A space to gather and create in Richmond’s East End
Borrower : Oakwood Arts
Where : Richmond, VA
Loan Amount : $340,000
Project Type : Acquisition and Construction Loan
In 2017, Shannon Castleman had a vision for Richmond’s growing East End — a place where neighbors could gather together to express themselves freely through art and create lasting relationships. She saw this potential in a location where others might have seen an unused and abandoned church building. To Castleman, the church symbolized a beacon of artistic entrepreneurship, leadership, and community. A short time later, Castleman decided to invest in the Thomas Branch Memorial Episcopal Church, at 35th and P Streets in the Church Hill neighborhood. With donations from an online fundraising platform and a newly leased space to create and grow, Oakwood Arts was born.
“The idea for Oakwood Arts came when I first passed by the building. I saw how quickly the neighborhood was changing and thought about creating an inclusive and safe place for old and new neighbors to interact and address changes through art,” says Castleman, an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I wanted to foster an environment where youth in the East End community had access to opportunities in the creative industry. I also wanted to create a space for already developing young professionals to further their skills and make connections. Most importantly, I wanted to unite these people under one roof, to create a diverse and culturally rich place for them to grow together, pursue creative careers, and build their professional skillset.”
The nonprofit located in Oakwood — a Richmond neighborhood in Church Hill — runs classes for youth and young adults focused on technology-based art (graphic design, photography, and animation) as well as film production and video editing at partner sites. Upon completion of the renovations, Oakwood Arts will host a variety of community workshops, classes, and arts-related events.
Prior to Oakwood Arts, the church, built in 1906, was rundown due to being vacant for years. With long-term sustainability as a goal, the organization’s leaders believed that owning and renovating the building was a crucial piece of their mission — and the community. They just needed a hand on financing the project to make that dream a reality.
Virginia Community Capital and Oakwood Arts’ partnership did not begin on the need for building and renovation financing. Instead, it started with a connection and a relationship, with VCC lenders and specialists offering free technical advisory services to Castleman, the executive director. As the organization grew, she regularly checked in with VCC to ensure the nonprofit was headed in the right direction to meet its future goals of property ownership. Since the beginning, she and the board believed that the P Street Church was critical to Oakwood Arts’ operations, identity, and impact in the Church Hill neighborhood.
Oakwood Arts’ vision of inclusion and creating a strong community aligns perfectly with VCC’s mission of creating vibrant places. Backed by a strong relationship with the CEO and Oakwood’s board, VCC approved a loan for up to $340,000 for the acquisition and construction of the Oakwood Arts project in 2018. The building in the Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District is comprised of the former church, an adjacent Sunday school/daycare building, and a small cottage.
By inspiring members of the community to engage in classes, programs lectures, mentoring, and networking — and giving them a safe, welcoming place to engage in those activities — Oakwood can continue to motivate people of all ages to follow their passion and create art that the whole community — and beyond — can enjoy.
A true hub for community and culture, Oakwood Arts has a mission to make the arts and jobs in creative industries accessible to all in the Richmond region — especially in its East End, home to the city’s most challenging socioeconomic disparities. In addition to art classes and programs for the community, they will provide a venue for a wide range of art-related events like theatre productions and film screenings. No matter the program or event, Oakwood serves as a place for culturally diverse neighbors to gather and interact in a creative and welcoming environment.