A growing presence of creative businesses and arts events in the Elizabeth City area encourages entrepreneurial growth and brings the community together for special events, markets and festivals. Residents' growing schedules also bring in tourists, by boat and car.
Charlotte Underwood of the Elizabeth City Convention & Visitors Bureau explains that the motto “Elizabeth City H.A.S. It” uses the acronym to emphasize the anchors of history, arts and science. The history and science aspects are represented by the city’s excellent museums. The arts side stems from the work of Arts of the Albemarle, the nonprofit arts council that encourages the proliferation of the arts locally.
Arts of the Albemarle is also the name of the organization's space within the Lowry-Chesson Building, a former department store. The first-floor Jacquelin Jenkins gallery showcases and sells artists’ works. The second-story Macguire Theatre is home to the Center Players children’s theater company and the community-based Encore Theatre. And at the top of the building is a dedicated school for the arts, offering a wide variety of classes for all ages.
AOA has been instrumental in developing the First Friday Art Walk, Natalie Peel, event co-founder and AOA committee member, says. Two years in, the Art Walk downtown stretches from Arts of the Albemarle to the historic Shoppes at the Southern Hotel, anchored by Serenity Arts Studio. During Art Walk restaurants stay open longer, local musicians play, and residents can explore and interact at approximately a dozen participating businesses.
Courtney Birdsall owns Serenity, the open community arts studio, offering painting, pottery and jewelry classes to kids and adults, and selling works by local artists. Birdsall also serves as market coordinator for the Downtown Waterfront Market, a combined farmers and crafts market each Saturday morning from May to October, which includes a market kid’s club with farm-related crafts.
Sally Sharber, owner of Spoonful of Sugar bakery, is similar to Birdsall in exemplifying the way these events promote small business growth. After being downsized from her former job, Sharber took her grandmother’s cookie recipe and built a reputation as a baker at the Downtown Waterfront Market. That success led to a brick-and-mortar bakery in the Shoppes at the Southern Hotel, and now she hosts artists herself at Art Walk.
Events and Festivals
A collection of public festivals adds to the positive vibe. The Mariners' Wharf Film Festival invites families to bring chairs and enjoy classic films outdoors in June and July. Music on the Green, in conjunction with the festival, provides a full schedule of local musicians at Mariners' Wharf on Tuesday nights, July through September.
For 12 years, a large and remarkable Juneteenth celebration at Waterfront Park has commemorated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, with celebrity guests like Clifton Davis, a charity golf tournament, and a festival of ethnic foods, games and entertainment – all underlining the area’s diversity.
A few festivals began well beyond recent memory. Now run by Elizabeth City Downtown, the North Carolina Potato Festival dates back to 1940, and features about 100 vendors, live music, boat rides, plenty of activities and good food.
Elizabeth City’s arts community both inspires new businesses and brings out the community for festive events that welcome residents and visitors alike – contributing to robust community spirit and a thriving downtown.
Read more about Elizabeth City's arts and culture scene.