Discover the Appalachian Arts Scene of Advantage Valley, WV
Advantage Valley’s diverse arts scene offers a rich tapestry of experiences.
Galleries, museums, musical performances and festivals throughout Advantage Valley give people of all ages plenty of opportunities to experience the region’s arts and culture.
The Huntington Museum of Art, the largest art museum in West Virginia, includes a permanent art collection of over 16,000 objects, 10 exhibition spaces and an art reference library of nearly 27,000 volumes. In Charleston, residents enjoy The West Virginia State Museum at The Culture Center. Here, they can peruse the museum’s exhibits, which focus on West Virginia’s history, culture, art, paleontology, archaeology and geology, all of which represent the region’s people, land and industries.
Additionally, Blenko Glass Company, located in Milton, is a must-visit. Internationally known for its handcrafted items, this family-owned company has been creating beautiful designs since 1893. And they create just about everything – think vases, pavers, rondels, water bottles, garden spears and even stained-glass windows.
The Birke Art Gallery at Marshall University displays works created by students in the School of Art & Design, among other things, and the university’s Visual Arts Center is a jewel downtown.
“It brought a new vibrancy and helped transform our downtown,” says Tyson Compton, president of the Huntington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That same vibrant feeling comes to life in their gallery.”
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The building is adjacent to Huntington’s Pullman Square and serves as the primary home of Marshall’s arts programs. The ground floor features retail space and the Charles W. and Norma C. Carroll Gallery.
Huntington’s Central City Antiques District, where artists and artisans display and sell their crafts, is a popular destination for residents and visitors. Central City is taking on a new moniker – 14th Street West – and is poised to become that must-visit location ripe with antiques, art, food and local culture, Compton says.
Charleston’s Juliet Art Museum at the Clay Center hosts traveling exhibits from artists and museums nationwide, along with works from its excellent permanent collection. The Erma Byrd Gallery on the campus of the University of Charleston is home to 155 pieces of art created exclusively by West Virginia women artists.
A signature arts event in the region is FestivALL, a multi-arts, multi-venue summer festival and fall mini-festival. FestivALL transforms Charleston into a work of art.
Partnering with more than 90 arts and community organizations and hundreds of local, regional, national and international artists, FestivALL is spread over 15 days in June and features more than 100 events and 300 performances, along with music, theater and dance exhibitions.
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The performing arts take center stage in Advantage Valley and include the West Virginia Symphony, Charleston Ballet, River City Youth Ballet, Charleston Light Opera Guild, Alban Arts Center and Kanawha Players Theatre. Performances are held in the region’s excellent venues, including the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, LaBelle Theatre and Clay Center.
“Charleston’s commitment to art is seen not only in its state-of-the-art performance venues but also in the everyday lives of its residents,” says Tim Brady, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Live music can be heard 365 days a year in the Capital City, and you won’t walk or drive far before you see eye-catching murals, functional public art pieces and sculptures. We see art as part of the lifestyle here.”
The Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center is a significant contributor to the performing arts scene. The center, which underwent a $100 million expansion completed in 2018, includes a 13,000-seat arena, a 738-seat performing arts theater, an exhibit hall with 51,000 square feet of unobstructed floor space and 25,000 square feet of ballroom space.
“The renovated Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center is a state-ofthe- art facility that rivals any in this part of the country,” Brady says. “The city’s commitment to art is clearly represented in the facility’s public art collection, pieces interwoven throughout the space that showcase the creativity of local and regional artists.”
An Appalachian Gem
One strum of the banjo at a community event and residents of Advantage Valley know John Morris is the maestro behind the sound. This well-known Clay County resident not only excels at this instrument, but he is known for his guitar- and fiddle-playing skills as well as songwriting. In fact, he is the living carrier of the old-time fiddle and banjo tradition of his rural home county.
Now, others are taking notice of his work. Morris was recently named one of nine 2020 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts. These lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of artistic excellence and to help sustain cultural traditions for future generations. Our fiddler, however, was sustaining, promoting and supporting this musical tradition far before receiving the award. He plays regularly at community-based festivals and passes on his musical knowledge to the younger practitioners he teaches.
It’s easy to schedule a family play date in Advantage Valley. Opportunities for family fun are everywhere. Here’s just a small sample:
Appalachian Power Park
Opened in 2005 in Charleston, the West Virginia Power is a minor league baseball team that plays in the South Atlantic League and is a Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The team plays in the $25 million Appalachian Power Park, which seats 4,500 and also hosts concerts and charity events.
Open from May through October near Huntington, Camden Park is West Virginia’s only amusement park and features 30 rides and attractions, including a wooden roller coaster called the Big Dipper. A historic trolley park that dates to 1903, Camden Park also features a log flume, roller rink and small zoo.
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Heritage Farm Museum & Village
Located in Huntington, the open-air attraction showcases Appalachian culture and history. Heritage Farm has seven themed museums that relate to a specific aspect of life in the region. It also features an artisan center, blacksmith shop, petting zoo and Six Simple Machines Discovery Zone, a functional playground based around machines considered the foundation of mechanics.
If you'd like to learn more about the Advantage Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, WV.