(A separate gallery space is housed inside the former bank vault.)

By Betsy DiJulio

Slipping into the sleek and low-slung lobby of the Atlantic Permanent Savings and Loan Building on Boush Street in downtown Norfolk is akin to stepping onto the set of Mad Men or maybe the Commerce Bank of The Beverly Hillbillies fame.  The mid-century modern bones of the d’Art Center’s new “forever home” are as handsome as they are a departure from the eclectic vibe of previous digs on College Place, in Selden Arcade, and on Duke Street.  Though only a stone’s throw from Duke, the reincarnated d’Art is a world apart.

The Center occupies the first level of this historic building with high-end apartments ranging from 525 to 800 square feet planned for the second and third floors.  The organization is proud to be one of the anchors of the Neon district’s footprint, sharing the stage, if you will, with the Chrysler Museum and Virginia Opera, all part of an eat-drink-live-play vision for the epicenter of Neon, home to some 1,100 people.

Just beyond the elevator bank, the original granite and marble plus a mid-mod wall clock and the Savings and Loan’s vault provide a handsome backdrop for airy, expansive, and light-filled Main Gallery space—something none of d’Art’s previous iterations could be accused of—office and retail space, and a catering kitchen.  The Vault is perhaps the coolest venue in the 757 for a solo show, and for a fee, the intimate space can be rented for private events.

D’Art provides studio and/or exhibition space to a group of Associate and Resident Artists with 24-7 access, their own utility room—a first for d’Art—flexible sun-drenched classroom space that can accommodate a couple of concurrent classes, a technology classroom, a ceramic studio, and a kiln room.  The Center also boasts an inviting artists’ lounge area outfitted with bistro tables and a sofa that can do double-duty as classroom space with a hip vibe for teens.

With only 3 full-time staff, a part-time executive director, and an operating budget under $400,000, both the brick-and-mortar and programming aspects of d’Art are impressive.  Hudson credits generous partners, volunteers, and affiliated artists, along with the Norfolk Commission for the Arts, with helping make it all possible.   Included in that group are an anonymous donor who outfitted the catering kitchen, the former Peninsula Fine Arts Center who donated materials, and Gold Key who provided resources for the technology classroom and artists’ lounge.  A grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation helped with digital needs.  And, of course, the owner of the building—“an art lover and appreciator”—built out the space. The Associate and Resident artists are asked to make “12 contributions” throughout the year, e.g. gallery sitting, demonstrating, teaching classes, and assisting with exhibitions.  D’Art’s current slate of offerings include nine national juried shows annually.

According to Tricia Hudson, executive director, the organization’s four years on Duke Street—what she jokingly refers to as “sheltering in place,”—which was always intended as an interim location, allowed much-needed time to raise the level of programs and exhibitions—including an integrated math-science-art focus with Norfolk Public Schools—increase reach and donor base, and get “the right people on the board.”  She continues, “Covid and this move have made us stretch and refine our processes…and think bigger.”

From Communications, Marketing, and Gallery Manager Amanda Bradley’s perspective, the move has meant that “Artists are newly inspired and invigorated…and over the moon about the possibilities.”   For her part, Hudson feels a “We did it!” sense of vision-to-fruition satisfaction, adding, “We have done something big for the community.” 

When asked if the move constitutes a rebranding of the organization, her response is an emphatic: “No, a rebirth!”