Wilson Arts Center is new downtown ‘anchor’ | The Wilson Times
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Wilson Arts Center is new downtown ‘anchor’

Posted on May 6, 2021

Updated on May 7, 2021

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Visitors discuss the exhibits and browse the gift shop during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Visitors discuss the exhibits and browse the gift shop during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Castonoble Hooks and Sharese Hill look at photographs Thursday during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Castonoble Hooks and Sharese Hill look at photographs Thursday during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening.

Stephanie Pridgen shows Jerry Stancil, who works in sales and marketing for Greenlight Community Broadband, the Leon and Emma Jean Wilson vault door during the Wilson Arts Center's Thursday grand opening.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Stephanie Pridgen shows Jerry Stancil, who works in sales and marketing for Greenlight Community Broadband, the Leon and Emma Jean Wilson vault door during the Wilson Arts Center's Thursday grand opening.

Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz chats with Eyes on Main Street founder Jerome De Perlinghi during Thursday's Wilson Arts Center grand opening.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz chats with Eyes on Main Street founder Jerome De Perlinghi during Thursday's Wilson Arts Center grand opening.

Ryan and Mahalia Witter-Merithew browse items in the Wilson Arts Center gift shop during Thursday's grand opening.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Ryan and Mahalia Witter-Merithew browse items in the Wilson Arts Center gift shop during Thursday's grand opening.

Juan Carlos Duron-Martinez chats with Kimberly Van Dyk during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Juan Carlos Duron-Martinez chats with Kimberly Van Dyk during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Visitors discuss the exhibits and browse the gift shop during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Visitors discuss the exhibits and browse the gift shop during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

Castonoble Hooks and Sharese Hill look at photographs Thursday during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening.

Brie Handgraaf | Times

Castonoble Hooks and Sharese Hill look at photographs Thursday during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening.

Castonoble Hooks and Sharese Hill look at photographs Thursday during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening.
Stephanie Pridgen shows Jerry Stancil, who works in sales and marketing for Greenlight Community Broadband, the Leon and Emma Jean Wilson vault door during the Wilson Arts Center's Thursday grand opening.
Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz chats with Eyes on Main Street founder Jerome De Perlinghi during Thursday's Wilson Arts Center grand opening.
Ryan and Mahalia Witter-Merithew browse items in the Wilson Arts Center gift shop during Thursday's grand opening.
Juan Carlos Duron-Martinez chats with Kimberly Van Dyk during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.
Visitors discuss the exhibits and browse the gift shop during the Wilson Arts Center's grand opening on Thursday.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7821

Photography is the focus for the first exhibits at the picture-perfect Wilson Arts Center now open in historic downtown Wilson.

“I think the center is only going to bolster downtown development. We’ve already seen the arts scene grow with the addition of several downtown galleries and arts studios even through the pandemic,” said Wilson Arts Executive Director Cathy Hardison. “The Whirligig Park is a huge anchor, but now we’re another anchor downtown that will help people explore the area and find out more about the arts.”

Thursday’s grand opening celebration came after roughly three years of behind-the-scenes work to create a new home for the organization that would be flexible enough to showcase art exhibitions and offer performing arts rehearsal space and classrooms for generations to come. In late 2018, Wilson Arts announced plans to renovate the former Roses store at 204 Nash St. with the help of $500,000 from Truist, formerly BB&T, as well as $800,000 from the city of Wilson and other donors.

“Making the decision to renovate a different building was extremely difficult because there was so much history and memories and sentiment tied to the former space,” Hardison said of the former location at 124 Nash St. SW.

A tribute to the old building, which was the original BB&T headquarters, almost immediately captures the attention of all who enter the new building with a life-size print of the bank safe on a set of double doors.

“We spent 30 of our 54-year history in that building,” Hardison said. “I think so far, the feedback has been that folks like that nod to our heritage.”

A legacy wall also is planned near a conference room to show the organization’s timeline. Hardison said the $2.1 million renovation was executed without incurring debt, but donations are being collected to enhance the functionality of the phase one construction and start the second-phase capital fund.

Roughly 13,000 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot building is complete. Hardison said she hopes the remaining space will be built out for a maker space, artist studios, a wood shop to build play sets and space to hold classes requiring additional equipment such as pottery wheels.

“Everybody that peeks back there just says, ‘Wow,’” she said. “I think they get excited when they see all the opportunity it holds. There is a lot of opportunity here, and we’re really excited about what we already have, but there is so much opportunity for the future, too.”

All visitors are required to wear masks and abide by social distancing and occupancy guidelines. Hours for the center and newly expanded gift shop are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. There is no admission charge to visit. The facility is available for private rentals such as wedding receptions and conferences.

“We did not design this space with COVID in mind, but it feels like it in retrospect with the open space and overhead door,” Hardison said. “The studios are various sizes, so we’re confident all folks can find a space that fits their function.”

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