Art center draws growing crowds

Old Town Manassas’ new Center for the Arts has outperformed expectations since opening in late October, drumming up so much interest that its main gallery is now booked for exhibitions until the end of the year.

“I had really wanted to offer a college senior a chance to exhibit a final show,” said Anna Lippert, the gallery’s director. “But it wasn’t until after the slots were filled that a student came, asking if her works might be shown. I felt really bad having to tell her that there were no spaces left for this year.”

Since the center moved into the old Hopkins Candy Factory on Oct. 30, an average 50 people have showed up every Saturday to view artwork at the Caton Merchant Family Gallery on the first floor.

“I think it’s wonderful for the community,” said Sally Lay, the center’s executive director. “There has never been a large gallery that shows off the works of local artists.”

With various art, music and drama classes set to begin on the second floor by the end of the month, Lay expects that the three-story building on Battle Street will draw larger local crowds in coming months. Only the theater on the third floor is still in need of furnishing and equipment.

It’s a significant change from only three months ago, when contractors were completing a $2.3 million city renovation project on the building. Now, two-thirds of the $300,000 needed to furnish the building has been raised.

A visitor walking into the first floor of the building immediately sees the art gallery. Paintings and prints hang on white walls, seen behind a glass partition separating the front reception area from the galleries.

At this time, the gallery is featuring work by local artist Nancy Hersch Ingram. In the city, her most visible work has been her depictions of past mayors.

“The beauty of her work is that people are familiar with her portraits at City Hall,” Lippert said. “But people haven’t seen the wide range of her work.”

Starting Feb. 2, a traveling exhibition of work by the late African-American artist Abel de Knight will be on display. And in March, the work of a local artist or artists, to be selected during a competition in February, will be set up.

Lippert says the exhibitions at the gallery will be a combination of traveling shows and local displays. Everything seen in the center has to be cleared by its artistic review committee.

In the future, Lippert hopes to see the gallery display not only two-dimensional works but sculptures as well.

The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call the Center for the Arts at (703) 330-2787.

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