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Roanoke, Virginia offers a Vibrant Culture scene

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Roanoke, Virginia offers a Vibrant Culture scene
Sculpture from the vibrant African and African American art collections in museums in Roanoke, Virginia. (Photo: Photo: Celina Colby)

Roanoke, Virginia, a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, houses a rich historical and cultural landscape. Though touted for natural beauty and relics of the Civil War, the city holds a hidden trove of African American culture. Home to more than 105 ethnic groups, Roanoke strives to celebrate the diversity that strengthens its community.

Author: Photo: Celina ColbyPainting from the art collections in museums in Roanoke, Virginia.

On the web

The Harrison Museum of African American History:

Taubman Museum of Art:

Festival of Local Colors:

The Harrison Museum of African American History lives in a seven-story building dedicated to museums and culture. Located in the center of town, Center in the Square is also home to a local theater troupe, a pinball machine museum and a roof deck with stunning views of the city. The Harrison Museum provides a rotating selection of exhibits as well as a permanent collection of historical and artistic objects from black history. Notably, a permanent installation discusses the Hinton Life Saving and First Aid Crew, circa 1941, the first African American first responder group in the country. These medical achievements tie in nicely with Roanoke’s current largest employer, Carilion Clinic.

The Harrison focuses on the empowerment of contemporary ethnic communities through history. An exhibit on extraordinary black women in Roanoke features Anita J. Price, vice mayor and wife of Charles Price, who runs the museum. Talk about a power couple. Charles Price recounts a story of a young woman who came in to see an exhibit of hats from the collection of a prominent local. She was moved to tears by the ties to traditional headdress, and the pride that hats represented. “That’s what you hope for,” says Price, “that the exhibit will speak for itself and cause an impact.”

Taubman Museum of Art

Just a five-minute walk from the Harrison is the Taubman Museum of Art. Though controversial for its contemporary design, the museum is the kind of forward-thinking institution that will develop Roanoke into a major city. Director and curator Amy Moorefield emphasizes unique pieces created by emerging artists specifically for the Taubman. The museum just closed a powerful exhibit by Sonya Clark called, “Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark.” With several of Clark’s pieces borrowed from Boston’s own Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibit commented on the cultural significance of hair in the African community and the pushback it receives to this day.

Author: Photos: Celina ColbySculptures from the vibrant African and African American art collections in museums in Roanoke, Virginia.

Currently on view is a beautiful collection of paintings by Romare Bearden. Bearden lived in Harlem right above the Apollo Theater and rubbed elbows with the likes of Langston Hughes and Ella Fitzgerald. Inspired by the thriving Jazz Age, his paintings vibrate with colorful energy. You can see the influence of contemporaries such as Picasso and Chagall in the bold colors and stark shapes. Opening July 29, the museum presents “Jared Soares: Hip Hop Roanoke,” featuring the work of a D.C.-based documentary photographer who took special interest in the development of hip-hop in the Blue Ridge area.

Festivals too abound in this tiny, culture-packed paradise. Local Colors yearly celebrates ethnic diversity with authentic food, music and performances from a number of countries. Whether it comes in the form of a chat with Charles Price, an installation at the Taubman or a vibrant street festival, a visit to Roanoke guarantees a unique, personal connection to the arts.