Larkin Arts is a little oasis located in the Southwest corner of Court Square. I walked in on a rainy, windy day; the soft music and comfy chairs couldn’t have felt better. I met with Valerie Smith, the welcoming owner of Larkin Arts store. Calling Larkin Arts a store is an understatement though. Offered there are classes for the public—inexperienced and experienced alike, studios for local artists to rent, and galleries for the public to enjoy. Valerie encourages people to wander in to the cozy gallery space during First Fridays downtown.
What I found compelling about the space is that anyone who walks into Larkin Arts can walk down the hall and see artists at work. Valerie says, “The benefit is symbiotic for us to have art in action. It works on an advocacy level. We want to raise awareness of the value of art. We live in a time when people want things for cheap. This way, people can watch the time and material that goes into the artwork. Hopefully it creates awareness of intrinsic and financial value.”
Larkin Arts wasn’t always so dynamic. It started in 2006 as a one-room school that doubled as a gallery for the artists that showed their work every month. So in the past eight years, the business has gained a lot of momentum. Downtown Harrisonburg was always where Valerie imagined her store. “There was no question it would be downtown—it’s the heart of a community. There was already Oasis and Artful Dodger who were anchors for the art community. All the galleries could support each other.” The gallery is one of Larkin Arts’ biggest draws as the sign drives people in.
While chatting with Valerie, two separate JMU students came in to inquire about supplies for their art classes. Valerie was hands on, welcoming, and eager to help the students with what they needed. Just another service the store provides: a supplier for the campus art department.
After learning about Larkin Arts as a whole, I was glad to meet one of the artists who occupies one of the rented spaces. Erin Murray, who has held a studio at Larkin Arts since February of 2014, not only spends her time in her studio, but she teaches a course at Blue Ridge Community College and is involved in a program through Augusta County School called “Children’s Art Network.”
She told me, “I moved back to my parent’s farm a little over a year ago and went to a First Friday opening and saw [Larkin Arts’] gallery. Immediately when I came in I felt a connection—it has a wonderful environment, it’s comfortable, and when I talked to Valerie I felt like I was invited to be a part of it.”
The location of Erin’s studio has made all the difference for her artwork. “Deciding on having a studio here—it was one of those decisions where as soon as I made it I could tell it was going to be great. I put less effort into finding commissions because the studio space here just feeds into that. I’ll have people walk in and commission me to do work or they’ll see things that I’m working on and pass my name on to other people.”
The environment of Larkin Arts sets it apart from other studio spaces for Erin. “When I know other artists are there working, it makes it a little bit of an incentive to be here.” I even heard of some friendly competition to see who can log in the most hours.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Larkin. Right now I’m in a position where I can’t produce work fast enough for the commissions I’m getting, which is great. I teach, but I make most my money with my artwork.”
Larkin Arts is a great place to explore if you are an artist, want to learn about art, or just want to wander the gallery space. Inspiration is sure to come to all that explore the space, so pop in on a First Fridays Downtown!
Written by Lauren Young, a promotions intern at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, and a senior double majoring in English and Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication at James Madison University.