Art and culture in Farmville

Published 8:56 am Wednesday, February 13, 2019

In 2017, the Virginia Children’s Book Festival was honored to receive the Community Achievement in the Arts (CAA) award from the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. In all honesty, I didn’t even know the award existed, as it was on hiatus since 2011, so the honor was also a surprise.

I grew up in Farmville, when “art and culture” was something one had to leave town to experience. The Farmville in which I was raised was still a town of tobacco markets, shoe factories and clothing manufacturers. Surely I am not the only person who remembers seeing the shoe made for the tallest man in the world displayed in the front window on Main Street, or sitting on the school bus waiting for all the people headed to their morning shift at the Amelia Garment Factory to turn left at Cedar Brook. Art in the Farmville of my childhood meant lessons with Nancy Lockwood in the summer, colored pencils from Crute’s, newsprint roll ends from The Farmville Herald, and an occasional Statler Brothers appearance in Crewe. There was no LCVA; that was Rose’s.

When I look back over the list of past CAA honorees, going back to the first awards in 1996, I see the foundation that was laid for the art and culture Farmville celebrates today. There are titans of my childhood there, people who cultivated art in town long before there was a CAA award or even an LCVA. Denise Penick, who won the award in 2000, was my lower school art teacher. I remember well drawing snowflakes on X-ray film in her class, X-ray film donated by the hospital where I was born when it was just Southside, decades before Centra would win the CAA award in 2009. I see Nancy Haga, a 2003 winner, who taught me CPR in the sixth grade. I see Margie Watkins, my mother’s best friend from Charlotte County and a great influence on me since I was little. I see Gerry Spates, who was my softball coach before I was even a teenager. When I look at the list of CAA honorees, I see my whole life.

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How could I know then that these incredible people and institutions would ensure the cultural success of a town deeply affected by factory closings, lost industry, and seismic economic change? How could I know that these incredible people and institutions who were working so hard and giving so much were the stewards of my ambition, and that the fruits of their labor would enable me to create the Virginia Children’s Book Festival? That their decades of dedication laid the groundwork for the LCVA’s success? That they are the reason no one has to leave Farmville to find “art and culture” anymore?

There are so many more people out there like them, people in our community who have given and still give to make Farmville the center of arts and culture in our region, who are constantly instilling dreams in our kids, and making Farmville a bolder, more fulfilling place to live. Don’t let them go unrecognized. Search your childhood, your neighborhood, your town, and help the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts recognize these amazing people. Nominate someone who has changed your life, even if you only realize it in retrospect. We are the embodiment of all their gifts. Contact the LCVA at to nominate.

Juanita Giles is the executive director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. She can be reached at