North Carolina

September 25, 2012

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With strong traditions in music, literature, dance, pottery and crafts, North Carolina’s cultural heritage is deeply rooted in the arts—and the state’s economy.

Created in 1964, the North Carolina Arts Council was the first statutory state agency focused on arts and humanities as engines of economic development. Now an agency of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, the council continues to play an integral role in promoting the state’s numerous artistic assets.

“North Carolina’s rich cultural and artistic traditions have long attracted visitors to our state,” says Wayne Martin, the council’s executive director. “Attending shows at our historic theaters, spotlighting musicians from the region and touring museums and galleries are a few ways planners can connect and engage with the creative industry in North Carolina.”

According to a 2010 report from Americans for the Arts, the non-profit arts and culture industry generates some $1.2 billion in direct economic activity in North Carolina, supporting more than 43,600 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $119 million in revenue for local governments and the state.

With over 3,000 local and nonprofit arts organizations around the state, planners can look forward to plenty of support as they plan their group itineraries—and no shortage of memorable venues and experiences, as the following 10 choices reveal.

In the national spotlight recently as host venue for the DNC’s opening night media party, this entertainment district on the edge of Uptown Charlotte is a one-stop shop for planners. Built on the site of a century-old textile mill about two miles from the Charlotte Convention Center, the 37-acre complex features 14 diverse group-ready venues.

Anchored by the Fillmore indoor music hall, with room for 1,500 revelers, and the outdoor Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre, accommodating 5,000 concert-goers, the factory also features upscale dining at Bask on Seaboard and comfort food at Mattie’s, a refurbished New Jersey diner from 1948. VBGB (Very Big German Beer) is a contemporary version of a traditional German beer garden, while the 900-square-foot Small Bar features a 1,500-square-foot outdoor patio. Plus, there is a comedy club and Gotham-style cocktail lounge, and several nearby hotels offer free shuttle service and special N.C. Music Factory rates.

With origins dating back to 1924, this local treasure was America’s first state-funded museum and is today among the most distinguished cultural institutions in the South. Adding to its allure is its location within the nation’s largest art park. Encompassing 164 acres of fields, woodlands and creeks, Museum Park features more than a dozen monumental works of art along with hiking trails and the outdoor Museum Park Theater.

From an initial acquisition in 1947 of 139 works of European and American art, the museum’s holdings have grown to encompass works ranging from Egyptian sarcophagi to the largest collection of Rodin sculptures in the southeastern U.S.

Opened in 2010, the 127,000-square-foot, glass-clad West Building is bathed in natural light and eco-friendly throughout. Admission is free except for special exhibitions and programs, and tours are available for groups of 10 or more.

Since opening in 2008, this award-winning venue has drawn one standing ovation after another for its run of Broadway shows, concerts and other events. Billed as “the largest and most modern performing arts center between Atlanta and Philadelphia,” the center has quickly become a cultural landmark for popular entertainment in the Triangle area and beyond.

Available for group bookings, the centerpiece of the full-service venue is the three-tiered, 2,700-seat Performance Hall. Featuring vibrant red carpeting and warm wood accents, the room achieves a unique intimacy despite its size, with the farthest seat only 135 feet from the center stage.

Planners can also rent the three-story glass-walled atrium, offering some 15,000 square feet of space for up to 1,000 guests, and the 6,000-square-foot Mildred and Dillard Teer Stage, accommodating gatherings for up to 500 guests.PageBreak

Boasting a local company of more than 50 performers in the Triangle region, DSI entertains audiences with its energetic and devoted take on improvisational and comedy theater. Located close to Chapel Hill, the company is home of DSI Communication, a corporate training, leadership development and team-building organization, and DSI Comedy School, which offers classes in the art of improvisation, stand-up and sketch comedy.

Executives, teachers and other groups learn key improvisation techniques to think on their feet, create new ideas effortlessly, actively listen to others, and work productively inside team environments.

Considered the finest theater between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta when it opened on Halloween night in 1927, this former vaudeville palace quickly earned billing as “The Showplace of the Carolinas.” Originally boasting 2,200 seats, the venue was a hub of Greensboro nightlife until its decline starting in the 1960s.

Saved from the wrecking ball by a community group, the theater shines on today as a 1,075-seat performing arts facility, hosting a full schedule of concerts, comedy, community theater, dance and other events. Also available for group rental, it is among Greensboro’s most enchanting spaces.

“Hosting dozens of private events, including meetings, corporate functions, weddings and church gatherings each year, the Carolina is as timeless as she is beautiful, providing the perfect mix of historic and state-of-the-art features,” says Meagan Kopp, director of marketing and public relations for the theater. “At 85 years old, the atmosphere and ambience of the Carolina Theatre just can’t be duplicated.”

Located in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem, this beautifully restored silent theater from 1929 now serves as the primary performing arts center for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts as well as the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera Theatre, and several other local and state arts organizations.

“The Stevens Center is within easy walking distance of the Benton Convention Center, the arts district, numerous popular restaurants and clubs, and major downtown hotels,” says Katharine Laidlaw, executive producer at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, which owns the theater.

Also featuring international stars such as Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman, Alison Krauss and Garrison Keillor, the Stevens Center has 1,380 seats on two levels offering superb sightlines and exceptional acoustics.

“In addition to an on-site restaurant, the Stevens Center offers the convenience of a private dining room that can accommodate receptions, dinners, or special events for up to 125 guests,” Laidlaw says. PageBreak

Founded by a group of local actors in 1962, this esteemed institution is celebrating half a century as the region’s premier theater. Featuring a mix of local and regional performers with professional actors and directors, the theater is renowned for staging top-quality musicals, comedies and other productions.

“Our 327-seat main stage venue is perfect for traveling groups,” says Leslie Roraback-Flom, the theater’s marketing director. “We can also accommodate gatherings in a room off the lobby, such as a recent luncheon for a group of Vietnam veterans who came to see our production of Miss Saigon.”

Each May, the theater moves to the amphitheater on the banks of the Cape Fear River at Campbellton Landing.

“We took a bus group from Pennsylvania there last year to see a Patsy Cline production,” Roraback-Flom says. “We offer once-in-a-lifetime theater experiences.”

Founded in 1974 as a volunteer organization to promote local cultural initiatives, the Craven Community Arts Council merged in the 1980s with the New Bern Art Gallery to become the Craven Arts Council & Gallery. Today, the council is headquartered in a former bank building known as the Bank of the Arts, which in addition to serving as gallery space for changing exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography, is available for group rental.

“With its facade of Ionic columns and Corinthian pilasters on the inside, the 1913 Bank of the Arts building provides an enchanting space for groups,” says Carol Tokarski, executive director of the council. “We are an ideal choice for smaller and more intimate gatherings, including receptions and evening functions.”

Located in downtown Wilmington just four blocks from the Cape Fear River, this 1858 treasure has been in almost continuous use since it first opened and is among America’s most significant theaters.

“No visit to Wilmington is complete without experiencing Thalian Hall,” says Tony Rivenback, the center’s executive director. “Completed 154 years ago, the theater is open year-round and hosts a wide variety of musical theater, world-class concerts and the finest in first run art films.”

An enduring symbol of Wilmington’s cultural heritage and a major economic engine, the venue recently underwent an extensive renovation focused on audience comfort and safety, including new seats and a magnificent 1870s-style chandelier that rises before each performance.

The Main Stage and other facilities, including the Studio Theatre and Ballroom, may be rented for a wide variety of performance and group activities.

In this booming city on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, “crafts” means artfully produced beer from a growing number of breweries that have earned Asheville the moniker “Beer City USA.” It all started in 1994, when retired engineer Oscar Wong moved from Charlotte to Asheville and opened his Highland Brewing Company here. Art has also figured prominently in Asheville’s renaissance, including the revitalized River Arts District, which is where the Wedge Brewing Company offers a convivial escape for thirsty groups.

Housed in the lower level of an early 19th century produce and livestock distribution warehouse, Wedge features outdoor seating, food trucks and movie screenings on Saturdays.

“It’s an honor and feels really natural for me to make beer in the River Arts district, right in the middle of the artists’ community,” states Brewmaster Carl Melissas. “I like to think of beer as just another form of art.”


Regular Meetings Focus South contributor Jeff Heilman once put on a memorable show of his own in Asheville.


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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.