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Contemporary Art Center launches fresh exhibit in new location

The recently reimagined Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center is celebrating its member artists with the 2017 iteration of its annual members' show. The exhibit, which runs through June 30, features the works of 70 artists inside the center's new Arts District location.

It launched Monday night with a reception celebrating the artists sharing their creations and featuring prizes for a select few.

"We're trying to do everything that we can for the emerging ones and the established ones," center president Janis Wood said.

Works on display spanned watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastel, pencil, ceramic and photography.

"This is a very, very pleasant opening," said Christina Clarke, a photographer who's volunteered with the center for two decades. "The gallery is full of a wide variety of artistic expression."

Janet Ledbetter judged the submissions. She's a local artist, teacher and signature member of the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society. She selected three cash prize winners and nine merit award winners based on criteria like originality, the clarity of the message and the level of imagination on display.

Art for the ages

The reception also recognized the next generation of artists. The center teamed up with the College of William and Mary's Students of Hip Hop Legacy to award $2,000 in scholarships to three local high school students.

"It's always more remarkable to see these youngsters with remarkable work," said Karen Schwartz, the members show manager and a member of the center's board of directors. The winners were decided based on the strength of their portfolios and essays.

Schwarz said the show's reinforcement of talent is good for students hoping to pursue art in college.

Abigail Bannon, a Lafayette High School student, was one of the recipients.

"It's cool being in a situation where you're around adults, getting feedback," she said. "That is what tonight is for."

Bannon plans to attend VCU's School of the Arts in the fall. She wants to continue exhibiting her work at shows and expand in the local art community during her time there.

Her Lafayette art teacher, Molly Peet, was also at the event to show support.

"It's awesome," Peet said. "A lot of kids have a dream and ambitions but don't always understand the work that goes into them."

She said Bannon has that necessary drive. Peet admired the achievements of the more established artists at the event as well.

"There's a ton of great works here," said Peet who is particularly fond of several depicting cats. "I'm struck by the variety more than anything."

Peet also enjoyed the new space in comparison to its less spacious predecessor.

"I like this space a lot," she said. "It's much more functional."

A change of scenery

Until last December, the center operated out of a converted Sears Roebuck catalog house on North Boundary Street. But space was limited, and so were options for showcasing the art.

The center also has a history with the current building. It was used as an art education center, but it was messy and the floors covered in paint. After a few months of renovations, the building was ready to serve as the stage for the center's artwork.

Wood described the new location on Westover Avenue as "sprawling," with its fireside gallery by the main entrance, a smaller middle gallery and a larger main one.

"We're very happy to be in the Arts District," Wood said.

Despite the new facility's greater square footage, the building was still packed during Monday's reception. The current show is limited to members only, but that's not always the case.

The center's next exhibit, "Camera to Brush," will premiere in July. Photographers were able to submit pictures, and artists from other media will offer their interpretations. The photograph and artwork will be displayed together.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

Want to go?

The 2017 members' show runs through June 30. The Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon-4 p.m. on Sunday. Located at 110 Westover Ave., it is free and open to the public.

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