NEWS- Folk to fellowship: Church finds new calling for Prism site

Music won't be the focus at 214 Rugby Road starting June 1.

June 1, 2008 will go down in history as the day the music died... at least at 214 Rugby Road. Forty-two years after the Prism Coffeehouse opened in the white house at the corner of Gordon Avenue and Rugby Road, and one year after a group called 214 Community Arts Center picked up the baton, the owner of the building– Westminster Presbyterian Church– has revealed other plans for the space: student fellowship.

"One of the main missions of the church is the university mission, serving students and faculty," says Westminster's church administrator, Sandy Wilcox. While UVA students have long had a small room to use in the church's office, reclaiming the building, Wilcox says, will create a "visible, approachable" place for those students to hold activities including dinners and discussions. 

Good news for Presbyterian students and faculty, however, is sad news for the musicians who've been using the space.

"We've enjoyed the time we've had over there," says Mike Cvetanovich of Acoustic Muse, one of the groups sharing 214 Rugby since the Prism Coffeehouse vacated the building in 2006 following several years of controversy that included fiery phone calls and allegations of unpaid rent. 

Other groups currently using the space are the Blue Ridge Irish Music School, Friends of Old Time Music, the Classical Guitar Society, and, of course, the 214 Community Arts Center, a nonprofit that sponsors traditional music performances, lessons, and community events.

In Acoustic Muse's last concert there, guitar master Pierre Bensusan will perform March 8. It's especially poignant for Cvetanovich, who says he's never missed a Bensusan performance in the space. "I'm going to miss that room," he adds.

The decision to evict musicians, Wilcox says, was tough for the church, which subsidized rent for both the Prism and then for the Community Arts Center. But Cvetanovich says there are no hard feelings, and that the church gave them plenty of notice.

"They want to do something else, and it's their building– it's completely understandable," he says, citing the Church's charging rent "way below market value" for many years.

Indeed, in 2003, Prism volunteers estimated their monthly costs for rent, utilities, and maintenance at under $600 a month for the 4,500-foot space. A typical Charlottesville market rent for so much space might have been reached as high as $5,000 a month.

With just over three months left on the lease, the hunt is on for a new home. Westminster's Wilcox says the Church is offering its support in the search, and Cvetanovich says all the organizations that have shared 214 Rugby this past year hope to continue the collaboration in a new location.

214 Community Arts Center Board Chair Jim Childress agrees. He says the 214 schedule is full through the end of May with performances and music and dance lessons, and he hopes to have a new space locked in by summer.

Another organization with ties to 214 Rugby Road is also hoping to have things swinging when warmer weather hits: the Prism.

Now located in rural Patrick County, which abuts the North Carolina line, the Prism hasn't sponsored any shows locally in two years, but it shouldn't be counted out, says Prism board chair Joe Ayers.

"I'm very excited about the future for us," Ayers says. The board– currently consisting of five members, including Prism artistic director Fred Boyce and his partner, Kenyon Hunter– is expanding, says Ayers, who expects to have announcements about several Prism projects in the next month. Top priorities, he says, are making archival recordings of 40 years of shows available to the public and bringing national music acts to venues around the area. 

Although Boyce and Hunter moved to Patrick County in 2006, Ayers speaks regularly with them and says he's hoping the Prism board will be able to bring concerts to Charlottesville, or at least close by.

He says even if 214 Rugby Road never hosts another concert, the memories will live on.

"That building has a mystique," says Ayers. "It always will."