United Way packs Visual Arts Center with interactive gala

Supporters of United Way of the River Cities packed Marshall University’s Visual Arts Center for the interactive gala, LEVELS: A River Cities Rendezvous, on Saturday night.

United Way worked closely with Marshall’s College of Arts and Media to engage student and local artists for this inaugural fundraiser. The event featured a juried exhibition, live models who represented the work of United Way, a silent auction and interactive art exhibits.

In addition, each level of the VAC featured a different portrayal of United Way’s four community initiatives of Income, Education, Health and Safety-Net Services.

United Way Director of Community Impact, Andrea Roy, said this approach to fundraising is a divergence from the organization’s traditional model of workplace campaigns.

“As more and more workplaces have left Huntington, we’ve had to be more creative and think outside that model to raise money and engage the community,” Roy said. “The traditional gala is a seated dinner and dancing, but the Visual Arts Center really isn’t made for that. We wanted to play towards this building’s strengths, so as people move up and down the levels, the will see different food, drinks, music and art. Each floor is its own unique experience.”

This experience included various artistic craft demonstration throughout the building. People exploring the classrooms and studios of the VAC might come across students like Celia Maddy, who demonstrated how light affects perception of color.

Maddy, a sophomore visual arts major, said she thinks visual art is a primary form of civic engagement.

“The arts can definitely make an impact in Huntington,” Maddy said. “We aren’t the best urban environment. We have a lot of issues. But if nothing can bring things more to public light than art, I don’t know what can. People can talk to you as much as they want, but until you see something with your own eyes, or feel something with your own hands, you can’t really identify with it. Art can help to bridge that gap.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Media and United Way board member, Donald Van Horn, helped organize the event. Van Horn said he thinks art is at the core of community building.

“People can talk to you as much as they want, but until you see something with your own eyes, or feel something with your own hands, you can’t really identify with it. Art can help to bridge that gap.””

— Celia Maddy

“If we have a community that is aesthetically pleasing and a fun place to be, then that is going to lift everyone up,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to make it a more productive community with more opportunities for everybody, which creates job opportunities for people in need. It helps everyone, and the visual arts are at the core of that in terms of making this a better place to live.”

Van Horn also noted how impressive he thinks the Huntington community is, if people take the time to stop and look.

“As a community we need to stop and take stock in what we actually have here,” Van Horn said. “We had some guests here last week with the State Arts Commission. A woman from Morgantown said she wanted to get her community leaders to come to Huntington to figure out what we’re doing, because we’re doing it right. We don’t even recognize that ourselves. If we can get past this notion that somehow we are less than a thriving community, that could help all of us.”

Roy said, however, that this is still work to be done. She said that experts at United Way identify the biggest problems facing our community.

“In the area of health, the data has shown the critical issues are substance abuse, obesity, and smoking,” Roy said. “In education, we’re trying to tackle school readiness and readiness of graduation for college grads. In the are of income, we’re working towards helping families become financially stable. We’re hope this gala highlights what we’re doing in tackling this issues.”

More information about United Way of the River Cities and its mission can be found at http://www.unitedwayrivercities.org.

Rob Engle can be contacted at [email protected]