ABINGDON, Va. — When I stopped into the William King Museum of Art to check out the 1980s photography exhibit, my mind flashed back to tax cuts and the big defense budgets of the Reagan-Bush years.
Right around the end of that era, Betsy White first came aboard to start planning what is now the towering beacon of arts in Abingdon, located inside what was once a high school.
For a quarter-century, I’ve watched the William King Museum of Art grow and offer a wide range of arts on display while also employing or housing a virtual Who’s Who of artists in Abingdon: Kyle Buckland, John Sauers, Raven Marin, Donnamarie Emmert, Jennifer Counts, Callie Hietala, Kathy Gibian — and, oh, so many more.
White has been there for years, off and on.
She’s actually on her third round in the director’s chair at the center.
Well, White has some concerns, particularly about the proposed budget for Abingdon.
This year, the center asked for $100,000 — a $20,000 increase from the $80,000 that it received the year before.
But the Town Council’s proposed budget is only allowing $45,000 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
This is “not a good time” to cut funding, White told me.
“This is not a good time because we’re growing as an asset for tourism,” White said. “And we’re focusing our energies on becoming a better asset for tourism for the town of Abingdon.”
As many as 70% of the center’s walk-in visitors come from out of town, White said.
“So we are growing in that way, just as we like to.”
These days, it costs nothing to enter the museum.
“We don’t charge admission. We have very little earned income,” White said.
“We are the town of Abingdon’s asset,” White added.
“I think all of these organizations that are focused on making this a good place to visit are all wrapped up together in one positive package.”
But this budget cut is simply what White calls “disheartening.”
And that’s particularly true right now, she said, “when things are going so well with our upward arc in visitor numbers, as well as our growing presence as a destination.”