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William King Museum holds unique place in local arts community

June 29th, 2012 2:56 pm by Marsha Salley

William King Museum holds unique place in local arts community

Probably the best known programs that the education department offers are the week-long Summer Art Camps.

In the local arts community, William King Museum: Center for Art and Cultural Heritage holds a unique place.

Located in Abingdon, Va., the non-profit regional art museum and arts education center is the only facility of its kind and Virginia’s only nationally-accredited museum west of Roanoke. According to Marcy Miller, the executive director, the accreditation means that the museum has met strict standards for temperature, environmental control and security, and therefore can exhibit, literally, any piece of art of any value from around the world.

Presently housed in a historic school building in the center of Abingdon, the William King was established in the late 70s. According to Miller, the museum’s mission is to showcase and exhibit an array of visual art, as well as to educate and nurture artistic talent. The museum currently offers three main galleries that each focus on a different aspect of the museum’s mission.

The first is the Legard and United Company Gallery which focuses on rotating exhibitions of world art - such as Matisse and Picasso and Dali,  to name only a few. The second gallery is the United Company Regional Art Gallery, which offers the best new contemporary regional artwork. The final gallery is the Price-Strongwell Gallery, which centers on decorative and folk arts based on the findings of the Betsy K. White Cultural Heritage Project. Other galleries include a student gallery and the Panoramic Gallery, which rotates monthly and displays work by local artists. 

Outreach Education fulfills the second goal of the William King's mission. The VanGogh program operates in 12 school districts, bringing art lessons and a hands-on activity three times a year to second-graders. In addition, the museum hosts field trips, offers after-school art enrichment programs, and art lessons on site that benefit highly-promising students.

Probably the best known programs that the education department offers are the Summer Art Camps. Ranging from pre-school through high school, art camps are one-week sessions that run from 12:30 until 4:30 p.m., except for pre-school camp, which runs from 10 a.m. until noon.

"We have jewelry making, painting, print making, ceramics, drawing - a full range of the visual arts are represented in our classes," Miller says. "I agree with one of our artists who had a studio here when he says that 'art may not be a necessity for the body, but it is a necessity for the soul.' As a matter of fact, there are several studies that confirm that a workforce that is lacking in creativity is one that has poor decision-making ability. Artistically developed individuals are risk takers. These qualities that the arts develop make stronger, more emotionally resilient leaders." 

Many arts organizations are struggling in these economically-challenged times, but the William King Museum is doing well. So much so that plans are in motion to move the facility from its present location on Academy Drive to Main Street, Abingdon, across the street from the Barter Theatre Main Stage and next to the Barter Green. That would place the museum, Barter Theatre and the Martha Washington Inn - the three largest tourism draws to the town - all on the same block.

"We very excited about the plan which is still in its early stages. It would significantly improve the accessibility to the museum," Miller said. "Arts organizations add so much to the identity of a town and Abingdon is no exception. We are delighted to be able to add to the tourists’ and residents’ enjoyment of the Abingdon experience."

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