• Moriah Joy

Stimulating the Economy through the Arts: How the Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department is Help

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Moriah Joy. Images Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department.



 The arts are an even better barometer of what is happening in our world than the stock market or the debates in Congress. – Hendrik Willem Van Loon


There is a large amount of debate on what is the best way to handle the re-opening of the economy as many sectors have been hit and are eager to get back to business. While there are many questions we need to ask ourselves in preparation for potential re-opening, we should also be asking those same questions to our state and local governments. How can the public help local businesses bounce back? More importantly, how can we keep the general public healthy while enjoying spaces that are typically difficult to maintain social distancing? The Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department has been working diligently to keep the arts and cultural centers from falling subject to shutdown as so many other cities have had to do in these unfortunate times. Cultural Affairs in VB has grown over the last twenty years from a single person division to a department aiding the growth of our local arts, cultural, and historic sectors.

Photo from the public art scavenger hunt last weekend.

Hillary Plate, who serves as their Cultural Programming and Grants Coordinator, discussed how her job has changed since the shutdown as the day-to-day is more focused on the preservation of the arts until there is stability for growth again. One of the most important aspects of her job has included growing public programming with the help of various libraries, parks, and history museums to allow citizens to engage with various arts community activities for free.

“[For the Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department], our goal is to stand by our arts community because we know that they don’t just create community and emotional and entertainment impact, we know they contribute economic impact to this area. We need to ensure that they are resilient and well-equipped.”

While their team may be few in people, there is a large sense of passion for the arts and the artists in Virginia Beach. This was clear as Hillary discussed the big goals for the community in addition to the success of their programs so far in generating revenue. “Something really important to make note of about our team- our small team,” they have less than ten full time employees working with part time and volunteers, “develops initiatives that proactively grow an $87.7 million arts industry in Virginia Beach and that industry returns over $7 million to local and state budgets. They support and employ 4,773 people in the Virginia Beach arts industry. ”

“Cross That River,” presented by The Zeiders American Dream Theater and Virginia African American Cultural Center in February.

The arts in Virginia Beach also account for almost 60% of the tourism revenue, which is an incredible amount considering that creative industries only make up 4.8% of the total businesses in Virginia Beach. As the area has become more of a hub for the arts and citizens have become more vocal about their need for artistic programming, there has been an increase of creative industries by 25% in the last five years. Thankfully, the budget for FY2021 was recently passed by the Virginia Beach City Council and the Arts and Humanities Commission funding remains intact.


One of the main ways that the Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department is continuing to grow the arts during shutdown is by creating virtual content for various organizations. This is being accomplished by a high engagement in online platforms by either filming educational videos for the history museums or serving as a megaphone to smaller organizations who are providing various services during this time. Marketing Coordinator, Alex Dye, is the newest member of their team and has been focusing on this project with tenacity. So far he has assisted various spaces like MOCA and Symphonicity in gathering a larger social media net to share not only resources but some joy amidst uncertain times. The hope is that they will continue to use social media to engage with the community by using it as a way to announce various projects such as Alex’s recent interview with Daniel Boothe where they also announced Symphonicity’s upcoming season.


Another important piece of their work that often gets overlooked is their work with cultural centers. In the last census, Virginia Beach had 100 districts and within each district there were at least ten different countries of origin represented. These cultural groups often use performing arts, visual arts, and music as a tool for education and as a way to build cultural understanding. At the moment, they also provide a great place of connectivity for those who are otherwise isolated.

Photo of a Plein Air painter at the Francis Land House from earlier this year.

The other project that they have been working on with urgency and diligence is creating a resources page for artists impacted by COVID-19. The website covers a wide range of artistic categories and are subdivided for easy navigation. The page provides different websites for grant applications, resources for teaching, recovery resources, and more. They are updating the website continuously as new information comes, making it easier to navigate the uncertainty.


At the moment, the Cultural Affairs Department is also working to find ways to assess low risk and high risk criteria for venues in order to help them navigate the new guidelines and procedures. They are even taking it a step further by utilizing online platforms to create PSAs for local organizations. This means that as things begin to open up, they intend to go through the spaces and create videos for the public to help them understand the precautions each venue is taking to keep their patrons’ health and safety a priority.


“You can put [guidelines] down on a list and those might make someone comfortable but if you see someone walking through it humanizes the experience of having to go through those new steps,” said Plate, “Looking ahead, we’re very eager to resume our public programing but we’re awaiting a time when we can safely bring it back following recommendations from the state, federal, and city experts.”


As the department is always thinking of ways to better our community, one of the things to look forward to in the near future includes a call to artists network. This would essentially be used as a way for touring artists to seek out substitutes for various positions or network with similar performers. In addition, it would serve as a place for local casting calls and grants to be posted, making the time consuming task of searching for local opportunities practically non-existent.

Virginia Musical Theater’s Chicago from last February.

The Department also wants to make sure that those who give time and/ or money to support these artistic organizations and the future of the arts are adequately recognized. They have been doing this by creating the Champion for the Arts award. The nominations are open until June 1st, 2020 for anyone who has made an impact in Virginia Beach’s vibrant cultural and arts community.


While there is no concrete timeline at the moment for many in-person arts experiences to return, the Cultural Affairs Department has been doing their part to ensure that when the doors do open that both performer and audience are safe. Many performers and local organizations are doing their best at this time to provide content and entertainment to keep community engagement high but also serve as a reminder of the light they shine.

“Virtual events are wonderful and they’re a great way to connect with a wider audience but that even still has its own barriers. There are people who don’t necessarily have access and while you have [videos like the Hamilton Zoom videos] it’s the great law of improv, ‘Yes, And’. Yes, these virtual videos are great and we need the live theatre still,” Plate continued, “There’s an energy that is passed between the audience and the artist that is irreplaceable.”


For more information on the Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs Department, their programming, local arts organizations, resources, or nominating a Champion for the Arts please visit their website.  For ideas on additional arts resources please email artsinfo@vbgov.com.


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