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In the Studio 

Lora Beldon, founder of the Military Kid Art Project

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Scott Elmquist

Lora Beldon is an artist, educator, playwright, curator, as well as the founder of the Military Kid Art Project, which provides art classes to children whose parents are active or retired military personnel.

Growing up as the daughter of a U.S. Marine, Beldon moved with her family almost annually. It wasn't until she attended Virginia Commonwealth University that she lived for an extended period in one place. So when it came time to find a home for Military Kid Art Project, Richmond was a natural fit.

In 2016, Beldon purchased a 1920s-era, 5,000-square-foot-industrial warehouse on Hull Street in Swansboro, which she gutted and rebuilt as Old Dorset Studios, a mixed-use space that includes four rentable studios, a private 2,000-square-foot studio, a part-time living space, gallery and a classroom. In May 2019, she received her certificate of occupancy from the city.

Style: Why is this your studio? How is it different from your past studios?

Lora Beldon: I have had many studios. Some in my homes, others around town. … One of the best studios before this one was the entire upstairs of Bottoms Up Pizza before it was renovated. It was rough, but romantic. No electricity, no plumbing. I would paint by candlelight and wave to the train conductors as they passed at 2-miles-per-hour, 10 feet from my window.

The funniest studio I had was a closet with a window, upstairs in 1708 Gallery when it was still on Main Street. It was 3-by-3 feet. … The studio I have now is my dream studio. Literally.

What is the most unique or unexpected thing in your studio?

I have a 1970s to 1980s metal lunch box collection I started in college. They were thrift store finds for 30 cents back then. … They are great conversation starters with everyone who sees them. The adults connect with the old pop-culture shows like Bionic Woman and kids will start by asking questions about the imagery and then talk about their favorite shows and lunchboxes like Gumball. Next thing you know we are talking about icons, kitsch, identity … all those art words that go along with the art experience.

So far there is not a single military child that doesn't connect with "Star Wars" imagery. There is a lot of conversation comparing the movie "Star Wars" as the biggest military-family saga ever.

How often are you in the studio?

I have two studios, one at home and the larger one on Hull Street. I'm in the studio every day, all different hours. I also do work on my phone -- a lot. Writing and art. Before computers I carried a small sketchbook with me always. I have been doing that since I was 10. I still have all of them.

What is something in your studio that you can't imagine not having?

Nothing. As a military brat who moved more than 19 times in my formative years, you learn at an early age to just let go and move on. It's how I'm hard-wired. It sounds harsh, I know. It isn't that I don't get sad. I certainly do. The sadness is fleeting though. My civilian friends asked me how I could sell my home to build my dream studio. My answer to them was always: It's a shell, an object. There will be others.

Why make a public studio?

I needed the studio to not only pay for itself but also help pay for military kid programming. My intention from the beginning was always to not only have a place I could make my art but to have it double as an apartment if I felt like working through the night… [To] be multifunctioning as a gallery when I wanted to sponsor shows or a classroom for my summer camps with the military children. I also collaborate with multiple institutions: The Military Family Museum in [Tijeras] New Mexico and Brats Without Borders in [Denver] Colorado. … Our goal is to use the space as a designation for people wanting to study or create projects having to do with military brats or the military family.

For information about the Military Kid Art Project, see: https://www.facebook.com/Military-Kid-Art-Project.

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