“What a beautiful day!”
With those words, Chesterfield County supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle may have summed up the feelings and thoughts of those who attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Baxter Perkinson Center for the Arts on Monday morning.
The light at the end of the tunnel was evident on the bright sunny day for a project that met with delay after delay over the past 20-plus years since an idea was formed by Larry and Dottie Armstrong, whom some have called the “heart and soul” of the John Rolfe Players.
Jaeckle credited the Armstrongs, Betty Matthews and Baxter Perkinson for their efforts. “They will live on with this arts center,” she said of the late quartet.
Although the arts center was delayed by the Great Recession in 2008, “Hugh Cline and his band of posses came riding in to save the day,” Jaeckle said.
Cline, the chairman of the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation, thanked the 11-member foundation board and others. “Thanks to everyone for your patience and understanding,” he said.
County administrator Joe Casey especially thanked Matthews, whom he said worked tirelessly for the community. He recalled meeting her three years ago at ChesterFest shortly after he started working with the county. “I saw a nice little old lady setting up chairs,” he said.
Casey called Cline “a skilled and crafty negotiator,” and said that Bruce Miller, who will begin as the arts center’s executive director July 1, was “the cherry on top.”
“It’s the perfect place, and it will be,” Casey said of the Baxter Perkinson Center for the Arts. “Please come back early and often to see the progress … and give to the foundation.”
Miller said that Matthews “argued, cajoled and arm-twisted” along the way, a journey of 27 years until her death at 92 on Dec. 28.
Barry Matthews, Betty’s sixth child, described a “destination that will not be reached here today … or even after a year of programming. The destination is for a community to love the arts the way Betty loved the arts. Please keep Betty’s dream alive because without hope, we sink. Hope floats.”
Funding for the center began almost 15 years ago when Chesterfield residents voted in 2004 to fund the facility as part of a $13.9 million bond referendum. W. Baxter Perkinson Jr. and his wife Elaine donated $1 million in honor of his father W. Baxter Perkinson Sr. and their shared love of the arts. Donna Dean Stevens and her husband Jayson donated $350,000 to name the 352-seat theater in honor of Donna’s late husband Jimmy Dean. Last July, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve $5.1 million for the arts center. Matt Harris, the county’s deputy administrator for finance and administration, called that funding “the final number that we’ll need to deliver the project” and estimated that construction would take 14 months and cost about $400,000 to $450,000 a year in debt service beginning in Fiscal Year 2020. The total estimated cost of the arts center is now projected at $16.9 million, according to county officials, which includes some $2.1 million in private funds raised by the foundation.
The Center for the Arts will be a 23,350-square-foot facility featuring an art gallery, arts classroom, performance patio and comfortable support spaces. The arts center will serve as a home for many of the region’s leading arts organizations and several Chesterfield performance troupes.
For more information on the Center for the Arts, go online at artschesterfieldva.org or email Bruce Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.