Sheila Gulley Pleasants, the Director of Artists Services at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), has announced her retirement, marking the culmination of a remarkable 35-year journey dedicated to nurturing and empowering artists within the VCCA community.
Pleasants joined VCCA in 1989 when she and her husband Craig Pleasants moved to Amherst, Va., from New York to serve as residential staff. The couple lived on site at Mt. San Angelo for 17 years, arriving with two daughters and later welcoming a third to their apartment in VCCA’s Studio Barn complex. Over the course of her decades-long tenure, Pleasants has worked with five executive directors and served as an interim executive director herself. She’s been a constant presence at VCCA, helping to welcome and foster the creative practices of thousands of writers, visual artists, and composers who have come to Mt. San Angelo seeking the support of uninterrupted time and space.
Longtime VCCA staff member Dana Jones will be promoted to the role of Director of Artist Services, effective July 1, 2024. “Sheila’s deep well of institutional knowledge and her profound commitment to artists mean so much to this organization,” says Executive Director Kevin O’Halloran. “All of us at VCCA love Sheila, and we wish she could stay here forever; but at the same time we’re excited for her to begin a new chapter. Fortunately, Dana and Sheila have worked side-by-side for decades. There’s no one better suited to step into this position.”
Pleasants has borne witness to and played an integral role in many evolutions in VCCA’s artist residency program. When the Pleasantses arrived, there was one pay phone for 22 Fellows and often a line of people to use it. Sheila saw the advent of the internet and helped VCCA transition from sending physical application materials to panelists by mail to using an online application and reviewing platform. “It makes me shudder now to think of all those slides, paper manuscripts, and CDs!” says Pleasants.
Major milestones in Pleasants’ VCCA career include the 2004 gift of le Moulin à Nef in Auvillar, France, to VCCA from the Donnell-Kay Foundation. A Francophile with multiple degrees in French, Pleasants was well-suited to help VCCA establish an artist residency program in France. She first visited Auvillar in the fall of 2003. In the fall of 2023, the mayor of Auvillar, Olivier Renaud, presented Pleasants with the Médaille d’Auvillar in honor of her 20 years of working on the partnership between VCCA and the Village of Auvillar.
Pictured left to right: Cheryl Fortier, Kevin O’Halloran, Steve Slaughter, Olivier Renaud, Sheila Gulley Pleasants
The VCCA Board of Directors has announced the creation of an endowed fellowship in honor of Pleasants. The fellowship fund will support VCCA Fellows attending its artist residency program in Auvillar, France. “Sheila’s warm personality and fluency in French made her the perfect ambassador for VCCA to build the program in partnership with the local community,” says Board President Steve Slaughter. “It’s only fitting that more writers, visual artists, and composers get the opportunity to be a part of that community in Sheila’s honor.”
In her last few years at VCCA, Pleasants has been thrilled to see the purchase of the Mt. San Angelo property in 2020 and the ensuing capital improvements, as well as the creation of VCCA’s 50th Anniversary Fellowships which are making VCCA a much more diverse place.
Reflecting on her tenure, Pleasants shared, “It is hard to leave such a wonderful organization and such great colleagues, but I am happy to step away with VCCA strong and its future bright. I am so grateful to Kevin for his amazing work in securing that future.”
To celebrate Pleasants’ contributions and legacy, the VCCA will host a dance party on Saturday, May 11, 2024, in its recently renovated Hay Barn. The event will bring together local community members and VCCA Fellows to honor Pleasants’ remarkable tenure and celebrate the vibrant artistic community she helped cultivate.
For those wishing to contribute to the endowed fellowship established in honor of Sheila Gulley Pleasants, donations can be made online at vcca.com/sheila-gulley-pleasants-fellowship.