Attracting the Creative Class to Kinston, NC

City offers a full-fledged arts and cultural district downtown.

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Paintings at the Overland Gallery in Kinston, North Carolina, Lenoir County.
Michael Conti

Attracting artists and creative types to Kinston has been on the city’s agenda for some time. What began years ago with a few projects has now blossomed into a full-fledged arts and cultural district downtown that includes restaurants, music venues, art galleries and public art installations, as well as a housing development designated for artists and artisans.

The initiative coincides with social scientist Richard Florida’s theory that cities focused on arts and culture thrive. It’s an idea that likewise drives Kinston entrepreneur Stephen Hill, who is behind Mother Earth Brewing, The Red Room music club, the artist housing development he’s calling the Old Neighborhood and other creative ventures around town.

A Neighborhood for Artists

Hill also travels extensively as an appointee to the North Carolina Arts Council. “I’ve seen what arts have done for communities in changing their economic future, that they can be a catalyst for growth of a community,” Hill says. “So over time I’ve thought, why can’t we do this in our own town?”

Hill acquired 25 of 70 homes in the downtown neighborhood that adjoins the Arts Center, Mother Earth Brewing and a burgeoning restaurant row. The homes had become dilapidated over the years, and while Hill says not all 70 will be able to be saved, historically accurate restoration and remodeling have been completed on the first 10. All are occupied – and there’s a waiting list.

“They’re full of brewers, musicians, glass blowers, a welder and bakers – workers who are affiliated with either the Chef & the Farmer, Ginger 108, The Boiler Room, musicians from the Red Room, or Mother Earth Brewing,” Hill says. “These few brave pioneers are helping the whole cause.”

Eventually, the entire Old Neighborhood will be a place where artists and artisans can live affordably while creating, showing and selling their wares from their homes.

Arts Programs and Galleries

Meanwhile, the Community Council for the Arts runs a steady roster of exhibitions, art classes and workshops, educational outreach, grant assistance, gallery space, and permanent exhibits at the Arts Center, located downtown on Queen Street. The CCA is also responsible for the numerous public art projects that comprise the largest public art collection east of Raleigh.  

A new addition to the arts and cultural district, the Overland Gallery opened recently in a historic building on the corner of Herritage and East Blount streets. The venue offers studio space as well as gallery viewing and sales.

A Music Trail and a Music Venue

And while visual art abounds, the city also boasts a musical heritage full of talent. Kinston is the primary hub of the African American Music Trail. And local bands take the stage every weekend at The Red Room, a downtown bar and music venue that opened in 2012.

“A lot of the talent that we have is local. We sell craft beer from Mother Earth and different breweries all over the country. We try to sell as many craft spirits from North Carolina distillers as we can. We make our own soft drinks,” Hill says. “So it’s like a craft place with music.”

Read more about Kinston's thriving arts scene.

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Wed, 02/28/2018 - 21:22