The Henderson is Honored as Virginia Commission for the Arts Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Governor Ralph Northam Congratulates the Commission and the

“50 for 50 Arts Inspiration Award” Recipients

The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts has received a prestigious 50 for 50 Arts Inspiration Award from the Virginia Commission for the Arts for excellence as an Emerging Arts Organization. The award was presented at the Commission’s 50th anniversary program on Wednesday, January 31st at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. More than 300 artists, arts leaders, and award recipients attended from Virginia and across the country.

Executive Director of The Henderson, Catherine Schrenker attended the ceremony, “It is such an honor to represent not only the wonderful Town of Marion, but all of Smyth County. This award is a reflection of our community’s commitment to preserving Appalachian craft and music. I have such high regard for all our wonderful musicians and artisans.

Wayne Henderson and Helen White along with Debbie Grimm Yates have been a touchstone since the beginning, patient and kind with MY education, from guitar building workshops to Junior Appalachian Musicians to pottery and music jams. Gerald Anderson, Spencer Strickland, Josh Reese, have been a tremendous resource for establishing a world-class woodshop and Lutherie. Randal Eller, Buddy Blevins, Terry and Deb Clark have given so much of their time because they believe as I do, it is important to have a place where we can pass on the knowledge to the next generation.

Junior Appalachian Musicians would have never gotten off the ground if Jim Lloyd and Steve Kilby had not come to my rescue. Jim continues to build the program with instructors that span generations as well, adding to the legacy and keeping the music and history alive. Steve Kilby is a talented picker and patient teacher, and I love his jokes, he too adds to our legacy with his stories and experiences woven into his lessons.

There are so many others that have embraced this wonderful creative space, I wish there was time to acknowledge everyone, and let them know how grateful I am for their belief and support.”

The Commission awarded 50 awards in 5 categories to arts organizations and individuals who demonstrated artistic excellence and inspiration over the last 50 years. They were chosen from an original pool of over 350 nominees. The criteria for the Emerging Artists and Organizations was that winners have been in existence under ten years, have demonstrated a benefit to the economic and or social health of the community, have demonstrated artistic excellence, outreach to underserved populations, embraced diversity, and taken a visionary or innovative approach to their work.

Other categories included were:

Bedrock Institutions

Winners have been in existence more than ten years, have demonstrated a benefit to the economic health and or tourism in the community, exhibit artistic excellence, celebrate diversity and showcase Virginia as a cultural destination.

Exemplary Programs and Pinnacle Events

Winners have programs or events from the past 50 years that have demonstrated artistic excellence, celebrated diversity, offered outreach to underserved populations, have engaged community partners and have a visionary or innovative approach to their program or event.

 Arts Leaders and Supporters

Winners have demonstrated a serious sustained leadership in the arts that have made a significant contribution to their communities, have encouraged decision makers to create a sustainable environment for artists and arts organizations, have taken an original approach to arts leadership and encouraged the engagement of others, and have championed a broad role for arts organizations and artists to play in their own respective communities. 

Outstanding Artists

Winners have demonstrated consistent artistic excellence, a stellar body of work, provided service to their respective communities and beyond, and enhanced the artistic and cultural life of Virginia with their creativity.


The Henderson opened its doors in 2015 and continues to strengthen current and build new programs that not only appeal to the region, but beyond Southwest Virginia. Schrenker has been working to update the website, redesign their newsletter to include a weekly blog, and working with Virginia Tourism to update marketing materials that reflect these new workshops and offerings.

The next goal is to establish afterschool programs for Creative Writing on Wednesdays and Arts and Crafts on Thursdays. These would work similarly to HendersonJAM and initially focus on Middle School, expanding to include elementary 4th grade and up. The Creative Writing program will be in partnership with The Lincoln Theatre, expanding stories to include film and/or one act plays. Schrenker will also begin working with Adriana Trigiani and Linda Woodward to establish a “Henderson Origins Project” next year.

Adriana Trigiani and Nancy Bolmeier Fisher were the Keynote Speakers at the Awards Ceremony and they introduced the audience to their Appalachian cultural literacy program The Origin Project for which they received an Arts Inspiration Award in the Emerging Arts Organization category.

Virginia Commission for the Arts Chair Shelley Kruger Weisberg (Williamsburg) commented: “We gathered together from across the Commonwealth to celebrate innovation, creativity, and artistic excellence. The event was a testament to the value of the arts in every aspect of our society”.

Commissioner Jo Hodgin (Annandale), Co-Chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee, expressed her belief in the power of the arts in Virginia: “The 50 for 50 Awardees remind us that when creativity meets good citizenship, our communities become stronger”.


The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Chu was the featured guest and commended Virginia on the abundant and diverse arts culture that has been established throughout the state for the past 50 years. She presented two special awards following her remarks: the Cultural Icon Award to the Virginia Museum of Fine arts and the Cultural Legacy Award to former VCA Executive Director Peggy Baggett. The Commission Board surprised Chairman Chu with a “National Inspiration” award for her tireless efforts to protect arts funding, increase awareness and promote connections for the arts and other sectors of society and the economy.

The program and reception included entertainment by VCA touring artists groups The Bobby BlackHat Band and the Robert Jospe Trio. Richmond Ballet’s student outreach group the Minds in Motion Ambassadors presented a stimulating and thought-provoking video about the impacts of their program abroad. They energized the audience with their hopeful, lively performances, encouraging those watching to “change the world”.

VMFA Director Alex Nyerges welcomed the attendees to a reception in the Museum’s Marble Hall following the program and introduced the featured guests, Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pam Northam. Governor Northam congratulated the Commission on its 50th anniversary and emphasized the essential role of artists and arts leaders for continuing to enrich the culture and vitality of Virginia.