiasm was tempered by economic facts.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” she said. “We can’t expect the county to sell the bonds that will finance this project right now. The bonds have been pushed off, but we’re going to keep pushing on.”

Although the Capital Improvement Program for the latest budget has yet to be considered by Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors, Matthews believes the bond sale could be pushed off until 2016. But, she said she remained hopeful that the sale of the bonds to build the facility would be “sooner than later.”

Matthews said that while the project won’t be started in the near future it will still be done. She said that anyone wishing to help should show their support through their county supervisor.

Bob Shrum, a Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation board member agreed. “If you have any way to contact a supervisor, you need to express how important this is,” he said. “They will listen to you.”

Whiteway said the Richmond performing arts group brings in over $4 million a year through its multiple programs, including Barksdale, Theatre IV, a national touring group and its “Hugs and Kisses” performances. But, there wouldn’t be competition with the Chesterfield arts center, he said, and he hoped to be a collaborator, not a competitor.

Matthews concurred with Whiteway’s enthusiasm for performing arts in the region. “Arts support the arts,” she said. “We’re not in competition with Richmond, people support people.”

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