The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts has purchased the Mt. San Angelo estate in Amherst it has called home for more than four decades from Sweet Briar College.
The purchase includes 410 acres of land and all of the buildings at Mt. San Angelo, which has served as the home of VCCA’s artist residency program for 42 years and is located directly off U.S. 29 Business in Amherst near the college.
VCCA officials approached Sweet Briar in spring 2019 with a proposal to purchase the land it has leased for decades, according to a July 1 news release.
The purchase was about $2.5 million, according to college officials. Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar, said VCCA leased the site at $1 a year for more than 40 years.
“It’s nominal,” Woo said of the $1 per year arrangement. “We did that because we care a lot about a good relationship with VCCA.”
VCCA was established in 1971 as a retreat for writers, visual artists and composers to have the privacy and focus that is so necessary to their work. It moved from its original location in Charlottesville to Mt. San Angelo in 1978.
The retreat has hosted thousands of working writers, visual artists and composers and VCCA intends to maintain the pastoral nature of Mt. San Angelo so that it will continue to be a place of quiet contemplation for the fellows in residence on site, the release states.
“We are grateful to Sweet Briar College, which has made the property available to us for 42 years, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be in a position to make Mt. San Angelo our permanent home — across the street from our long-time partner. This partnership has strengthened both institutions over the years, and VCCA looks forward to continuing this relationship,” said VCCA Executive Director Kevin O’Halloran in the release.
Although the retreat is temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Halloran said VCCA will be busy in the next several months making improvements to the buildings and grounds to welcome fellows back in 2021, its 50th anniversary year.
VCCA is one of the few artist residencies in the country affiliated with an institution of higher learning, according to the release. VCCA fellows in residence have full access to the recreational and cultural opportunities provided by the college and the artists themselves often provide cultural opportunities to students and the Sweet Briar community.
“The arts are at the heart of the liberal arts tradition at Sweet Briar,” Woo said in the release.
Woo said in an interview VCCA owning the land is beneficial to its fundraising outreach and puts them in better position to conduct renovations to facilities.
The relationship between the two organizations includes events, seminars and classes. One such class is the Fellows Studio, which is a part of Sweet Briar’s leadership core curriculum and brings VCCA fellows to campus to teach a class during each of the college’s three-week sessions.
VCCA also is an integral part of Sweet Briar’s Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts.
Writers Nancy Hale and Elizabeth Coles Langhorne established VCCA in 1971, according to its website. The property includes a 13,000-square-foot 1930s Normandy-style dairy barn that was renovated for use as artists’ studios. The Langhorne Residence, with bedrooms, a living room, dining facilities and library, opened in 1981.
With facilities accommodating up to 25 artists at one time, VCCA is one of the nation’s largest year-round residency programs and has served more than 6,000 writers, visual artists and composers since its founding, according to its website.
During the 1980s VCCA expanded its offerings to artists by establishing exchanges with residency programs in Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Malta, sending artists who have previously been in residence in Virginia abroad and bringing international artists to the United States as VCCA Fellows. In 2004, VCCA established a second location in Auvillar, France, through the gift of two buildings from a Denver-based foundation.
Woo said the college understands and supports VCCA’s desire to own the facilities and land.
“The relationship between the two institutions is exceptionally strong,” Woo said, “and we look forward to further nurturing the ties across Highway 29.”
Reach Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.
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