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Former CoLab Director Launches Virginia Design Collective

As its name implies there is a variety of art featured at Roanoke’s Virginia Design Collective.

It’s late in the day and Ariel Lev shifts a copper wire draped with screen-printed cards from the wooden counter to a more prominent area. As a “purveyor of art and handmade goods” and owner of the newly minted Virginia Design Collective, it is essential that she orders the art she carries so that it may shine.

The genesis of this new shop lies within Lev noticing a pattern amongst her artist friends: “The administrative side of making art in addition to work a full-time job can be an insurmountable burden. Seeing that that was a need, I thought that I could help with that.”

Her experience in directing both the Grandin CoLab and the Cityworks (X)po Conference carries over to the Collective. “Working at the CoLab, I basically got an MBA in terms of learning from members and coworkers how to run a business in Roanoke”, she says. The (X)po was her, as Lev puts it, “real training” in how it immersed her in “place making” and community development.

The community of artists she brings together at 425 Campbell Avenue SW spreads across the Commonwealth, from Meagan Morgan, a minimalist needlepoint artist from Wise County, to mono-print makers in the Washington metropolitan area. There’s a personal touch to the presentation, with museum-quality laminates on the walls with artists bios and, in several cases, pictures of the artists. One even lists a favorite poem by John Tagliabue. Art can be sold through the store with either consignment or wholesale options and also through the storefront or the Collective’s website.

The mediums explored in the works are as diverse as the artists’ home bases. Carved basswood Shoji lanterns sit catty-cornered across a table from half-foot mixed-media assemblages. Zen-inspired drawings nestle up near photographic prints of Nicaragua. Utilitarian creations such as handcrafted leather clutches and “moon wallets” along with cast-iron rose-shaped hooks are also line the shelves and stands.

The artists are already showing enthusiasm for the space. Lev states that she was “overwhelmed by how many [of the artists] were coming in to meet each other” at a recent open house. The influx of new young professionals is another factor in her opening her space. “Knowing that for the past few years, we’ve been focusing on tourism, brewery and the outdoors,” she observes, “we could also use a focus on the arts with all the new people coming in.”

While the location is off from the market center of downtown, she notes how the area around the farther reaches of Campbell and Salem Avenues is growing with the openings of Tuco’s Taqueria and Big Lick Brewing and she feels that an art hub is essential to its growth.

Shortly thereafter, as if on cue, a visitor comes in from one of the newer additions on this stretch of Campbell – Downshift, a “handcrafted bikes and brews” space located across the street from the Collective.

Fresh off quenching her thirst at Downshift, Kristi Paxton explores the shop before choosing a sparse needlepoint of a face in profile with the features hinted at by only a few lines. “Downshift sends me a lot of people”, says Lev.

Her neighbor isn’t the only organization with whom she’s working as her shop’s journey begins. As Lev’s space is not large enough to hold crafting-style art classes, she is collaborating with Studio 6 at the Aurora Studio Center down Campbell closer to the center of the city to provide options.

The Collective will also be the presenting sponsor for the Monster Art Rally (May 4), a live-drawing event and auction at the Taubman Museum of Art wherein artists will draw on-site before auctioning off the art at a flat-rate with a “Luck-of-the-Draw” bid.

True to her aim at assisting artists in an administrative fashion, Lev hopes to be able to hold classes in arts marketing and accounting in future at her space and has already held classes in Instagram photography and promotion. Her work doesn’t hint at a day-to-day grind even with the obligations of inventory and e-commerce, though, as Lev notes as she rings up Paxton. “It doesn’t even really feel like work!.” The Virginia Design Collective’s launch took place on April 6.

Aaron Layman

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