VMFA Show Blazes a Trail to New Opportunities

With the banners reading “Van Gogh,” “Whistler” and “Lichtenstein” still draped on exterior walls of the Covington Center, Richard Bay, chairman of the art department, was already pondering the next possibility for the Radford University Art Museum.

Topping the museum’s triumph as the inaugural host for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ (VMFA) 75th anniversary traveling art exhibition, “Van Gogh, Lichtenstein, Whistler: Masterpieces of World Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” will not be easy, he said.

exterior view of the Covington Center for Visual and Performing Arst

Exterior view of the Covington Center for Visual and Performing Arts.

“What are we going to do next? What are the logistics? Are there things out there that we can bring in?” Bay wondered aloud. “That to me is where we start. Can we move forward to getting, doing, bringing and exhibiting works at this level and of this nature in the future?”

Bay acknowledged that putting together a show like the VMFA’s is extremely demanding on everyone involved, requiring team members to put in long workdays and some night hours to ensure success. However, as Bay sees it, nothing worth having ever comes easy.

“It becomes a labor of love,” he said. “How can one not get excited about the potential of such an exhibition and its impact on the university and community at large?”

Barbara-lyn Belcher Morris ’66, an RU alumna who was instrumental in bringing the VMFA exhibition to campus, said the success established the RU Art Museum’s reputation as a top-flight venue for the arts. “What we know now is what we can do,” Morris said.

She also noted that the university is now ranked as an active partner of the VMFA. The partner designation is granted to museums and art centers, college and university museums and galleries with VMFA-compliant security systems and environmental controls. Having achieved that status, RU is eligible for free or discounted benefits such as exhibitions, media resources, artist workshops, speakers on the arts, educator workshops and fellowship opportunities for RU students.

“With Radford University as a full partner with the VMFA, there are all kinds of opportunities for students to do internships and for art faculty and graduate students to compete for annual scholarships,” Morris said.

Besides recognizing RU as a premier venue for the arts, Morris said, the VFMA show is “an opportune time for us both — and a wonderful partnership.”

“Our next challenge is to make sure that such exhibits become the norm. The VMFA wants to reach out, and we at Radford University need and want what the museum offers. It’s really a great two-way street.”

Wherever that street leads eventually, Joseph Scartelli, interim provost who will return as dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts in July 2011, is supremely confident that the Radford University community can rise to the next occasion. “Now we have a gallery and museum that can host just about any exhibit in the country,” Scartelli said, “if not the world.”