Shenandoah Valley Art Center and Staunton-Augusta Art Center of Staunton are recipients of the 2019 Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award from the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts at James Madison University.

“It’s great to get some recognition,” said SVAC Executive Director Piper Groves. “We work hard in our community all the time to make sure our artists get a voice.”

Co-sponsored by the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, the Arts Council of the Valley and the College of Visual and Performing Arts at JMU, the Circle of Excellence in the Arts Awards were founded in 2013, according to Forbes’ web site. The awards are given annually in Augusta or Rockingham counties, Harrisonburg, Staunton or Waynesboro in recognition of “individuals and organizations in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that enhance and strengthen the cultural community by promoting and advocating for artistic excellence.”

Recipients are nominated by community members, then a committee including the Executive Director of the Forbes Center, one member of the Forbes Center Advisory Board, the Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at JMU, the Arts Council of the Valley Executive Director and one member of the Arts Council of the Valley Board of Directors pick a winner.

Groves said the award is a glass sculpture, and is on display at the arts center.

The current exhibition at SVAC is the center’s annual members’ show.

“It’s a really good cross section of work from all of our members,” Groves said.

The exhibit contains 100 pieces from 65 to 70 artists.

According to Groves, after 33 years in downtown Waynesboro, SVAC is in the middle of an expansion project.

“We’re just really excited to see what the future holds after so many years,” Groves said.

Staunton-Augusta Art Center is one of the longest living art centers, Executive Director Beth Hodge said. The organization opened in 1961.

“We’re very excited and happy,” said Hodge. “We’re in good company with the Shenandoah Valley Art Center.”

Hodge said the center is “very pleased to get a recognition.”

Performing arts, such as theater and live musical productions, get applause and recognition, but she recently realized when SAAC’s summer studio ended that the visual arts do not usually get applause and recognition.

“And I think that’s what means so much [with the Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award],” Hodge said.

She said the award is not in recognition of her, but for an organization “who really believes in the power of art.”

For some individuals, Hodge said that art is the best form of communication. SAAC works with members of the community who are mentally challenged.

“It’s great when they discover that [art] is the best way to express themselves,” Hodge said.

SAAC just organized its 53rd annual Art in the Park in May at Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park.

“That’s our signature event, and we purposefully keep that small and intimate over the course of the two days,” Hodge said.

For its 50th anniversary, SAAC was recognized with a resolution from the U.S. General Assembly, received an award in 2009 from Mental Health America of Augusta, and since 2013 has placed first or second for Best Art Event in the Shenandoah Valley for Art in the Park in Virginia Living Magazine.

“Wanton Biophilia,” paintings by Jennifer Cox and “Approximate Eden,” drawings and books by Amy Arnold are concurrent exhibits on display at SAAC through June 29.

SAAC is at 20 S. New St., Staunton, and is open Mondays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

SVAC is accepting applications for its summer art camps in the last three weeks of July. For more information, visit

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