New Business Enables Creativity for Local Artists

Valerie Smith and husband Scott Whitten sit proudly in the artistically eclectic lounge of the newly reopened Larkin Arts.

One couple’s vision of connecting and facilitating Harrisonburg’s artistic community is being realized in the new business, Larkin Arts.

Art teacher Valerie Smith opened the first Larkin Arts in 2006 as a small one-room school. There, Smith taught art classes and led summer camps. In 2007, Larkin Arts School moved to a storefront space which featured artwork on the walls. The school closed in 2009, and since then the co-founders “have been in hibernation thinking. . . what in Harrisonburg is needed in the arts,” explained Smith.

Starting by ripping up wall-to-wall purple carpet, the Larkin team renovated a dilapidated Court Square furniture store. Larkin Arts officially opened its doors on Aug. 27 as an art supply store, gallery, school, and studio space. Smith said the supply store, primarily run by co-founder Scott Whitten, was “something that was critical and that was really missing in Harrisonburg; not just for the students, but also for local artists as well.”

Current classes include global art workshops and ceramics for children, and digital photography for adults. Five dollar open figure-drawing sessions are held twice a week. Full listings for classes can be found on their website, This August, EMU Art Professor Cyndi Gusler taught acrylic and watercolor painting there. She focused on themes such as animals, portraits, and landscapes with her ten young students.

Another improvement in the new Larkin is their dedicated gallery, directed by Lynda Bostrom.

Behind two classrooms, five studios are rented to working artists. They represent printmaking, drawing, and painting. “It was a symbiotic relationship to have studios in a place like this,” said Smith. “Because the artists are here, they’re working. It’s alive.” Currently, one studio has a glass door to encourage people to watch the creative process.

“While there, visitors can get inspired to work by peeking in on artists at work in the studios in the back,” said Gusler.

Larkin Arts’ inaugural exhibit was a juried art show displaying 31 pieces from local artists. Arts Council of the Valley director Ragan McManus and Super Gr8 Film Festival founder Paul Somers selected the pieces from 64 submissions. Next month, Larkin will host photography by Gary Freeburg, director of JMU’s Sawhill Gallery.

“People have been overwhelming in their support and their excitement,” said Smith. Thus far, each event has received 150 to 300 people, and Harrisonburg is talking.

Whitten elaborated, “we haven’t done much advertising; the word of mouth is just great.”

To this end, an information board is available where artists and those seeking art can post announcements. Smith is happy to see artists making use of their lounge to create and meet people; all artists are invited to contribute their portfolios to their lounge library. Also, anyone with ideas for a show or class is encouraged to contact them.

“We would love for people to just stop by. Come in, hang out, see some art.” As proven by the community response, Larkin Arts is quickly rooting itself in Harrisonburg’s visual art niche.

-Randi Hagi, Co-Editor in Chief


Categories: News

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