Art center reopens with new name, strategy
The Heartwood Art Center in Abingdon reopened in March after 2½ months of renovations with a new name and a more interactive experience for visitors.
“We knew we had to revamp things,” says Chris Cannon, the center’s executive director. “We had forecasted 360,000 annual visitors” but had been averaging 36,000 per year.
Since opening in 2011, Heartwood had moved away from its mission to be a gateway to 19 counties, four cities and 54 towns in Southwest Virginia.
“We had gotten super-focused on making Heartwood into a business instead of a gateway,” Cannon says.
One step taken to refocus the center was a name change. The facility is now the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace.
“Our only goal now is to get visitors to visit other places in Southwest Virginia and spend money,” Cannon says.
Center visitors will find a new look. “We did not have a map of the region and state before,” he says. “Now, visitors will see a large map that connects to every community in the region and will be a big talking point.”
The center also has closed its full-service restaurant and instead is operating a small café. Regional restaurants and food trucks will provide food at weekly events.
Another change is the introduction of performances giving visitors a sampling of what they might hear and see on The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, which stretches more than 250 miles.
The center also will re-emphasize regional arts and crafts, hosting demonstrations and workshops.
“It won’t just be retail space like it was before,” Cannon says.
The faclilty also will have space devoted to outdoor recreation where visitors can book excursions such as camping, canoeing, fishing or horseback riding.
Jim Baldwin, the president of Friends of Southwest Virginia, a nonprofit group that markets the region, sees the revamped center as a necessary change.
“We had to repurpose Heartwood to better perform its mission of a gateway and to make it sustainable,” he says. “I think it will be an economic boost to the area.”