It was 100 years ago this summer, before the first stone was put in place for the Lincoln Memorial and World War I was still on the horizon, that two entrepreneurial entertainers named B. Hammil Reed and R. A. Steele opened the doors to The Richmond Theatre, a facility intended to provide "movie pictures, bowling allies and billiards" to residents of Alexandria.
Now known as The Old Town Theatre, the historic venue on King Street leads a list of more than 16 arts organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2014.
“I started working on my masters in arts administration back in 2009,” said Robin Parker, a member of the Alexandria Arts Forum. “Throughout the course of my studies, Alexandria was often a topic of conversation and an example of what a rich arts environment means to a community. Alexandria is an example of how the arts can benefit a society on every level, from enriching culture to increasing economic development.”
In 1934, a group of residents formed The Little Theatre of Alexandria, now considered the oldest continuously operating theater in the Washington, D.C. area. LTA alumni include Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden and Dermot Mulroney.
“It was through my volunteer work with LTA that I first began attending the Alexandria Arts Forum,” Parker said. “I was astonished to learn about the vast array of arts organizations that Alexandria has to offer. From classical music like the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association, Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and QuinTango to incredible choral groups like The Alexandria Singers and the Alexandria Choral Society and even a Russian Balalaika orchestra, there is something for everyone here.”
Other arts organizations celebrating milestones in 2014 include the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, which debuted 70 years ago, The Art League, which is turning 60, and the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, which celebrates its Golden anniversary later this year.
“It’s exciting to see how the arts in Alexandria is available for all ages to participate,” said Parker, who applauded Arts on the Horizon for young children, Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theater for teens, and LTA, Port City Playhouse and MetroStage for award-winning regional theater.
Rounding out the list of organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries are the Torpedo Factory Art Center (40 years), MetroStage (30 years), Alexandria Commission for the Arts (30 years), Washington Balalaika Society (25 years), First Night Alexandria (20 years), Choreographers Collaboration Project (15 years), Durant Arts Center (10 years), Arts in City Hall (10 years), the Performing Arts Center at Episcopal High School (10 years), Art on the Horizon (5 years) and the Youth Arts Festival (5 years).
“Alexandria even has its own hand bell choir — the Virginia Bronze,” Parker added. “Add to that the absolutely amazing visual arts at The Torpedo Factory Arts Center, Del Ray Artisans and The Art League. The list is astounding. We are so lucky to have such incredible arts in our own backyard.”
For a complete list of Alexandria Arts celebrations taking place in 2014, visit www.visitalexandriava.com.