NEWS- Prism no more: Arts center takes another name

For a brief musical moment, it seemed the word "Prism" would once again be synonymous with concerts at 214 Rugby Road. But less than a month after a group of local musicians announced they'd named their new organization the Prism Community Arts Center, they're singing a new tune.

"If there was going to be controversy about the name, we didn't need it," says Jim Childress, board chair of what has quickly been rebranded the "214 Community Arts Center."

In the Hook's February 1 cover story, "Prism reborn? New group rises from the ashes," Childress and other board members said the new Prism would differ from the old Prism in that it would focus more on music education and outreach. And, at a place once riven by charges of cronyism, Childress described his hope that it would be "a place that really is a community organization where people feel included and have a voice."

But others claimed using the name "Prism" for the new organization was unfair.

"With anything new, you need to start new," said Jay Pun, a guitarist who attended many shows and performed once at the old Prism Coffeehouse. Pun considers himself friends with members of the old and new Prisms, but keeping the Prism name on the venue, he said, "leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth."

There was also a legal question.

Attorney Steve Rosenfeld defended the use of the name, comparing the word Prism to the word "cola"– a generic term that no one can lay claim to. But other attorneys questioned the wisdom, especially since the old Prism still exists, if in name only. And its holders don't seem inclined to let it go.

"Abandonment doesn't happen right away," said intellectual property expert Sheldon Parker. While the new Prism successfully registered the name with the State Corporation Commission, Parker said the old Prism could still file a complaint.

"It would be a matter for the courts," said Parker, "which is not where anyone wants to go."

Indeed, Childress said, one of the best things about the new Prism– a joint effort by several local music organizations including Acoustic Muse, Blue Ridge Irish Music School, and Charlottesville Friends of Old Time Music– was the fact that the board members were working together productively, a change from the last several years the Prism Coffeehouse occupied 214 Rugby Road.

The Hook's April 1, 2004 cover story, "Prism Schism," described some tensions that existed during the old Prism's final few years, as numerous board members and volunteers came forward to denounce the way the nonprofit was being run by allegedly hot-tempered artistic director Fred Boyce, who for 15 years had booked the Prism's shows and, with his partner, Kenyon Hunter, handled its finances.

In January 2006, the board members of the old Prism confirmed they had a contract on the former O'Dell's restaurant building in downtown Gordonsville and planned to move the operation, but by March that deal had fallen through, and they could not renew their lease with their Rugby Road landlord, Westminster Presbyterian Church. They packed up the Prism Coffeehouse artifacts and moved out.

Prism Coffeehouse board chair Joe Ayers said in January that the board has continued to meet monthly and has formulated plans to begin sponsoring performances again in the near future, though the details of those shows had not been determined. At press time, Ayers had not returned the Hook's call for comment.

Over at 214 Community Arts Center, Childress says response has been strong. A kick-off benefit on Saturday, February 24 that featured old-time string bands Uncle Henry's Favorites and Naked Creek raised $3,000. Other upcoming events, all listed on the website,, include several Irish dance classes and parties as well as old-time musical jam sessions. On March 20, 214 presents Irish Set Dancing with Timmy "The Brit" McCarthy. 

The new moniker also seems to have quelled any controversy.

"The name 214 is a much more appropriate change," says Pun. "I think it brings them a fresh start as well as preserves what the Prism Coffeehouse was, is, and hopefully will be."