The Chesterfield arts center, decades in the making, is finally set to break ground this spring.
Bruce Miller, former artistic director for Virginia Rep with more than 40 years’ experience in the arts, will be coming on board as executive director of the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation, the nonprofit spearheading the project.
“We see this facility as the star in the cultural crown of Chesterfield,” Miller said. “The impact will be felt in every school, park, library and senior center in Chesterfield.”
The arts center is a 22,000-square-foot facility featuring a 350-seat theater, a gallery, a multipurpose room and a classroom, located in Chester Village Green next to the Chester Library.
The budget for the project is $16.8 million. The foundation raised $2.175 million for construction, with the county covering the remainder of the costs.
The center also sports a new name: the Baxter Perkinson Center for the Arts, thanks to a $1 million gift from dentist Baxter Perkinson, and the Jimmy Dean Theatre, courtesy of a $350,000 donation from Jimmy Dean’s widow, Donna Dean Stevens. It was initially called The Chesterfield Center for the Arts.
Chester Village Green is a bustling, walkable community with new houses, shops, restaurants and resources like the public library.
“The idea is that people can come out here, go out to dinner, grab a drink and walk to a show,” said Hugh Cline, chairman of the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation board of directors.
Miller said the arts center “will be a home in South Chesterfield for all Richmond’s performing arts organizations. The hope is that the Richmond Symphony will perform here, the Richmond Ballet, the Virginia Rep, the Virginia Opera. That’s where my expertise comes in.”
A now-defunct local theater group first proposed the arts center in the 1980s, and voters in Chesterfield first agreed to fund the facility in a bond referendum in 2004. But the project was shelved when fundraising efforts stalled during the 2008-09 recession.
As the 10-year anniversary of the referendum approached, Cline led a fundraising effort that yielded more than $1 million in six months, including a $50,000 donation that he provided, which helped save the bonds.
As a result, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved measures in 2014 to allow the Chesterfield arts center to move forward. Since then, the county has had to revisit the issue with additional funding as costs continued to escalate.
In 2018, Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors approved additional funding for the public-private facility to more than $14 million, clearing the final hurdle toward the official groundbreaking.
Betty Matthews was the driving force behind the project for 20 years. She died in December 2018, but not before Miller agreed to come on board as executive director.
“I’ve been watching this project from the sidelines. The thing that impressed me was the commitment everyone had to this. It never wavered. The economy went through a real slump, there were bumps in the road, but under the steadfast cheerleading of Betty Matthews and the stalwart leadership of Hugh Cline, every time there was a roadblock, they’d find a way around it,” Miller said.
Born and raised in Chesterfield, Miller, 68, has a personal interest in bringing an arts center to Chesterfield. His children, now grown, attended Chesterfield’s public schools, and he now lives in his childhood home in Bon Air.
Chesterfield is the third-largest county in the state by population, but it’s one of the few that doesn’t have a nonprofit public arts center.
“It’s time Chesterfield had an arts center,” Miller said.
Cline, 71, was raised in Chester and graduated from Thomas Dale High School. After he retired from a successful career running an appliance business, he turned his attention to the Chesterfield arts center.
“I saw this as an opportunity to do something that I could be proud of, that would stand the test of time and benefit so many people,” Cline said. “This will touch 50 percent of the region in some way.”
A new cultural arts center being built from the ground up is rare in the Richmond area, both leaders said.
They referenced the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, which was originally a school, and the Carpenter Theatre, which was formerly a Loew’s movie house, as examples of arts centers that have been adapted from existing buildings.
“This is the first turnkey public nonprofit arts center built from the ground up in the Richmond region in 50-plus years,” Cline said.
The groundbreaking is expected in mid-April. The Chesterfield Economic Development Authority will technically be the owners, with the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation leasing the property from the authority for $1 per year.
Organizers hope the arts center will be open for performances for the 2020 holiday season.