By Jim Roberts
Marcia Conston didn’t live in Norfolk in 2011—the year Farm Fresh closed its grocery store in downtown Norfolk—but she fully understands the impact of Tidewater Community College expanding into that long unused space.
“I never imagined that we could transform the former Farm Fresh grocery store into a beautiful education facility,” Conston, the school’s president, said at the Sept. 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony, “but this 37,000 square foot building is now our flagship Visual Arts and Design Center!”
In fact, transformation is what TCC is all about. It’s the promise of the “From Here, Go Anywhere” trademark, which sells students on the transition to four-year schools and full-time jobs wherever they want to go.
It’s also the theme of the first art show in the center’s new gallery: a collaboration with Newport News’ CAN Foundation called “A Look Within.” The show was curated by Leslie Mounaime, who left the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria earlier this year to work at TCC’s Visual Arts and Design Center.
“The partnership with the CAN Foundation was a natural fit, allowing our students and community an opportunity to tap into CAN’s active and engaging network of artists and programs,” Mounaime wrote in her curator’s notes. “Their goal to support artists and creatives in Hampton Roads with opportunities for growth, networking and community-building aligns with what our institution represents.
“TCC’s tagline, ‘From Here, Go Anywhere,’ emphasizes the college as a starting or transition point for its students,” she continued, “but we are also a community, a place where people from all walks of life can come together to learn and grow through shared interests and a desire to better themselves.”
“In this exhibition,” she concluded, “viewers will see how this group of artists, from all different stages of their career, working in a variety of visual media, have come together to create a dialogue in conversation with each other. The theme of self-reflection is unified through artwork that explores community, legacy, self determination, self image, spirituality, sustainability, as well as mental and physical transformation.”
Carolyn Phillips worked at the d’Art Center in Norfolk and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts before returning to her higher education roots and taking a job at TCC in 2021. She was promoted to pathway dean of arts and humanities in June.
“It is unique, I think, for a community college to have such a comprehensive Visual Arts and Design Center,” she said. “The location is fantastic. We’re right in the heart of downtown Norfolk, where a lot of the arts in Hampton Roads are, so it puts us within great proximity to a lot of our arts partners. It’s nice that everything is on one floor, and it’s got a lot of really specialized spaces that can accommodate our students. And then we also have a lot of great spaces where the public is welcome like our galleries.”
Phillips said opportunities like the one she’s embraced at the Visual Arts and Design Center happen “only maybe once” in someone’s career.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “And it’s very exciting to see how much the students appreciate it—and to just become acquainted with all the possibilities. We’re still learning that. We have lots of community groups coming in already. The exhibitions we have planned for the future are going to draw more people, and the possibilities are really endless.”
Mounaime echoed those sentiments.
“Overall, everyone’s been very positive and just excited to see what we produce,” she said. “I think we’re just getting started. I think everyone’s just happy to have another art space and Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area in general.”
TCC’s Visual Art and Design Center is located at 260 Boush Street (the intersection of Boush Street and College Place) in downtown Norfolk. For more information about academic programs, visit tcc.edu. For gallery inquiries, contact Leslie Mounaime at [email protected].