March 20, 2017

Cameron and Parsons foundations partner to fund governor’s school dance studio

The Appomattox Regional Governor’s School’s dance program has operated in small, crowded studios for several years. Its new facility at the I.B. Pittman Building, adjacent to the school’s existing campus, includes a 2,300 square foot studio, a classroom, dressing rooms and other accommodations. The dance students at ARGS prepare for acceptance into highly competitive programs at colleges and universities as well as pre-professional training programs. (Photo Courtesy of Appomattox Regional Governors School)

In response to the long established need for a dance studio to serve Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (ARGS) dance students, two foundations have pledged major funds to help bring the project to fruition. The new studio will be located in the I.B. Pittman Building at 35 Pine St. in Petersburg, adjacent to the campus of the governor’s school. Renovations entail retrofitting a portion of the Pittman Building to meet standards set by the National Association of Schools of Dance.

The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, headquartered in Richmond, approved an $85,000 grant requiring the school to raise matching funds. The Cameron Foundation, based in Petersburg and serving the Tri-Cities area, is committing $87,400 towards the effort. The governor’s school will be able to use a portion of those funds to satisfy the Parsons match and will apply the balance to other expenses associated with the project.

For many years, ARGS has worked around space limitations to offer its dance program. First- and second-year students have been separated from their older peers because the existing studios cannot fit larger numbers of students. Third- and fourth-year students have been traveling up to three times each week to the Richmond Ballet to receive training there. The travel time to transport these students erodes instructional time, and rental of the Richmond Ballet’s studios as well as transportation costs add to the governor’s school’s expenses to maintain its dance program. Dr. James M. Victory, Executive Director of ARGS, noted, “Perhaps equally important, the removal of these students from the larger ARGS community of learners disrupts the types of educational, social and emotional bonds teens should have with their peers and teachers.”

The ARGS is a public school, home to 380 students attending from 14 school districts within a 50-mile radius of Petersburg. Students concentrate in dance, literary arts, music, technology, theater arts, or visual arts, while also completing course requirements in English, mathematics, science, social sciences, world languages and health/physical education. Its dance program prepares students for acceptance into collegiate dance programs or intensive pre-professional training programs. In the current academic year, 54 students from 11 localities are focusing on dance at ARGS.

The school has explored a number of options in recent years before arriving at the decision to create a studio at the Pittman Building. Constructed in 1969, the building has functioned as a vocational school, alternative school and school administration facility for Petersburg City Public Schools.

Under the Petersburg School Board’s agreement with ARGS, the governor’s school will occupy a portion of the Pittman building, renovating it to fit the tailored needs of the dance program. Plans call for creation of one large, 2,300 square foot dance studio for group and class work. The studio will be equipped with barres and mirrors as well as floating floors suitable for dancers. Other improvements include a dance classroom fitted with appropriate furniture and accessories; adequate dressing rooms, storage and office areas; upgraded plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems; and greater access for people with disabilities.

“The Appomattox Regional Governor’s School serves as a unique educational resource for the entire Southside region. This project is conducive to a first-class dance program, which benefits the service area and supports one of The Cameron Foundation’s priorities for arts education,” said Cameron President J. Todd Graham. The Cameron Foundation had been working alongside the ARGS in recent years to assist in finding a solution to the school’s need for better dance program accommodations.

Amy P. Nisenson, Executive Director of the Parsons Foundation, explained the studio’s appeal to Parsons. “In selecting capital projects for possible funding, the Parsons Foundation gives priority to several interest areas, including education and arts and culture,” Nisenson said, noting, “The ARGS dance program serves youth from such a large area across central Virginia, and this matching grant brings Parsons and Cameron together as regional funding partners to support a resource where we share a common interest.”


The Parsons Foundation was founded in 1988 by Mrs. Mary Morton Parsons as a private, non-operating foundation to support the capital needs of charitable organizations. Awards generally are made to groups involved in arts and culture; civic and community needs; education; environment and ecology; historic preservation; as well as social services and welfare. To date, The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation has awarded approximately $73 million to qualified grantees in the metropolitan Richmond area and beyond. To learn more, visit

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