Torggler Center: Building on a Fine Arts Legacy

by | Oct 8, 2021

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Photo by Barrett Baker

The Peninsula Fine Arts Center (PFAC) closed its doors at the end of 2020 after 58 years of service to the local arts community and patrons. The new Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center on the grounds of Christopher Newport University’s campus, not far from PFAC’s former location, will carry on at least part of its legacy after acquiring PFAC’s assets through a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013.

“The Torggler is not the same as PFAC, but we are the caretaker of what PFAC started in the community,” says Holly Koons, Executive Director of the Torggler Fine Arts Center. “The kinds of programs that were beloved by the community that PFAC offered—summer camps, classes, certain kinds of specialized programs for different audiences—those are the programs that we will continue here, and we will expand upon them. But we are different from PFAC in that we are offering our exhibitions for free. PFAC left an incredible legacy in this community that we will strive to live up to, but we will also exceed in the sense that we have the opportunity to grow that legacy.”

Img 0004The 83,000-square-foot Torggler Center has an expansive front entryway highlighted by three immense, cascading glass domes that symbolize the sails of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the three ships commanded by Christopher Newport, the captain who brought early settlers to establish Jamestown. The three-story building will house a main gallery for major exhibitions, studio classrooms for academic and public art classes, workshops, and camps, several different exhibit spaces that will be used for smaller exhibits, and an interactive gallery for children will be added in 2022.

The Torggler Center will open to the general public in October. One space will be dedicated to the works of CNU art department alumni, a “micro space” will be used by an adjunct faculty member, and another space that was originally slated to be a gift shop will now be open for local artists and partners. Although Koons was tight-lipped about what people will see at the opening as of press time, she did provide some clues as to how spectacular the show will be. “The inaugural show is going to present a group of international artists who explore nature through the lens of technology and design,” she says.

“They have created works that are truly magical and wonderous, and some are also experiential so that you’re surrounded by them. Others are responsive so you as a viewer are interacting with a work of art, and they are all united by the theme of light. It’s very progressive, very contemporary work, but it’s also based in concepts that are universal to all of us—nature and light. These are artists who have taken these basic concepts and used technology to create these amazing, immersive works that help you to see things a little differently.”

According to Koons, new exhibitions will rotate seasonally, every three months, but the inaugural show will be around for six months. “We’ve invested a lot in the show, and we want to make sure everyone has time to see it.” All exhibits at the Torggler Center will be free and open to the public. Funding for shows will come from the classes, workshops, and camps they will offer to children and adults, but the majority of financial support will come from individual and corporate contributions. Interested parties can add their support by becoming a patron, benefactor, or sponsor of exhibitions or educational programs.

“This is a center of learning and education,” Koons says. “It’s a place that can serve as a creative outlet, where you can exchange dialog, where the community can come together. There will be something for everybody here. Our programs will be very thought provoking and we’ll have programs around the shows that will allow people to gather and talk about interesting ideas. Children and adults will be able to learn about art by taking our classes and attending interactive programs. Our aim is to unite the community around shared experiences.”

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In the original version of this article, which appeared in the Sept.-Oct. print issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine, the relationship between the closing of Peninsula Fine Arts Center in 2020 and the recent opening of Torggler nearby was mischaracterized as “coincidental.” While one organization did not directly replace the other, CNU did acquire PFAC’s assets through a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013. The online version above has been edited to reflect this clarification.

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