By Pamela F. Murphy
Special to the News & Record, August 7, 2003
Mention the name Chris Jones in Halifax County, and some people will immediately think "theatre." Others will think of piano or voice lessons. Some will picture the organist/pianist and choir director at First Presbyterian Church in South Boston. Still others will think of "Bloomers," a creative florist business in the southern part of the county. And, of course, many will think of The Prizery.
Christopher D. Jones is an energetic, multi-talented person whose life encompasses all of these aspects and more.
A Halifax County native raised on a farm, Jones became interested in music at an early age. He recalls going with his father to milk the cow and feed the chickens early in the morning. His boyhood friend, the late Kenneth Cranford, introduced him to some varieties of music one did not normally encounter on the farm, including Cole Porter, Gershwin and British choral music. This started a lifelong interest in the arts.
In the early 1970s, Jones studied theatre at East Carolina University. He left the university to become an apprentice at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. After completing his apprenticeship, he was hired by the theatre to tour the high schools throughout the state of Georgia with plays by Shakespeare and others. The following year, he worked with the College of Puppetry Arts. In the late 1970s, he enrolled at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, where he studied piano performance.
For 17 years, he worked in sales promotion for Belk/Leggett. This job required him to travel extensively, with one of his responsibilities being to buy props and visual enhancement for 33 stores. He attended visual merchandising shows in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and the High Point Furniture Market. Throughout his employment with Belk/Leggett, he remained involved in music by teaching voice and piano. Upon returning to the local area several years ago, he became involved in Little Theatre, and often directs musical plays.
When Belk moved its corporate headquarters to Richmond, Jones decided to stay home in Halifax County. With a partner, he started a business called "Bloomers" and became a florist. This also allowed him to devote more time to local arts organizations, such as the Community Arts Center Foundation (CACF).
Jennifer Mackintosh and Kenneth Cranford got him involved in CACF, which had the wild idea of turning an old warehouse into a community arts center. In 1996, John Cannon and Eva Harris donated the building known as "The Prizery" to CACF, and scores of volunteers went into action cleaning and preparing the building for its first event. In 1997, CACF and the Parsons Bruce Art Association sponsored a gala art show entitled "The Prizery Turns a New Leaf: An Art Exhibit." The elegant opening featured continuous live piano music by Cranford and Jones, played on a baby grand piano owned by Jones.
Over the next few years, Jones continued to serve on the CACF board, becoming President as well as Chair of the Architecture Committee. In the latter capacity, he worked closely with The Prizery's architects, Hanbury Evans Vlattas Wright & Company, on the design for the renovation. The resulting structure will serve many needs of the community.
Earlier this year, he became the Executive Director of The Prizery. In addition to his artistic talents, he will use his administrative ability to guide The Prizery through the renovation process, including the necessary fund raising activities. The Visitor Center is already open, and some events have taken place in the finished part of the building.
Increased cooperation with the public schools is planned, and in fact has already begun. A summer theatre program was recently completed, and there are plans for a fall after school program featuring music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts in cooperation with local schools and the Mentor/Role Model program. Jones hopes to some day have a string instrumental program, which is not currently available in the school system, and a performing dance company housed in The Prizery.
Jones said he first realized what could be done with a community arts center when he directed a show at the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center in the early 1990s. "I have always been interested in how the different arts pieces could work together," he said. "This is what is happening in The Prizery."
As well as an arts center, The Prizery will serve as community meeting space. The Chamber of Commerce, the Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited are some of the organizations which have used the space for meetings. The versatility and universality of the project is evident from the diversity of The Prizery's registered user groups - Halifax County Little Theatre, Parsons Bruce Art Association, Halifax Woman's Club, South Boston-Halifax County Junior Women's Club, and the Halifax County Historical Society.
"Regarding The Prizery," Jones said, "I firmly believe that this piece, connected with Berry Hill and Riverstone Technology Park by walking and biking trails, represents an important part of the new economic development for our community."