When you drive long distances without a radio in your car, you have a lot of time to think. In fact, you can come up with some pretty good ideas if you are anything like Valerie Larkin Smith. In 2001, she started thinking about an idea she had and what it might take to bring it into existence.
She was seeing a place for creating, sharing, learning, and community networking all under one roof. A studio that teaches art was something she felt right at home with, so in 2006, she started Larkin Arts Studios – a one-room gallery and classroom located on Newman Avenue in downtown Harrisonburg.
In 2009, she closed it to focus on her teaching career, but it had been a worthwhile experiment. It gave her time to think about ways to expand on her original idea, and in 2011, she wrote a business plan that fleshed out those ideas.
Valerie currently teaches middle school art and she is also a program coordinator for the JMU summer arts program. She admits that finding time to work on this new business venture with all her other priorities was one of the biggest challenges she faced in starting Larkin Arts. That, and fundraising!
After talking with people in the community, she found there was indeed a need for a classroom and art gallery space, combined with studio space for artists and a retail art supply store. She never considered anywhere but downtown for this new business as, according to Valerie, there is a vibrant energy in the downtown arts district of Harrisonburg that can’t be found anywhere else in town.
And speaking of vibrant energy, Valerie lights up when talking about this new venue. She is clearly passionate about it and totally devoted to getting everything just right. In fact, she is still trying to learn just what will please the public the most. She would love it if you would take this survey and give her any ideas you may have that will help to make Larkin Arts the best art resource possible.
Valerie is joined in the business with her husband, Scott Whitten, and friend, Lynda Bostrom. Scott will help to manage the retail space and Lynda has extensive gallery and curating experience. Valerie describes her as “graphic designer, exhibition coordinator, and generally awesome!”
Even though Larkin Arts has yet to open its doors, Valerie already has plans for the future. She envisions an Art Bus that will pick up kids from schools and underprivileged areas and bring them downtown for an art experience. She is also considering an artist-in-residency program where artists can exchange working in the gallery or teaching for studio space. Because she is committed to connecting artists with the community, there are also plans to start an Art Resource Network – a collection of portfolios and resumes that can be accessed by anyone needing an artist.
The Larkin Arts school opens on July 9 and there will be a grand opening for the retail and gallery space on August 4. There will be juried shows with local, national, and international artists. Check out Larkin Arts on Facebook to stay up to date with what is happening, and I am betting you will become a fan.
Lindsay Denny works for the Arts Council of the Valley and is a member of the HDR Promotions Committee.