By Samantha Mundt
The Jaffe Arts Center, now closed, was previously located at 737B Granby St. Norfolk, VA. The JAC (pronounced “Jack”) was operational between 2000 and 2007, and was created as a space for emerging artists and students in the area to show their work. JAC was founded by owners Darlene Stoll and Ces Ochoa.
Darlene and Ces met at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk and began dating in 1999 and later married in Toronto in 2005. At the time of their marriage, only Massachusetts had legalized same-sex marriage, and only for residents of the state, so the couple had to go to Canada for their ceremony (Stephanie Adams, December 2015).
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Darlene and Ces were part of a queer club in Rhode Island where they would travel to colleges, visit city hall, and participate in sit-ins. As part of their protest in Rhode Island, they did all of their shopping in Massachusetts and saved their receipts to show to their state representative in order to emphasize how much revenue Rhode Island was losing because it wasn’t a free state (as Massachusetts was). Darlene and Ces’s activism helped Rhode Island become one of the first “free states,” or a state that made it illegal for police and courts to target gay couples through sodomy laws.
At the time of JAC’s operation, both Stoll and Ochoa taught at the Governor’s School, and Stoll also taught art history at ODU. The JAC was named after “Alice Jaffe, a deceased benefactor of the local arts who funded a scholarship that had enabled Stoll to study art” (Horowitz). JAC was home to As I Am, an annual Women’s Show that explored “feminist themes of self-identity” (“As I Am” pamphlet*), as well as Superstar: Female Gender Outlaw that, according to a pamphlet for the event, exhibited “feminist art which exposes gender as a rigid social construct and challenges concepts of femininity” (“Superstar” pamphlet*). Over the years, the JAC held fundraisers that benefitted groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and local high school art shows. JAC also held drawing groups and poetry nights on occasion. While Jaffe was active, Stoll and Ochoa lived together in the back of the gallery. They also served on the Hampton Roads Pride Board and helped sponsor a Pride event.
JAC closed in 2007 because Stoll and Ochoa simply didn’t have enough time to commit to running JAC, between “their professional work at the Governor’s School as well as their own artistic endeavors” (Serrano).
While the Jaffe Arts Center was not specifically geared towards the LGBTQ community, Stoll and Ochoa created an inclusive space for emerging artists, teen and adult, and shows included both local and national artists. Thus, JAC was important to local queer history as well as local art history.
Stoll, Darlene & Ochoa, Ces. Interview by Stephanie Adams. Archive Storycorps, 8 Dec. 2015, https://archive.storycorps.org/interviews/darlene-and-ces/.
Serrano, Hannah. “The End of an Era: After a long haul, the Jaffe Arts Center closes.” Port Folio Weekly, 16 Oct. 2007.
Horowitz, Mike. “Taking teen art seriously.” The Virginian-Pilot, 23 Jan. 2004.
*All pamphlets were provided by Darlene Stoll as part of her personal collection of memorabilia from the JAC.