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In the Highlands

Alleghany Arts Council Looks Toward the Future with the Help of Highlands Community Bank

up close of an orchestra strings section: a cellist in the foreground and two violinists in the background

A thriving arts and culture community can be the key to a thriving local and tourism economy. In the Alleghany Highlands, there’s plenty of Appalachian-inspired arts and culture to go around. Since 1953, Alleghany Arts Council has played an important role in keeping the community thriving.

The Arts Council is committed to its mission of bringing the highest quality performing arts to residents and visitors of the Alleghany Highlands. Over the years, they’ve brought world-renowned artists like Ed Asner, Burl Ives, the Royal Shakespeare Company of London, the Barter Theatre, and so many more talented acts to the Highlands. In addition to the performing arts events, they provide cultural programming to the local school systems with assistance from the Alleghany Foundation, Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the County of Alleghany, and the City of Covington.

“Even if we’re bringing bluegrass, we’ll bring in Ralph Stanley, the father of bluegrass,” says Tammy Scruggs-Duncan, who has served as Executive Director for the past 27 years. “We are dedicated to the highest quality of every genre of performance art.”

Oct 25, 2016, Lexington, VA; High School Regional Championships.

Covid-19 Halts Local Arts & Culture

When Covid-19 swept through our area in early 2020, the Alleghany Highlands Art Council was among many event-focused organizations that were hit hard by the lockdowns and limitations on gathering together.

“We had been working on a program that focuses on using performing arts to educate teens on how to navigate loneliness and depression,” says Tammy. “But when Covid-19 hit in March, we were shut out of the schools when they shut down.”

13 planned performances were immediately canceled.

The Council joined the effort to make an arts coalition with other arts and culture organizations in the community. Scruggs also leveraged her relationship with the Virginia Commission of Arts to provide leadership training and educational sessions about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to local arts and culture leaders.

“The very first day the PPP was open, I went onto the Small Business Administration website to submit my application and the whole site just froze,” she recalls. “I reached out to Brandon Caldwell at Highlands Community Bank and they were working so hard to try to make sense of it all.”

Since that conversation, Brandon Caldwell and Gina Tingler stayed in constant contact with her throughout the entire process.

“I think it was the personal contact in a time that was so traumatic that made me have faith for the future our organization,” says Tammy. “It felt like I had their complete attention as they tried to work through this for us when I know they were still helping so many others.”

By securing the Paycheck Protection Program money in the first round, Tammy Scruggs was able to keep working to support the Council as well as other members of the local coalition.

Roots Grow Deeper

The Alleghany Arts Council has been banking with Highlands Community Bank since the Bank was formed in 2002.

“They’re our 100% local hometown bank and they know that arts and culture are important; not just to help improve the general quality of life but also that our services are essential to economic development,” says Tammy.

They have always known they could count on the Bank to sponsor their programming in addition to servicing their accounts. After their experience with the Paycheck Protection Program, the Council made the decision to move their accounts held at another bank in the area to Highlands Community Bank.

Through her service with Economic Development Corporation, Scruggs has seen how involved Highlands Community Bank is in making sure the arts and culture community has access to economic development funding.

“We are loyal to them because they have been loyal to us,” she adds.

Looking Forward With Hope

Performing arts and music are a means of inspiring hope. Tammy Scruggs recognizes that that’s exactly what her community will need when businesses begin to open back up.

“We’re already making big plans for when it’s time to open up,” says Tammy. “We’re excited to apply some of the new things we’ve learned throughout this crisis as far as delivering arts and culture to the community.”

“We’re not going anywhere.”

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