» 10 things to be happy about from 2020

It’s been a tough year, but among the challenges, and even because of them, we’re finding a lot to be grateful for. Here are just ten things from 2020 that made us happy.

The Star City Strong Recovery Task Force

When the pandemic overtook the world, the Federal and state governments sent resources to localities. Because our government truly is of the people, the City set up a broadly representative task force to identify how the money should be spent. The community-based Star City Strong Recovery Task Force included arts representation and directly shaped the City’s investments. As a result, $450,000 was designated to support the COVID response of arts and cultural organizations and to help restaurants continue to hire performers.

Read about just two of the venues that benefited from these programs in Tad Dickens’ 12/28 Roanoke Times article.

Civic Engagement

A body like the Star City Strong Recovery Task Force is only possible because citizens believe that their involvement makes a difference. They are willing to lend their wisdom, professional expertise, and perspectives as citizens to the collective pursuits of our community.

The City of Roanoke has a new engagement page, a first stop for being part of your local government. There you will find links to the board and commission appointment process. Attend meetings to see what it’s all about. Watch public meetings on Facebook Live, RVTV. Get involved in the things you care about, talk to council members or others involved to hear about their experiences, and then submit an application. Remember we need the creative problem solving of artists in every aspect of government. Pictured above are the committed volunteers of the Roanoke Arts Commission. Without participation, we couldn’t do any of the work we’re doing.

Explore getting involved with city government here.


As the country wrangles with built-in inequities, more and more people are willing to open their eyes to the ongoing challenges, inefficiencies, and personal horrors that result from our nations’ founding and which live on in contemporary structures and institutions,

The arts and humanities are a tool for this work, and the Roanoke Arts Commission appreciates the long list of partners at work in the community to advance the conversation, address policies, and effect change.

Join the conversation: The Roanoke Change Academy, and effort of BOOK CITY Roanoke and Roanoke Public Libraries, continues on January 4 at 6:30 PM with a six-week discussion of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. Get all the information and register here.

Electronic Connections

What would we have done without the internet during the pandemic? While it awoke many to the need for universal broadband, and while access is still not equal, we still fared far better in continuing our work because of the tools of the internet age.

We are grateful for the work of many in the arts and culture sector to continue to connect us. Consider the many online offerings, such as the streaming of Southwest Virginia’s Ballet’s The Nutcracker in partnership with Blue Ridge PBS, Mill Mountain Theatre’s Polkadots: The Musical, the creation of online resource for schools by the Science Museum of Western Virginia, the Taubman Museum of Art, and many others. Even if you’re not getting out of the house much, you can keep up to date with your cultural partners by visiting them online and via social media, and connect with friends with one of their online activities.

Even the Burden Boat is online. As we continue through this difficult period, engage with Carilion’s Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program. Submit your confidential burden online to participate in the spring Burden Boat ceremony. Learn more about Keeley Healing Arts programs here.

The Greenway

Roanoke is an outdoor town; it’s an arts town; it’s a place of connections and intersections. Consider the Roanoke River Greenway. We’re happy about the recent announcement that the gap will be closed. We’re happy that the greenway helped so many of us get outside when we needed it. We missed it when it was closed, but we understood that we have to sacrifice in uncertain times to keep everyone safe.

This year we completed the Arches project, in which local artists Polly Branch, Daniel Kuehl, and the team from Virginia Children’s Theatre reinvented the space beneath Memorial Bridge. Responding to the goals of the surrounding neighborhoods, the artists treated greenway users to storytelling, new murals, and a refurbished sandbox. We safely gathered–outdoors–to appreciate what we have around us. At that site, folks access the river. They do yoga, dance together, drum in a circle, play in a sandbox, and greet each other on a path that crosses and connects our communities.

Find a new favorites spot on the Roanoke River Greenway here.

The Power of Good News

This year, good news helped connect us. We looked to our print newspapers–the Roanoke Times and the Roanoke Tribune, to our radio and television stations, blogs and podcasts, including RVTV, to share the good news of the world around us when there was so much to worry us. We needed good news, and we continue to need it. We rely on our media to help us build the community we want to be. Communication is critical, and we appreciate our partners.

Deploy social media for good by sharing the good news covered by our local media. Share news that will brighten a neighbor’s day.

Leadership in Action

Part of the good news this year was that there are number of committed young leaders working through organizations and independently to effect change. We’re made happy every time someone reaches out for assistance as they drive a project. That’s how the Roanoke Arts Commission can best do its work, by standing by and cheering on, and potentially providing resources and technical assistance where it makes sense.

This year we learned a lot from Humble Hustle’s Chalk Art event led by Xavier Duckett, from the Urban Arts Project who led the END RACISM NOW Street Mural, and from Ryan Bell, who partnered with the Harrison Museum of African American Culture to engage local artists in a call for art around Black fatherhood. Ryan had never curated an exhibit, but he had a vision and, even more importantly, he was willing to put in the work to make it a reality. At the opening events, it was clear how meaningful the effort was for the community and the artists involved.

Watch an opening conversation with Ryan Bell and Fletcher Nichols at the Harrison Museum’s Facebook page.

Your Creativity

Around here we say, “WE ARE ART,” and we mean it. Art can infuse every aspect of our lives. And when we say artists, we mean you.

Do you paint, quilt, sing, dance, write, take pictures, draw, tell stories, create elaborate dishes, rap, make your own clothes, weld interesting shapes…? The list is endless, and when you pursue your own form of art it can decrease stress, increase wellness, and make you happier overall. And then, imagine what happens when you apply that art to make your block or our city a better place. That sharing of your art is at the heart of a creative community.

Submit images of your art to us on Facebook and Instagram and we’ll share them with the community. Let us celebrate you! @artinroanoke, #roanokearts, #ArtsVBR

Hey 3-D artists…consider submitting a concept for our current call: Reimagining Roanoke. Concepts due January 18!


“In my mind, it’s art that can begin to make us feel what we don’t necessarily yet understand.” Angela Davis said that in conversation with Ava DuVernay in the pages of Vanity Fair this fall. The arts operate on a different level, helping us access universal truths, reflect on the human condition, sit with mysteries of life, and ready ourselves to engage in meaningful ways in the world around us. And there’s a lot to process right now. Happily we’re in a community rich with arts and cultural resources that help us do just that.

Watch the Roanoke Arts & Culture showcase video featuring how the arts help us care for ourselves and those around us while engaging to make the community an even better place.

The Resilient Spirit of the Star City

We can be whatever kind of community we want to be, and “The Resilient Spirit of the Star City”, officially the City of Roanoke 2020 Citizen of the Year, describes us. We are showing who we are through the pandemic as we keep each other safe and help each other.

Read the full resolution here.

This is you. Thank you. We’re happy that you’re part of our city, and we’ll see you in 2021.


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