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The Prizery Wins Prestigious Statewide Rising Star Award

The Prizery arts center has won the prestigious Arts Build Community’s Rising Star Award from Virginians for the Arts, making it the first-ever recipient of a new award that honors an up-and-coming arts organization having a significant impact on its community.

Receiving the Shining Star Award for a long-established arts entity was the venerable Barter Theatre in Abingdon, which dates to the 1930s.
In addition, the Parsons-Bruce Art Association landed an honorable mention in the Rising Star category.

The double win is remarkable for a rural area such as Southern Virginia.

More than 80 arts organizations from across Virginia applied for the honors.

The Prizery

“Founded only in 2004, The Prizery has galvanized support for the fine and lively arts across the region, and it has become a mecca of performances, exhibits and classes. Housed in a donated circa 1903 building, which underwent a $7 million adaptive re-use overhaul, today it is a major regional attraction for visitors and business prospects,” said Monday’s press release from Virginians for the Arts, the awards’ sponsor.

“Among its significant programs supporting K-12 education, The Prizery operates a unique Pre-K Arts Academy for every public-school four-year-old, partnering with the Halifax County Public Schools. Its work has helped spawn businesses that include three restaurants, a retail art gallery, a clothing boutique, a home décor shop and an artists’ guild. The organization has sparked an entirely new way of community thinking about the region’s potential in a post-tobacco, post-textile era.”

State Sen. Frank Ruff and South Boston Mayor Carroll Thackston had endorsed The Prizery’s nomination.

“Industries generally seek out communities that have strong arts programs, and The Prizery exceeds that need for South Boston and Halifax County,” wrote Ruff.

“It is truly a treasure and the source of continuing pride to all of our citizens,” wrote Thackston.

Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Mike Sexton, learning of the honor, also had words of praise. “Companies are looking for attractive communities to invest in. The Prizery is an important key to our success,” Sexton said.

Prizery leaders were thrilled by the award.

“When people outside the community recognize the hard work that this board, this staff and these volunteers have done – and in a short time – it’s very gratifying,” said Prizery Executive Director Chris Jones. “It’s incredible to be in the company of the Barter Theatre. We accept this award as a challenge to one day be as potent a catalyst in Southern Virginia as the Barter Theatre has been in Abingdon.”

Said John Fulton, chairman of the board: “I think it is fabulous for The Prizery to be recognized in this way.  It is truly a community project and would not happen without widespread support.  Hopefully, this award will help us promote The Prizery as a regional arts center.”


Parsons-Bruce’s nomination cited its year-old downtown retail art gallery, the Downtown Third Thursday strolls that Parsons-Bruce kicked off, its biennial two-week art show (with related events, such as speakers, docent-led student tours and artists’ demonstrations) and its work with The Prizery, where it is one of five civic- and arts-related User Groups.

“This first-time recognition of Parsons-Bruce Art Association by Virginians for the Arts is indeed an honor!” said Parsons-Bruce Co-president Barbara Speece.  “We are proud to be included in the Honorable Mention category, and especially delighted to be a User Group and partner for the statewide winner, The Prizery.”

Co-president Carol Foster concurred: “We are excited to be selected for the Arts Build Communities Award and appreciate the efforts of the entire community in support of our recently opened PBAA Gallery and arts-related community activities.”

“This award is based, in part, on economic impact – and we congratulate Parsons-Bruce Art Association, which has a home here at The Prizery, with their expansion to the retail gallery on Main Street. It’s remarkable to have two arts organization in one rural area noticed by Virginians for the Arts,” said Jones.

The impact

The Prizery shares the award – and the spotlight – with its five partnering User Groups, which provide both financial and programmatic support: Halifax County Little Theatre (more than 50 years old); Parsons-Bruce Art Association (more than 30 years old); Halifax County Historical Society; South Boston-Halifax Junior Woman’s Club and the Halifax Woman’s Club (90 years old).

The winners were announced Monday in Richmond by Peter Fields, Virginians for the Arts president, to recognize arts organizations “that best demonstrate the ability to enhance the community, lift our spirits and build a better quality of life.”

The Barter Theatre, in western Abingdon, won the Shining Star Award.  With 150,000 annual patrons, the Barter Theatre was selected for the extraordinary impact it has had on the Abingdon community, the region, and on the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The Barter, the region’s 10th largest employer, was founded in 1933 during the Great Depression – when patrons could exchange vegetables for a ticket. It has stood the “test of time,” the announcement noted.

Longstanding partnerships of Barter’s include Second Harvest Food Bank and United Way of Washington County, among many others. It maintains relationships with recruiting departments of corporations and hospitals, as well as regional economic development offices to help provide positive experiences when prospective executives, doctors, and businesses visit. Its education programs serve more than 55,000 children annually. 

The Prizery’s Rising Star Award is presented to an organization that contributes to and engages its community significantly, like the winner of the Shining Star Award, but that is not yet as well established.

Beyond the Barter Theatre and The Prizery, Virginians for the Arts named finalists and honorable mentions for both categories.

Shining Star Finalists:  Signature Theatre, Arlington; The Taubman, Roanoke; 1708 Gallery, Richmond; and Piedmont Arts Association, Martinsville.
Rising Star Finalists: Empowered Women, International, Alexandria; Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Winchester; Break the Glass Foundation, Chesapeake; and Gallery 5, Richmond.

Honorable mentions:
Shining Star Honorable Mentions: Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center, Clifton Forge; Bluemont: The Cultural Spirit of our Communities, Purcellville; Educational Theatre Company, Arlington; Greater Reston Art Center, Reston; Municipal Band of Charlottesville, Charlottesville; Piedmont Council of the Arts, Charlottesville; Pro-Art Association, Wise; Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Richmond; Wayside Theatre, Middleton

Rising Star Honorable Mentions:
Parsons-Bruce Art Association, South Boston; Bay School Cultural Art Center, Mathews; The Barns of Rose Hill, Berryville; Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, Falls Church; Southwest Virginia Community College, Bluefield

Economic vitality
Eighty-two Virginia arts organizations were nominated for awards.  Judges were Willie Dell, commissioner, Virginia Commission for the Arts; Peter Fields, president of Virginians for the Arts; Mark Flynn, legislative director of Virginia Municipal League, Richmond; Marjorie N. Grier, director of Corporate Philanthropy for Dominion Resources Inc., Richmond; Dr. Roderic A. Taylor, member of the Board of Virginians for the Arts, Chesapeake; and J. Vaughan Webb, commissioner, Virginia Commission for the Arts, Ferrum.  Beth Temple, Alexandria, served as a judge and chaired the judge’s panel.  She serves as chair of the Virginians for the Arts Awards Committee.

Said Peggy Baggett, executive director, Virginia Commission for the Arts: “There are many arts organizations all across Virginia that are doing outstanding work in enriching the lives of their home communities.  These organizations are anchors for downtown and neighborhood revitalization.  Performances, festivals, and art exhibitions bring people together for shared experiences, which build cohesion within communities and create a sense of civic pride.  Arts organizations employ people and make purchases from local businesses, adding to economic vitality.  The new Arts Build Communities Awards bring a spotlight to the role of arts organizations in building strong communities.”

Matthew D. Fine, a well-known sculptor from Norfolk, with a growing national reputation, has been selected to prepare the award pieces, which will be presented at the annual ArtWorks for Virginia Conference 2010 Luncheon on January 27 in Richmond.

Virginians for the Arts works to build awareness of the importance of the efforts of Virginia’s state arts agency, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which makes grants that benefit teachers, students, local government, artists and the communities they serve.