By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Dec. 9 — Next month will mark 21 years that the Warehouse Art Gallery has lived and grown through hundreds of artists exhibiting their creations in a unique space next to the railroad tracks, across from the library and the visitors center, at 15 Campbell Street. However, within a matter of days, the venue that has served as the apex of an art resurgence in Luray — and earned 4.7 stars on Google Review — will be vacated of its tenants and its eclectic exhibits.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Cathy Miranda, a member of the board of directors for the Page Valley Arts Council known as “The Pottery Lady.”
“The Page Valley Arts Council will still be able to do things…we will still have an Arts Festival, though we may have to put it off until we get everything rearranged,” Miranda said. “We are trying to keep a positive outlook on our sad loss…a sad loss for the community.”
In a recent Facebook post, Jim Mayes, who lead the art movement in Page County for the past two decades and organized the operation of the Warehouse Art Gallery, laid out plans to relocate a small portion of the Gallery’s 1,000 exhibits to two new locations — the former fine arts gallery adjacent to the former Artisans Grill (soon to be Watch & Warrant Restaurant), and the Blue Ridge Artists building on Route 211 west of Luray.
“The Warehouse has achieved a good reputation for the talent of our incredible artists, consistently rated as one of the top galleries in Virginia,” Mayes stated in his Facebook post. “We have continued to get great reviews from visitors from all over the world.”
Mayes’ comments were published as a “Letter to the Editor” in the Page News and Courier on Dec. 8.
“While very sad that we cannot accommodate all our artists, and the wonderful eclectic collection of art they present, we will continue to be successful with the Arts. We also expect additional galleries will open,” Mayes stated in his post. “While sad to let go of this incredible community resource, we are excited to move ahead exploring the many new ideas that have already sprung up.”
While Mayes tries to put on a “happy face” in light of the situation, he became emotional when he talked about taking down the sign for the well known art gallery he fostered like a child for more than 20 years. He fully understands the impact of moving the majority of the gallery’s offerings away from downtown and downsizing from nearly 11,000 square feet of display space, down to 1,000 square feet at the Arts and Artisans Fine Art Gallery at 4 East Main Street and about 2,000 square feet at the Blue Ridge Artists building on Route 211.
The two-story, brick structure on Campbell Street is in the process of “complete renovation”, according to Mayes. The process has caused “disruptions, dust, downsizing, [and] challenges to the contractor by our continued presence,” he stated in his post. “…[due] to the uncertainties of renovation, and to the recent notice of increased rent, effective Jan. 1, we have decided the time is right for new adventures.”
Linda Nash purchased the Warehouse Art Gallery building in 2011 and leases it to Mayes and the Arts Council. Mayes emphatically claims that he is grateful that Nash has “really been generous on not raising the rent,” with only a $150 increase over the past decade. Now Nash is looking at new ways to increase the return on her investment.
Nash was given two opportunities by Page Valley News to comment on changes to her agreement with the Arts Council, as well as her future plans for the building at 15 Campbell Street. On Monday morning, she declined to comment on either.
“I’m not ready [to comment],” Nash told PVN. “I am going to send out my own press release when I am ready.”
Nash has submitted plans to county building officials that are currently under review. Town officials stated that Nash and her daughter have discussed several potential options for the building, from a restaurant to an organic farmers market.
Due to the extreme downsizing and relocation of a majority of its exhibits and work space a few miles west of downtown, some of the Arts Council’s activities could be affected, according to Miranda. In just the past six weeks, at least four school groups have toured the Warehouse Art Gallery — that will likely end with less to see and experience. Summer school programs lead by the Page Alliance for Community Action (PACA) at several schools, as well as the West Luray Rec Center, participated in programs at the Warehouse where they did pottery, spin art, learned “circus activities” and held a drum circle.
“We won’t be doing that anymore. Things like that, we’re not going to be able to do with the space we have,” Miranda said. “We won’t be able to do one of our biggest events, which were student art shows. People from all over the county came to those, some who lived here for years and had never been to the gallery…and it was really a positive reinforcement for the the students, to be able to show their artwork in an art gallery.”
Although the Warehouse has showcased local artisans for more than two decades, the Page Valley Arts Council (PVAC) formed just five years ago with its main focus being to coordinate a local arts festival. The non-profit has now hosted three successful Page Valley Arts Festivals and hopes to offer a fourth perhaps in September of 2023. In recent years, the local arts scene had been growing and building momentum toward the PVAC’s goal of “transforming Page County into an arts destination.”
“It looked like we were starting to get over the hump, and we were finally starting to become a destination for the arts. I think we’ve been discovered,” Mayes said. “It was only during COVID that we’ve done very well because people have been fleeing from the city to the cabins and the B&Bs, and that’s our market…and by ‘done very well’…that’s relatively speaking because I did have to carry it out of my pocket for a while.”
Despite the negatives of the transition that will officially take place at the end of the year, Mayes tries to remain upbeat and holds no public animosity toward his former landlord.
“Ms. Nash really has been generous in not raising the rent…it allowed me to continue my dream,” Mayes said, describing the Gallery’s rent as “very, very reasonable.”
“So I can’t complain about rent, or the increase in rent, from that perspective, but we would have to host events [in order to afford the rent] and we couldn’t host events with the renovations going on,” Mayes said.
Owners Wes and Eillen Porter have agreed to let the Page Valley Arts Council reopen the Arts and Artisans Fine Art Gallery with a volunteer staff at 4 East Main Street. The small shop should be open Fridays through Sundays sometime in mid-December, according to Mayes.
“They are really being generous with us as well,” Mayes said of the Porters — two local artists who will continue to have their own artwork displayed for sale at the gallery. Fine arts pieces from the Warehouse have already been relocated to their new home on Main Street.
“We’re staying local as much as possible, and a few pieces by professional artists who exhibit across the country,” Mayes said.
Mayes owns the building on Route 211 that features a few metal sculptures out front. The Blue Ridge Artists building will undergo some clean-up and minor renovations, and include a gallery, working artists’ studios, a sculpture garden and festival site. Mayes hopes to open that venue by May.
“The timing seems to be right, and we are excited about the change,” Mayes said. “I am very sad to lose that space for the Town. We have people drive out from the city just for the gallery…so I know it will be a loss to the Town…but on the other hand…although it’s smaller…we expect more traffic at the new location on Main Street, and once we get the place on 211 going, we’ll attract a lot out there and send them downtown.”
With the growing interest in Page Valley art in recent years, the loss of the Warehouse in downtown has some concerned about how its absence will affect local tourism.
“I do think it will affect downtown traffic…not only for tourists, but for our locals who are active in all the events and programs they put on throughout the year,” Luray Downtown Initiative Program Director Jackie Elliott said. “I’m hoping that the new location, with the new restaurant opening next door, will be successful — but I do think it will impact them being separated and out on [Route] 211. I am hoping the impact won’t be significant for them.”
The Warehouse Art Gallery will continue to operate on Campbell Street next to the Visitors Center (train depot) through Dec. 31. Art there remains on sale. Tables, chairs and display units will be available for purchase during special hours next month — 12 to 5 p.m. from Monday, Jan. 9 through Sunday, Jan. 22.
“The uniqueness of the Warehouse was the huge eclectic collection,” Mayes said, “while art critics may not consider it high-end…it was so eclectic and interesting we gained a reputation for that…that part will be missed.”
Pay the Warehouse Art Gallery a final visit over the next two weeks at 15 Campbell Street, or call (540) 843-0200. Visit them online at https://pagevalleyartscouncil.org or visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pagevalleyarts/
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