How was OASIS started?

It is thanks to leaders like Crystal Theodore, Paul Miller Kline, Phil James, Lei Wong, and many others that Harrisonburg has such a vibrant center for the visual arts.
Would you like to hear the story of the founding of OASIS Fine Art & Craft?

On OASIS’ 10th birthday in 2010, Karen Ryder Lee interviewed Dr. Crystal Theodore and reviewed all the known minutes and documents to assemble a history of the organization that founded OASIS.


History of the Shenandoah Council of the Arts

Rockingham Council of the Arts is the name under which SCA first organized.

Note: This is a different organization than Rockingham Fine Arts Association, which received help from the Virginia Museum to become an associate. RFAA later changed its name to Central Shenandoah Arts.

In 1994, a survey was conducted. The questions were:

  1. Are we interested in being part of a larger group (Rockingham Council of the Arts) to promote the enrichment of the Arts in our Community?
  2. What would our expectations be for sharing a centrally located space?
  3. What do you think should be the mission of the Council?
  4. How much time could you (individuals) contribute to this cause?
  5. Should our organization work with other organizations in fund raising activities?
  6. Do you have any other suggestions for the Council?

The first record of RCA is an agenda of February 21, 1995, simply headed “Council of Arts”.

RCA was established August 22, 1995 as a not-for-profit coalition of arts organizations interested in promoting the arts and cultural opportunities for the citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. RCA completed official incorporation on October 21, 1999.

On October 28, 1995, Rockingham Council of the Arts presented Fanfare at Harrisonburg High School Forum. A newsletter and minutes show FanFare II planned for April 26, 1997 at Harrisonburg High School.

RCA minutes of January 22, 1998 show the results of a survey conducted among local arts groups.

  1. What are the goals of your organization? Educate the public, sell art to the community, promote the arts to the community.
  2.  What can RCA do to further goals of your organization? Provide a home, secure gallery space, help get publicity, provide meeting/exhibit space, schedule speakers.
  3. Do you think a community cultural arts center would/could contribute to Harrisonburg-Rockingham’s identify? 29 of 35 respondents said yes. 0 – noes.
    1.  Why or why not? Showcase local artists, provide a sense of pride, involve community people (not just those involved with a school), provide facilities for youth programs.
  4. Do you believe non-arts organizations should hold RCA membership? The majority were in favor. 4 – noes.

March 2, 1998, a one-page proposal appears: “Proposed Harrisonburg/Rockingham Arts Center to be developed by the Rockingham Public Library and Rockingham Council of the Arts”. It included galleries, meeting room with kitchenette, 12 working studios for rent, two teaching areas, a theater, an office for 3 desks, and storage. Cultural and economic benefits for the community were listed.

On November 20, 1999, WHSV-TV3 showed the television program “A Magic String” thanks to collaboration of RCA with Tracey Jones, General Manager. It was cut short by a football game overrun, so was re-shown in its entirety on December 18. It was a 30-minute program originally titled “What Can You Do With a String” and featured artists from arts organizations that belonged to RCA. It was intended to include dance, music, drama, visual arts and craft. Tracey Jones, Dawn Welter and Priscilla Blosser-Rainey were instrumental in creating the program.

The critical item reported in minutes of the year 2000 was the acquisition of tax exempt status:

Minutes of February 22, 2000 show Polly Frye and Mariann Simmons completed the forms related to “Tax Exempt Status”. Waiting for the arrival of the EIN number. Then the papers can be filed.
Minutes of March 16, 2000 show “expenses of $150 501c3 filing fee.”
Minutes of April 13, 2000 say “”IRS has notified us that they have the paperwork and we should learn if 501c3 status has been granted in 120 days.”
June 12, 2000 minutes show Tax Exempt Status: nothing new. The additional information they requested has been sent.”
July 13, 2000 agenda says Tax Exempt Status: “a) letter from Stephen Miller b) my reply with approval of Franklin Blatt, attorney.”
Minutes of September 14, 2000 say “Our 501c3 status has been granted on a provisional basis.”
On July 13, 2000, RCA board met and reported additional expenses to fax the original information and additional information as requested to the IRS for 501c3 status. The request for information was made by Chitra Mamltdarna. The minutes show that “Crystal wrote a letter on July 11, 2000 to Mr. Steven Brown (Chitra’s boss) stating that our written information had been signed for on June 26, 2000. No reply from him to date.”

At the July 13, 2000 meeting RCA reviewed a lease for 91 and 93 E. Elizabeth Street.

Crystal Theodore reports that a miracle occurred next:

In 2000, after 5 years of searching for a visual arts space, Crystal Theodore was evaluating two small stores on East Water Street in Harrisonburg, with a mind to knocking out the walls between them. Rudy Tucker was there doing measuring and evaluating the structure. Crystal was counting foot traffic. The foot traffic was very disappointing, she says. She went home that night, so discouraged that she felt that five years of effort were down the drain.

The next day she received a call from Terri Babcock Denton, saying “Do you want a gallery space?” Terri reported that Sycamore Gallery was closing. Crystal reports that Terri was very helpful in making the space ready for OASIS and continued to be supportive.

The August 10, 2000 RCA board meeting minutes show Phil James making the last report on the E. Elizabeth site, immediately followed by Crystal Theodore’s report on the Sycamore Gallery site. She reported that Terri Denton Babcock said that “the family wants this site to remain an art facility.”

Minutes of the August 23, 2000 meeting of the RCA board say “Crystal read the copy of a letter from Franklin Blatt to Chitra M. concerning our 501c3 status. Letter dated August 22, 2000 — we still have not heard what our status is on this matter.” In the same meeting the group acted to accept Larry Rogers’ suggestion that the name be changed. And October 1 was set as the opening date.

A request was made before the Harrisonburg city council by Crystal Theodore and Cole Welter. It was presented by the Honorable Carolyn Frank, Mayor; Dr. Dorn Peterson, Vice Mayor; and Councilmen Mr. Joe Fitzgerald, Mr. Hugh Lantz and Mr. Larry Rogers.

The City of Harrisonburg gave $25,000 seed money for OASIS on Sept 12, 2000.

On September 14, 2000, Cindy Green, manager of Sycamore House, gave an orientation to OASIS volunteers.

On September 15, 2000, RCA officially assumed the name of Shenandoah Council of the Arts, under the State Corporation Commission.

First 5-year business plan was compiled by Dr. Cole Welter with Dr. Karen Wigginton of JMU’s Center for Entrepreneurship.