Emily Fox, a senior at B-UHS, smiles, in front of her two pieces done in pencil Friday at the gallery's opening.

Upshur County youth gain ‘true gallery space’ with opening of Colonial Theatre gallery

BUCKHANNON – The new Colonial Theatre Gallery opened Friday with the first countywide Youth Art Exhibition.

The opening of the new gallery finally happened June 6 after being delayed due to COVID-19 with students, teachers, principals and many more coming together to support Upshur County youth art. Heidi Thompson, art teacher at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, said the gallery opening marked the first time students had a gallery in which to display their hard work.

“It means absolutely so much because until this point we have never had a true gallery space to exhibit our student’s work,” Thompson said. “We have put it in store windows, which has been great. We put it in public libraries, which has been great, but this is the first time we have a true gallery space that we can display and showcase the talent of our students.”

B-UHS art teacher Heidi Thompson at the ribbon cutting for Friday’s gallery opening.

She said the exhibition features work from all nine Upshur County schools, with approximately 180 pieces being displayed.

“They work in a variety of mediums – anything from drawing, ceramics, sculpture and collage to printmaking, a little bit of everything,” Thompson said. “Each teacher did approximately 15 2D pieces and then I believe five 3D pieces, so each art teacher put in approximately 20 pieces.”

The exhibition will run through the end of June and will be available for viewing Friday and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Architect Bryson Van Nostrand said it was five years ago when city officials had the idea to establish an art gallery at the historic Colonial Theatre.

“This is a [rain-date] celebration and a great celebration that has been postponed now for a couple of months thanks to the coronavirus, and I want to impress on everybody how momentous this is, at least from my perspective,” Van Nostrand said. “It was five years ago that we hatched the idea that the Colonial Theatre would be bought and renovated and converted into a community center for the arts and here we are – that was in 2015.”

While the facility will be multi-purpose, he said it would mainly be a home for the arts in Upshur County.

“It is a multi-purpose facility for sure, but its spirit is about the arts, so as the years go on, and I’ve said it many, many times, that I think this building will have a measurable impact on our community,” Van Nostrand said. “Go 20 years forward, and you’re going to have all these kids who came out of the programs in this building and then they’re going to be having kids, making it this wonderful cycle.”

Mayor David McCauley said the opening of the gallery is the perfect start for the rest of the theatre.

“This is the absolute perfect opening for the next segment of our Colonial theatre, which will be made available to our residents,” McCauley said. “The entire colonial restoration project has always been first and foremost about our city serving our B-U youth.”

He said the theatre will be expanded in the bottom to include areas where youth can learn about playing instruments, drawing, painting, dancing, graphic arts, theater, filmmaking, photography and more.

“Our kids will perform on the stage of the main floor in bands, singing, dancing and performing in plays,” McCauley said. “The top floor is our cinema, and a second live performing arts area that will feature kid friendly movies, and many other events throughout the year.”

Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Stankus said she was proud of the Upshur County students and loved seeing them again.

“Of course, I am so proud of our students. They are amazing, and to see their faces just makes my heart so happy because we’ve missed our students so much, and it’s so good to see them here. As you can see, their families are with them, Principal Gray is here, and our art teachers, the people who are making all of this possible,” Stankus said.

Rising ninth-grader Aiden Bender shows off his dragon artwork inside the Colonial Theatre’s new gallery space.

She also expressed how important art is to the community and Upshur County Schools.

“All the art that’s happening, not just visual art, but the arts in our school is so important, and it gives a voice to all of our students and gives them a place to learn and to take risks and to learn critical thinking,” Stankus said. “There’s so much research to back what we’re doing and it really does work.”

“[We love] just having a space in our town, and we love Upshur County,” she added. “We love Buckhannon and to have this kind of community turnout just shows that people support the arts in Upshur County, and that is so important.”

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