In 1995, a group of forward-looking citizens saw a historic but neglected dairy barn and wondered what might be the potential for using it as a space to link together the valuable and rich – but hidden and difficult-to-access – Floyd County artisan community. As individuals began discussing the idea with their neighbors and friends, a common response was, “Are you talking about the Old Jacksonville Barn?” This inquiry was based on the local understanding of the facility’s location near the larger, newest of the two Jacksonville Cemeteries in the Floyd area – the one off Route 8 heading toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everyone began referring to the historic space with its nascent activity as The Jacksonville Center, which remains the group’s “doing business as” name.
Approaching the mortgage-holder at the time, First National Bank of Christiansburg, the group obtained free access to the campus for 1995, during which it built community support through a series of public meetings and the establishment of the first Citizens’ Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, a board of directors was selected, bylaws drawn up, and the process of becoming a recognized 501-c-3 non-stock corporation was undertaken. Incorporating as Floyd Community Center for the Arts, Inc. (FCCA), the group received its first grant from the mortgage holder starting the second year of operations, receiving a total of $18,000 to offset the mortgage payments the group was obligated to deliver for three years of facility use. Once it was awarded preliminary 501-c-3 status, the group initiated its most enduring relationship, that with the Virginia Commission for the Arts, who has been a financial supporter since 1998. After those first three startup years, the organization formally undertook the mortgage under excellent terms and is the owner of the property and buildings.
During the startup years, the organization began a series of programs, limited only by the capacity of the infrastructure: no sewer and substandard water; no heat in the barn; some scary areas of limited public safety – after all, the building had been a working dairy barn in the 1940s and had begun a long process of deterioration in about the mid-1970s due to having endured a series of owners who had not the resources to devote to anything beyond basic facility maintenance. In 1998, the group was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to be among its first to undertake a region-wide pilot initiative they called Managing Information in Rural America. As the Floyd County organizer to this effort, The Jacksonville Center and many Floyd citizens underwent New River Valley-wide, 6-month process of leadership training and project planning to win grant support for a variety of projects utilizing technology to link citizens with services.
In about 2000, when the local governments won a federal financial boost to improve water and sewer to various areas of the town and county of Floyd, the organization was well-positioned to become an auxiliary beneficiary of that infrastructure upgrade, and thus sought major public and private grants to renovate the barn to public use and safety standards. Nearly $600,000 was invested in making the barn a functional facility, including handicapped accessibility, the only elevator south of the town’s sole traffic light, and such amenities as heat and plumbing. USDA/Rural Development, Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, plus private investment, allowed the group to open Virginia’s first Cultural Business Incubator in a grand opening ceremony held in 2003. Shortly thereafter, another upgrade grant from USDA/Rural Development, plus the acquisition of the next-door lot from the County of Floyd’s Industrial Development Authority helped further enhance the campus by refurbishing some spaces and creating new ones to allow the campus to become Virginia’s first Residential Crafts School, opening for its initial classes in 2005. By this time, the organization had created three paid positions that had not existed in the county before, and was partnering with many local efforts to promote visitation, new business, and artisan entrepreneurship in the region. It continues to be widely known for its collaborative approach to creating win/win situations, its inclusiveness, its energy, its support for the creation of quality art and artisan businesses, and its influence on the economies of the region.