Case Studies in North Carolina
In North Carolina, we are fortunate to have many excellent examples of communities that use their arts and cultural assets to revitalize neighborhoods and downtowns, instill a strong sense of place and pride in residents, attract creative workers and cultural travelers, and create sustainable economic development. These efforts are described below. These examples represent diverse approaches in both urban and rural areas. However, they all share some common features:
• Artists and initiators with vision and drive
• Distinctiveness of place
• Private sector participation
• Partnerships with government agencies and non-profits
• Intrinsic cultural activity
• Community collaboration
African American Music Trails projects: Kinston
African American music traditions constitute some of North Carolina’s richest cultural assets. Our state was home to some legendary figures of jazz and blues, including John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, and Elizabeth Cotton. Today, artists like Shirley Caesar, Luther Barnes and Maceo Parker represent North Carolina to the world through their internationally acclaimed music.
American Tobacco Campus: Durham
A pioneering reimagining of the cultural potential of North Carolina’s many defunct tobacco facilities, the American Tobacco Campus has helped to revitalize downtown Durham. Once the biggest tobacco company in the world, helmed by the Duke family, American has been rehabilitated into a cultural and business complex that has transformed the city. Capitol Broadcasting’s Real Estate division, led by Jim and Michael Goodmon, were prescient in envisioning the possibilities of this vast space to attract business investment, catalyze local economic growth, and brand the industrial history of their city.
Creative Corridors Coalition: Winston-Salem
The Creative Corridors Coalition (CCC) is pursuing an ambitious initiative engaging citizens, designers and artists to influence the N.C. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) planned major roadway infrastructure projects in downtown Winston-Salem, most prominent of which will be the replacement of eleven overpass bridges along Business 40 through the heart of the city.
Downtown Greenway: Greensboro
The Downtown Greenway is a four-mile urban trail that will encircle and define Greensboro’s downtown and when completed will be the only one of its kind in the state. Construction began in 2009 after eight years of study and planning. Public art is a prominent part of the project and will include four major thematic cornerstone commissions — Motion education/transportation), Tradition (history), Innovation (entrepreneurship/textiles) and Freedom (civil rights). In addition there will be 12 artist-designed benches, a renovated railroad underpass, a planned street art project, and an array of planned smaller-scale projects.
Earl Scruggs Center and Don Gibson Theater: Shelby
Although relatively small in population, Cleveland County has given the world two musical giants. Earl Scruggs, an innovative banjo player from the small community of Boiling Springs, created a distinctive style of picking the banjo that catapulted the instrument from a background to a sophisticated lead instrument. Through his partnership with Bill Monroe and others he created bluegrass music. Don Gibson of Shelby was a songwriter of great talent. A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, he enjoyed a string of hits from 1957 into the early 1970s including “Sweet Dreams”, “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Golden Belt: Durham
Golden Belt, a mixed-use development in a renovated textile mill in downtown Durham, is the largest, all-historic Gold LEED-certified campus in the Southeast. Its seven-acre, 155,000 square foot campus includes artist studios, live/work spaces, boutique retail stores, office space, an art gallery, live music, rental event space, and robust arts and cultural programming.
Marshall High Studio: Marshall
One of only two structures located on the ten-acre Blanhasset Island on the French Broad River in downtown Marshall, Marshall High Studios occupies the former Marshall high school, built in 1925 and nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, more than 3,000 community members signed a petition addressed to Madison County commissioners to save the disused 28,000 square foot structure, which was scheduled for demolition. Ceramicist and developer Rob Pulleyn recognized the potential of the building as an arts facility and began developing a plan for restoration and adaptive reuse. In 2008, Preservation North Carolina awarded Pulleyn the Caraway Award of Merit for his efforts on behalf of Marshall High Studios.
River Arts District: Asheville
Nestled alongside the French Broad River just minutes from downtown Asheville, the River Arts District can boast a nearly twenty-five year old history of artist-initiated development. In the late 1980s artists began renovating vacant riverfront properties to transform them into studios, live/work spaces and a music venue. This homegrown process of artists developing buildings for adaptive reuse accelerated in the 1990s, and in 2004 local stakeholders and artists officially branded the neighborhood the River Arts District. Today the district is notable for the high percentage of artist-owned properties as well as the independent and organic nature of development, which has resulted in a coherent and sustainable community identity and character.
Tryon Street: Charlotte
The highest profile corridor of major cultural institutions in North Carolina, Tryon Street spans a mile of world-class arts facilities and venues in uptown Charlotte. Recognized as a national center for business, banking and sports, the Queen City also features diverse arts and cultural assets that rival those of any city in the South.
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Project: Wilson
Vollis Simpson never calls himself an artist, but the thousands of people who visit his astounding whirligig field in Lucama certainly do. Towering fifty feet or more above ground, and extending nearly as far outwards into space, the more than thirty monumental whirligigs erected on his property demonstrate the power of individual vision coupled with a traditional art form. These compelling assemblages have found their way into international art collections and even into a popular window installation at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store, demonstrating their wide-ranging appeal to younger generations of artists and engineers.