History of the Bower Center for the Arts
Bower Center for the Arts is named for the mother and father of Bedford native, Dr. John Bower, whose generous donation allowed for the purchase of the building in 2005. Dr. Bower’s mother, Minnie, was an avid gardener and his father, Mitchell, was a local businessman, former mayor and tenor in the Bedford Presbyterian Church Choir. The Bower Center has been operating as an arts center since 2006, initially as Bedford Academy for the Arts.
Old St. Johns Episcopal Church, Est. 1844, courtesy of Historical Collections of Virginia
The building itself has a rich and varied history. Though not apparent upon first glance, the Bower Center is actually comprised of two buildings, with the original structure having been built in 1847.
It was originally St John's Episcopal Church, and was remodeled in 1874. In 1924, the Bedford Christian Church purchased the building and remodeled it again removing the long familiar four steeples (representing the four Gospels).
The current performance hall is housed in the old sanctuary and the natural acoustics create a wonderful setting for the performing arts. Since the Bedford Lutheran Church currently rents space from the Bower Center, there are still church services held each Sunday.
The Center initially began as "Bedford Academy for the Arts" and exists “to promote the cultural arts” in the Bedford area. Since 2006 Bower Center for the Arts has worked toward providing a cultural arts center in the heart of the Town of Bedford and continues to build upon that foundation to provide an atmosphere of learning and personal growth through entertainment and education in the Visual and Performing Arts.
1968 Bedford, Va., is the "Worlds Best Little Town"
A video of Bedford in 1968, You'll see a white building coming into view as the videographer drives slowly by...it's the old Bedford Christian Church, the building Dr. John Bower purchased in 2005 that is now Bower Center for the Arts.
Video complimentary of "nutty.archives" on YouTube.
Major renovations to the front of the building were completed in 2016. Renovations included creating a grand lobby/exhibit area, with stairs ascending onto a balcony on the 2nd floor. An elevator has also been added allowing accessibility to the entire building by all. Exhibit space has been created on the Terrace Level, as well as the 1st and 2nd floors of the building.
In addition to having gallery space, our Terrace Level also houses three studio spaces, two pottery classrooms, a general purpose classroom and office space for our dedicated staff. On the 2nd floor is additional exhibit space in the balcony along with the entrance into the Sara Braaten Gallery which also functions as our Performance Hall. Down the hall you'll find a computer lab and office spaces for the Executive Director and the Genealogical Society.
And finally, the 3rd floor of the Center is complete with 5 private studio spaces for several of our resident artists.
Bower Center for the Arts, February 2017, photo courtesy of Peggy Markham