Statesville's Arts Community at Iredell Museum

Laura Hill
On Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 08:02

Karen Parker, a painter for nearly 30 years, sees the arts not just as a diversion some people enjoy in their leisure time. For her, they’re the lifeblood of a community that seeks to grow.

“If any city wants to draw new people into the area, they have to have the arts,” says Parker, who was born and raised in Statesville, where she now lives with her sculptor husband, Walter McGervey. “It’s the basis of life. You can move anywhere for a job, but if there’s a cultural base there, that’s where people want to be.”

In the past few years an influx of arts-hungry people, coupled with the community’s “amazing” concentration of artists, Parker says, has helped cultivate a burgeoning arts scene in Statesville.

“We have a lot of potential, but we just have to make sure it gets realized,” she says.

Parker is part of a group planning an artist-run cooperative gallery to highlight the work of local and regional artists and craftsmen. She’s encouraged by the success of Statesville’s recent downtown Art Crawl, where hundreds of people browsed arts exhibits in down­town shops, met artists and socialized.

The events were sponsored by the Downtown Statesville Development Corp, Iredell Museums Inc., the Iredell Arts Council and the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce. The reopening of the newly renovated Mac Gray Auditorium has also spurred excitement about the arts.

Newly Renovated

The $3 million renovation of the venerable building included new light and sound systems, revamped stage and storage areas, seating, ticket and concession stands and restoration of wood paneling and architectural details. The auditorium is available for bookings by performance groups, from dance troupes to music groups and theater companies. And it is home field for the county’s new visual and performing arts magnet school.

In the city’s 2006 Statesville Vision statement, support for the arts is listed as an ongoing priority, with the Mac Gray Auditorium and the Mayor’s Entertainment Series cited as important steps in the process. Between 400 and 500 people turn out for the Entertainment Series, a varied, year-round program of concerts, says Statesville Parks and Recreation Department program director Betty Millsaps.

“The community has responded very well, and we feel we will meet the city’s vision of expanding music, dance and theater programs,” Millsaps says.

The busy local arts calendar also includes ongoing and changing exhibits at the Iredell Museums, concerts and art events at Mitchell Community College, concerts by the Lake Norman Orchestra and the Old Time Fiddler’s and Blue­grass Festival, which brings more than 5,000 music fans to Union Grove each Memorial Day weekend.

Smaller Scale Events

On a smaller scale, the Iredell Arts Council sponsors several intimate concerts a year in its 55-seat venue at its headquarters in the Old Jail, just part of its broader role of distributing state funds to local arts groups.

“We’re blessed to have as many arts venues as we do,” says Dusty Rhodes, arts council executive director.

“We are only bound by our imagination, our enthusiasm and our time. These things have to be developed, and we’re working hard on it.”

Among the arts council’s ideas: a series of large murals painted on the walls of downtown buildings and a resurrection of Statesville’s once-popular Little Theatre group, which became defunct in the ‘90s for lack of a venue.

“We need to reorganize that group, find it a home and let it run,” Rhodes says. “The arts are like the glue that holds a community together. If you don’t have culture, you just have bedrooms,” he says. “It’s the salt and pepper of life.”

Learn about more festivities in Statesville, NC.


Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996.