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Arts Council Meeting Issues Call to Unify

Carol Bewley Dalhouse (left), the first Director of The Arts Council, urged members to view artist Betty Branch's sculptures, which are currently showing at Hollins University in The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum. Branch, right, has a major retrospective of her work, Through the Crow's Eye, on display now.
Carol Bewley Dalhouse (left), the first Director of The Arts Council, urged members to view artist Betty Branch's sculptures, which are currently showing at Hollins University in The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum. Branch, right, has a major retrospective of her work, Through the Crow's Eye, on display now.

The arts “need championing,” according to Carol Bewley Dalhouse, the first executive Director of The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge. Dalhouse made her comments at the organization’s annual meeting, held September 22 at Hollins University.

The 1989 Roanoke “Mother of the Year in Arts” urged creative types to join together with one voice. “When artists get together, they have a powerful voice,” she said. “We speak in every language, visual, audible, and silence.” During a question and answer session held in conjunction with current Executive Director, Laura Rawlings, Dalhouse explained how The Arts Council was formed in 1976.

It essentially began with a first meeting, held in a bomb shelter , she told the 30 or so art patrons gathered to hear her talk and to view a showing of sculptor Betty Branch’s work at The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins.

Around 1974, a bicentennial grant proposal from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) sent Roanoke City officials looking for folks to help create and foster an environment for artists, Dalhouse said. She was tagged because of her knack for creating partnerships. Other area artists, many of whom have since passed away, joined forces with former City Manager Bern Ewert in hopes of promoting and raising awareness of local art efforts.

The first meeting in the Roanoke City Municipal Building basement proved fruitful. Community leaders decided the area needed an Arts Council to unify and coordinate the various arts organizations in the valley. Subsequent meetings were held in private homes or at Junior League meeting halls. The Junior League was a major supporter of the endeavor, Dalhouse said.

The biggest challenge for the fledgling organization was the valley’s four governments. “There was no sense of this being ‘the valley,'” Dalhouse said. “There was no way to coordinate the different calendars.”

The challenge of writing the grant fell to Dalhouse, who at the time was attending Hollins College (now Hollins University). Her efforts were successful, and the Arts Council was one of only 37 groups nationwide to receive this specific NEA grant.

However, the $12,500 grant required matching funds, and appeals to localities went unheeded. “We even considered lying, but we were afraid we’d go to jail,” she said of the search for funding.

Finally, the organization sent a letter to Roanoke City Council, asking them to take the money back because they weren’t able to raise matching funds. Fortunately an official stepped in and explained the idea of “in kind” services to Dalhouse, so that the group understood that it did not need to match the grant dollar for dollar.

Dalhouse, who calls herself “an arts appreciator,” was then named executive director, and the Arts Council began working with public and private school systems. The organization also refused to recognize locality lines, instead seeing the school system in particular as a valley-wide entity.

The organization now promotes the arts in the Roanoke Valley and provides services to more than 100 local cultural groups and 260 individual artists of all disciplines. Programs and services include a regional cultural calendar, arts education classes, arts management workshops for member organizations and individual artists, directories and cultural tourism initiatives.

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge is currently offering an arts package and calendar called 40 days + 40 nights, an Arts and Culture Explosion (4040fest.com).  The event continues through November 9 and showcases local art exhibits, music festivals, ballet, orchestral events, children’s theatre and other activities.

By Anita J. Firebaugh
[email protected]

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