The Suffolk Center returns

Published 9:42 pm Monday, September 20, 2021

The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts is opening its doors once again and welcoming the city back after a year and a half of limiting events.

The Suffolk Center is hosting a welcome back open house event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at 110 Finney Ave. This family-friendly evening features guest gifts, refreshments, drawings for free performance tickets, live music, art activities and much more.

During the open house, folks can tour the 78,600 square foot center – the only truly comprehensive arts center in Hampton Roads, according to its executive director Lorelei Costa – and see the Taylor Ballroom, award-winning art galleries, the 530-seat Birdsong Theater, classrooms and studios. Instructors will demonstrate dancing, sewing, pottery, painting, black and white darkroom photography and more. Adults and children can also take this time to visit the Center’s new Creative Art Space to design a mini artboard or luminary.

At the open house, folks will get to enjoy a preview of the upcoming performers that will take the stage this season at the Suffolk Center. This season has a variety of talent, including Bluegrass, orchestras, musical theater and hits from the 1970s. The first performance of the season will take place at 8 p.m. the night after with some Rock & Roll from The Drifters. The box office will be open for anyone who wants to purchase tickets for any performances this season.

The art projects completed at the welcome back celebration will be incorporated in the SOLACE: Healing Through the Arts celebration, which will be on view Oct. 1 through Oct. 23. This six-week series of programs give space for a diverse community of people to find healing from trauma, illness, isolation, grief and other related experiences. The Suffolk Center will put the community’s creativity together on an obelisk-shaped sculpture, similar to the Washington Monument. The SOLACE: Open Mic Night takes place on Nov. 5, showcasing all types of performing arts, including spoken word, poetry, song and dance.

Folks can also check out Jester’s Gallery Shop’s new look. The shop is full of handmade items from over 70 local and regional artists. In addition, shoppers can find paintings, photographs, jewelry, books, pottery, candles, notecards and an arrangement of children’s items.

Costa, Suffolk Center’s executive director since March 31, said it had more than 5,000 people inside the building in June, its first really big month since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It included dance recitals, a West Side Story production, weddings and summer camps.

Among campers, 30% of them were on full scholarship to attend, Costa said, and it had other scholarships that went unused. Among its education programs,

At the Sept. 1 City Council meeting, Costa showcased the center and showed videos of camp performances while outlining the upcoming performances and events. The Suffolk Center provided free artists-in-schools programs to 17 public schools. It recently did workshops for 35 children at Mighty Oak Christian Academy. In its last pre-COVID year of 2018-2019, it served more than 6,100 students, and served 4,550 students in 2019-2020 as the pandemic began.

The center provides its programs not only to Suffolk, but to people in Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County, and its gallery shop features art and fine crafts from more than 70 local artists and artisans.

She touted the center’s honors both locally – earning Suffolk News-Herald’s Local Choice awards – and regionally from Coastal Virginia magazine’s 2020 Southside winner of the best art gallery and best music venue.

During the pandemic, it put out hundreds of videos on YouTube and held virtual art exhibitions. Costa also touted its partnerships with entities in the city to put on different events, and it’s hoping to host fire department elevator training.

Costa said it has goals of setting up a community advisory panel, adding programs in North Suffolk and bringing back community theater.

She also noted “serious water incursion issues” that need attention and is looking at establishing public-private partnerships for the extensive work the building needs. It plans to speak with the Historic Landmarks Commission and, potentially, City Council. She said renovations are needed “to save the building and to keep it usable.”

“This community and the city of Suffolk have invested millions (of dollars) in this building and in this program,” Costa said. “We don’t want that to go to waste. We need to do some renovations in the building to ensure that it can continue to be used and it can continue to be a safe place.”

For more information, call the Suffolk Center at 757-923-0003 or visit suffolkcenter.org. Learn more about SOLACE: Healing Through the Arts at suffolkcenter.org/solace.

Jimmy LaRoue contributed to this story.