Art Is All Around In Mercer County
Last updated: May 31, 2023
Mercer County, West Virginia, a hidden gem in the Appalachian Mountains, is rich in history and culture. With a diverse lineup of galleries, theaters, local businesses and artisan festivals, there is always something to discover here. Whether you are a resident or a visitor, this guide to arts and culture will help you navigate the spirited arts scene and uncover the best that this region has to offer.
A Must-Visit: The Mercer Street Grassroots District
The Mercer Street Grassroots District is a community brimming with creativity. As a haven for artists, musicians and creatives of all kinds, it’s a must-visit for anyone who appreciates the arts.
The RiffRaff Arts Collective is a real standout in the district. This unique co-op supports local artists and creatives, and is the perfect place to browse regional art or catch a show at The Room Upstairs, which has been transformed from a turn-of-the-century ballroom into a small theater. And if you’re in the mood for some stunning Appalachian art, Holler: Contemporary Appalachian Art Gallery showcases the incredible talent of local artists, adding to the charismatic and creative vitality of the Grassroots District. The Holler Gallery often hosts art classes led by renowned local artist and teacher Rita Montrosse.
“I find that I am relatively successful at what I do,” Montrosse said. “I know it is difficult for other artists in Appalachia, but in Mercer County, we are becoming so open to tourists that we are getting a lot more exposure.”
The Grassroots District’s outdoor art scene is what truly sets it apart. With 34 professional murals and countless sculptures that span entire blocks, this district is like an open-air art studio. One of the top destinations for visitors is Artists’ Alley, which features 22 murals painted by talented local artists. This once-dull passageway is now bursting with color, thanks to the wrought-iron arches on either end and the incredible murals on display. From realistic landscapes to funky designs, each mural radiates a positive and upbeat energy.
A lively mural, painted by local artist Lacey Vilandry, serves as the entrance to The Pigment Sanctuary. This passionate community is composed of artists who come together to offer mutual support and encouragement. The Pigment Sanctuary provides a dedicated space for artists and creatives to connect with one another, collaborate on art projects and engage with the wider community.
“The reason I chose to move to Mercer County was the obvious support for the arts from all resources: the local government, nonprofits and the community’s citizens,” local artist and member of the artist collectives, The Pigment Sanctuary and The Riff Raff Art Collective, Leslie Caneda said. “I have witnessed how the arts have aided in developing a region by creating an environment to be proud of, that stimulates the imagination and a sense of purpose.”
The artist collectives in Mercer County push the boundaries of creativity in contemporary art to a whole new level and make Mercer County a more vibrant community.
“The folks in Mercer County understand the value of collaboration and co-creation. It’s a tangible example of how working together and advocating for the arts benefits all,” Caneda said.
Explore The Eccentric & Quirky Art Of Bluefield
For a one-of-a-kind art experience, visit Gary Bowling’s House of Art (GBHA) in Bluefield. Housed in the historic Ramsey School, the gallery showcases an impressive collection of unique and intriguing art pieces spanning various genres. GBHA is far from being an ordinary art gallery. It is a place that exudes magic, mystery, history and, of course, art.
The people of Appalachia have long been known for their resourcefulness and their aversion to waste. This spirit is embodied by the artists at GBHA, who have earned the nickname “the ultimate dumpster divers” for their ability to turn discarded objects into beautiful works of art. By using recycled and found materials, they not only create something new and unique, but also promote the idea of reducing waste and being more mindful of the things we throw away.
As resident artist, Isaac Preston put it, “Garbage is everywhere. People are constantly throwing things away. And with that, I was able to take that garbage and form it into something beautiful. In doing my work, I hope to show people how to not be as wasteful with the things that we have.”
The History of Live Entertainment in Bluefield
With a rich history of live performances, Bluefield has been a beloved location for entertainers for decades. At the heart of it all is The Granada Theater, a venue with a spirited past dating back to 1928. From hosting silent movies to welcoming stars like Bing Crosby, Marian Anderson, Frank Sinatra, and Greer Garson, the Granada has seen it all.
After years of being left in disrepair, a group of dedicated Bluefield residents banded together in 2012 to begin the monumental task of restoring the building to its former glory, adhering to historic preservation guidelines. Finally, in 2021, The Granada Theater triumphantly reopened its doors to the public.
The Granada Theater offers an affordable and family-friendly entertainment experience. In addition to regular movie screenings, this historic downtown theater hosts larger musical acts, symphonies and touring ballet troupes.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Bluefield became a hotspot for Jazz musicians, including the likes of James Brown, Little Richard, Etta James and Sam Cooke. With such a talented roster of performers, it’s no wonder that Bluefield has become synonymous with unforgettable live entertainment.
Today, get a front-row seat to a popular production at the Chuck Mathena Center (CMC), a premier venue that plays host to national touring company shows. From off-Broadway shows and captivating ballet performances to comedies to musicals, the CMC offers a diverse lineup of entertainment that caters to all tastes and interests. But the CMC is more than just a venue – it’s a cultural hub that aims to make the arts accessible to the community.
“Living in rural southern West Virginia, it is important for our community, especially young people, to experience theatre and live entertainment from other regions. It teaches our children to dream big and shows them opportunities they might never have known existed while building our future audiences,” Executive Director of CMC, Candace Wilson, said. “Not everyone can travel abroad or to a bigger city to see some of the performances we present right here in their backyard — at a fraction of the cost of going somewhere else.”
The performances at CMC are also an economic driver for Mercer County. According to Wilson, for every ticket purchased at CMC, it is estimated that ticket buyers are spending at least $35 in the community at restaurants, gas stations and stores. When the Center opened in 2008, it promised to “Share the Dream” with Mercer County, and this year will mark the 15th anniversary of bringing quality performances to the community!
With its intimate atmosphere, world-class performances and gourmet dinner theaters, the Bluefield Arts Center is an ideal destination for a date night, an evening out with friends or a special occasion. The center provides an immersive artistic experience with its two galleries, a neoclassic performing arts center, The Summit Theatre, and a restaurant. The galleries feature an array of art from local and regional artists, providing visitors with a chance to appreciate an assorted range of artistic expressions.
Become An Artist Yourself
Ready to tap into your creative side and have some fun? Head to Hammer & Stain, a do-it-yourself workshop where you can unleash your inner artist and create a personalized woodcraft to take home. Led by expert instructors, this studio offers a range of projects to choose from and encourages guests to bring their own creativity to the table.
If selfies and social media are more your style, check out Simple Pix Selfie Studio. With over 30 themed selfie stations, this entertainment studio offers a fun and interactive experience for all ages. From vibrant backdrops to playful props, each station is designed to capture the perfect shot and create lasting memories with friends and family.
Art is truly all around in Mercer County. Experience it for yourself during All About Arts Week in Mercer County on May 6-13. Follow us on social media for more information!