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WILLIAMSON — A new organization aiming to enrich the lives of coalfield residents through both health and art held their first event — a photo exhibit for local photographers — in Williamson on Saturday, June 5.

According to Jim Pajarillo, director of The HeART of West Virginia, the group “is an initiative to incorporate both health and art into providing events for younger people as well as those of all ages.”

“We want to have health in all aspects, in physical and mental health and arts, and we’re trying to provide a foundation for things for people to do in the area,” Pajarillo said.

Downtown Yoga in Williamson played host to the Saturday’s event, a pop-up photo gallery.

“We wanted to have something specific for photographers,” Pajarillo explained. “During the year of COVID, they missed out on arts festivals and shows, so we wanted to invite local photographers to come out and have a gallery and set up vendor tables.”

Participating photographers included Randall Sanger (represented by his wife, Melissa) and Wes Wilson Photography, both of Williamson; Dylan Vidovich Photography from Chapmanville; Vicky Evans, who is an instructor at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College; Eldritch Lens Photography with Lindsey Lambert; and Taryn Conn and Nancy Peyton, both from Logan.

Wilson, who also serves as the director of the Tug Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “It was an awesome evening for local artists to get to feature their work and showcase themselves and get to network with fellow photographers.

“It was a perfect time to do this, we’re getting into a post-COVID world,” Wilson said. “It’s an outlet for people to realize they have many things they love and enjoy, and this is a way for them to showcase that work and let other people see it.”

Heather Wolford, owner of Downtown Yoga, described the venue as a safe space for all. Her studio is located at 201 East 2nd Ave. in Williamson, and has been open since Dec. 1, 2020.

“We are very open-minded and we love to host events here, and bring in arts and health together,” Wolford said.

Jim Pajarillo said he hopes the HeART of West Virginia will involve people from the whole region. The group has plans for two more events for this summer, both of which will be held at Downtown Yoga.

July’s event will be the Art of Recovery, focused on people who are in rehab or recovery coaches. August’s event will be mixed media, meaning all media types will be welcome.

“We hope that people — especially people who complain that there is nothing to do — will come out to these events, because they really are different and the people who come out to these events do have a good time,” Pajarillo said. “It’s a good time to get involved in the community, and meet other people in the community, especially creative minds. It’s a place where creative minds get to collaborate.”

The HeART of West Virginia was founded in November 2020, with the support of a grant from AppalCore.

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