Galleries and artists gear up for the annual Art Tour

How can a county with a little over 7,000 residents have a knock-your-socks-off art tour that has made a reputation for itself as one of the biggest and best rural studio art tours in the mid-Atlantic region? The answer is by extensive community involvement.

Though not always the subject of local artists' work — as it is here in a photo by Old Rag Photography Gallery's Bette Hileman — Rappahannock County itself cannot help but be a prominent feature of RAAC's annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour this weekend.
Though not always the subject of local artists’ work — as it is here in a photo by Old Rag Photography Gallery’s Bette Hileman — Rappahannock County itself cannot help but be a prominent feature of RAAC’s annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour this weekend.

Twelve years ago, the tour started as the bright idea of a few artists. It featured only 20 artists and a handful of galleries, Today, the Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour has blossomed into a robust venue that annually draws close to 1,000 art lovers from a four-state region.

“We are excited to have over 90 artists in 30 sites — 22 studios and eight galleries — this year,” said Heather Wicke, who chairs the 10-member art tour committee of the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community (RAAC), sponsors of the annual event. “Seven of the studios are new, as are three galleries. Last year we only had 50 artists.

“We are delighted by the number of longtime resident artists who have come forward to show this year,” said Wicke, noting that word is out about the impact the tour has on the sales of art works.

This committee starts to work in early February to recruit and vet artists for the juried show, known regionally for the quality of its artists. But it takes the whole community to pull off the mega-event this weekend (10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5-6). Involved are more than 95 volunteers, 153 sponsors and the whole Rappahannock artistic and business community.

“At only $10 for a two-day pass, this is the best buy in town,” said Wicke, noting that the event unifies the community in terms of its volunteers and its sponsors. The monies raised go to support the ongoing arts programs of RAAC, one of which is the Claudia Mitchell Arts Fund, which provides grants of financial assistance for projects by artists of all ages, especially emerging artists.

Visitors can expect to see many improvements this year, including better lighting for the central gallery at the Washington School, the tour headquarters. In addition, many local restaurants have volunteered to provide quick meals/takeout. There will also be two new food trucks strategically located on U.S. 211 at the Mountainside Physical Therapy/Ginger Hill Antiques building and the old Rappahannock Central location in Sperryville.

The tour has ramped up its promotion and outreach efforts via alliances with other arts organizations and local businesses. One improvement is a more targeted social media campaign, thanks to the efforts of Joanie Ballard, who manages the Facebook site; Bob Hurley, who provides regular profile feeds; and the pro bono work of the creative team at Merrick Towle Communications. New are online contests, designed to build audience and create community business involvement with the tour.

“So far Little Washington Winery, Griffin Tavern and Pen Druid Brewing have all donated prizes for contest winners,” said Wicke. “Our goal is to draw tourists back to the county, even after the event is over.” The hope is to have a continuous impact on county tourism through the art tour’s social media presence, she added.

It appears to be working. The Artists of Rappahannock Facebook page’s following is growing daily thanks to the new push. Numbers have grown from 600 last year to more than 1,100.

If you haven’t yet done so, visit facebook.com/studioandgallerytour and “like” the page, the artists’ posts and comment on the tour. You might even win a prize!

Your most important visit, however, is with the artists, studios and galleries of Rappahannock County during this weekend’s 12th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour.

Sponsored by the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community (RAAC), the annual tour is 10 to 5 this Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 5-6). Tickets ($10 per person, good for both days) are available at the Washington School, which is the tour’s headquarters and main gallery, at 567 Mount Salem Ave. Visit raac.org or facebook.com/studioandgallerytour for more information.

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