(Diana L. Blanchard Gross preparing for the 2022 Virginia Artists Juried Exhibition.)

By Betsy DiJulio

Coming under the umbrella of Hampton Arts—aka the Hampton Arts Commission, which was created by Hampton City Council in 1987—together with The American Theatre and Hampton Coliseum, The Charles H. Taylor Visual Arts Center came into being in 1989 in the renovated eponymous Memorial Library building.  In 2018, the Center was renamed The Charles H. Taylor Visual Arts Center (CHTVAC) to more accurately reflect the visual arts component of Hampton Arts.  Recently, the organization hired Diana Blanchard Gross as the Visual Arts Center Manager.  Known to the regional art community largely through her role as longtime curator at the erstwhile Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Blanchard Gross was kind enough to take some time out of her first week on the job to answer a few questions for VEER readers.

Betsy DiJulio (BD): First, Diana, congratulations on your new position.  Will you share some details about what this job entails, including how your role advances the Centers mission? 

Diana Blanchard Gross (DBG): I will be responsible for curating, planning, organizing, and executing the visual arts programming, which includes exhibitions, art classes, and other events and programs at CHTVAC. Our mission is to advance the arts and enhance the quality of life for the residents and visitors of the City of Hampton and Coastal Virginia. We look to educate and inspire teachers, students, and life-long learners to embrace the arts through our exhibitions, workshops, volunteerism, and community outreach. We want to provide opportunities for Hampton Roads artists to showcase and develop visual and educational arts in both traditional and non-traditional formats.

BD:  Besides your long tenure as curator at the former Peninsula Fine Arts Center, how did your educational background and career path lead here?

DBG: I have always enjoyed being a curator and wanted to make a difference in this region. Being in the arts field for numerous years and earning my Master’s degree in art history and museum studies from Virginia Commonwealth University (the top art school in the nation) has helped propel me forward to more exciting and challenging experiences.  In addition to my full-time curatorial work, I have, since 2005, served as a part-time curator of artifacts and objects for the Sports Hall of Fame.  And, throughout, I have been involved in independent curatorial work, most recently with Linda Matney Gallery in Williamsburg and with the Cook Foundation in Gloucester.

BD:  What skillsets, knowledge, and experiences from your personal and professional past—art-related or not, e.g. parenting or weight lifting!–do you feel made you the ideal candidate for the job?

DBG: In this job, there are a multitude of personalities from artists to volunteers to staff. Dealing with this is similar to dealing with your own family and children. You need to maneuver and negotiate each one’s demands, which I try to do.  All these life experiences, as well as my educational background, professional knowledge, and job skills helped to make me the best-qualified candidate for this job.

BD: As you are settling into your new role, what do you envision maintaining about the way 

CHTVAC does business in terms of your purview?

DBG: We will continue with the scheduled exhibitions and art classes, but look to add more variety to the art classes and incorporate nighttime offerings as well as different media. We also want to boost our programs for children to include preschoolers, homeschoolers, and teens. We want to offer camps whether it be during the holidays, Spring Break, or summer. We will have a scavenger hunt for our school tours so that even the youngest visitors and their caretakers can view our exhibitions and actively participate in visual learning. I have always felt that art needs to be introduced to the youngest to encourage their life-long passion.

BD:  Sounds like a lot of meaningful work ahead for you.  On the flip-side, what do you hope to discontinue or expand in terms of exhibitions? Are there artists with whom you particularly want to work or exhibitions you especially want to mount?

DBG:  I have no plans to discontinue any of our programs.  I do have several exhibitions on my bucket list that I want to mount in the next few years, but am keeping them under wraps for now.  I am also interested in working with outdoor sculptors to place works on our grounds.  CHTVAC is in a prime location on Victoria and Kecoughtan Boulevard in Hampton, which offers an ideal location for sculpture on the grounds.

BD:  I am a fan of the idea of a mini-outdoor sculpture garden and look forward to seeing that evolve.  From your perspective, what are CHTVACs greatest challenges and greatest opportunities at this point in its organizational life? 

DBG: The greatest opportunities are to reach out to the community and engage them through the arts. We hope to draw in families, children of all ages, millennials, under-served audiences, and our older generations.  The challenge is to educate all on the importance of art and the difference it can make in your life.

BD:  What else would you like readers to know about your vision for the Center that we havent addressed?

DBG: My vision for the CHTVAC is to make it a place where everyone is welcomed. We hope that all can find inspiration in the visual arts.