Passersby along Campbell Avenue in downtown Roanoke might notice the former Woolworth building no longer stands vacant.

Freshly minted Left of Center Art Space will hold its grand opening reception Friday during Art by Night, downtown Roanoke’s monthly self-guided art gallery tour.

The seven regional artists who teamed together to open the new gallery all have small studio stations in the space, meaning visitors can look through the front windows and watch art in progress. There’s also a classroom space and a group art display.

“I think people are excited that Woolworth’s isn’t empty anymore,” said Roanoke artist Susanne Sellars, whose medium of choice these days is the clay monotype, a type of one-of-a-kind print made using colored clay. Sellars has the materials for this unusual artistic process available at her station.

Roanoke fiber artist Meridith Entingh has a small loom set up right by the gallery’s front doors. “This is my workshop loom, which is one that I can carry. It folds up and goes on wheels and goes with me wherever I go,” she said. “I do a lot of the smaller pieces here.”

However, she might work on larger projects at Left of Center in the future. “I’m really thinking of bringing a big loom down here,” she said.

“You’ve got the space,” Sellars noted.

Left of Center will host monthly exhibits by guest artists. The guest artist for the grand opening is Roanoke ceramic artist Maya Bohler. Her delicate, detailed pottery and sculpture will be displayed through the month of October.

Building owner Bill Elliot “really wanted a place for people to be able to show their work, more than just us,” Entingh said.

The participating artists started moving in three months ago. “We had a little pop up show in July, trying to see how it’s going to work,” Entingh said.

The new gallery has a quirky, colorful bird as an artistic mascot, created by painter Kelly Smith-Price, an art teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools who is one of the group’s newer members.

The gallery’s name, “Left of Center,” should be taken more as tongue-in-cheek humor than as a political statement, Entingh said. Generally, artists as a class tend to lean liberal in their politics, and geographically, someone leaving the Campbell Avenue exit from Center in the Square would turn left to walk to this new gallery. “It’s a pun,” Entingh said.

The other artists with studios in Left of Center are Susan Egbert, Miki Overcast-Kallun, Patti Kapral and Nancy Stellhorn. Several of them have known each other since exhibiting together in the now-defunct Gallery 108 on Market Street, which closed in 2012 after 11 years. They continued to show and sell their works together at the former Art on Kirk gallery and at Aurora Studio Center. “We get along really well, it’s a really good group,” Entingh said.

Off the Rails Theatre lowers curtain

For 11 years, Off the Rails Theatre, a small, innovative theater company, has brought edgy, unconventional plays to life in Roanoke, persevering despite occasionally sparse audiences. Since 2011, the company’s performances have taken place on the June M. McBroom Theater stage at the Community High School of Arts and Academics. Its most recent production was John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God” in June.

On Sept. 25, the company posted an announcement on its Facebook page that it will stop producing new plays. “We are taking this time to reflect, regroup, and reinvent. Our tiny but tenacious theatre will go dark for the rest of 2019 and into 2020,” the announcement read.

Off the Rails’ next play, “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse, was scheduled to take place in November. Auditions for the play, which requires two male and two female actors, were held last month.

“Unfortunately we were unable to cast it,” wrote Off the Rails co-founder Kathy Guy in an e-mail. “I know we didn’t have a large turnout.”

The small nonprofit had recently lost some of its board members and has not yet replaced them. Given the inability to go forward with the November show, “we just thought it would be a good time to regroup,” Guy wrote, “to focus on building the board and go dark for a season.”

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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