It’s been four years since Arts of the Albemarle’s Center first opened its doors. It was an event worth celebrating when the old Lowery-Chesson building was transformed into the region’s premier arts center and so it’s worth celebrating four years come Saturday.
Saturday The Center will open up to celebrate its anniversary in style. For fans of good music, it’s as good an excuse as any to enjoy one of North Carolina’s hottest bluegrass groups, Nu-Blu, and our own local rhythm and blues makers, Go Figure.
The fete kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 per person.
The celebration isn’t exactly a major milestone, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed and AOA has packed a whole lot of arts into downtown over that time, says executive director Rhonda Twiddy.
“It creates such an energy downtown,” says Twiddy.
Many folks have commented that AOA does provide an anchor for the activities downtown. It’s a centerpiece visually, and does stir up activity.
“I think there is enough of an audience for artsy kinds of things,” says Twiddy. “We are an arts district.”
Arts of the Albemarle has acted like a magnet over the past four years. It was a sort of “Build and they will come” event. When the 15,000 square foot facility opened its doors, the demand for activities began to grow; people began to flock to the Center.
“I don’t think anyone would have ever guessed the demands on this building.”
Twiddy says AOA has been “quick to accommodate the demands of the people.”
“I think the reason that happened is we have such flexibility with the building,” she says.
Yes, the space is flexible. It serves as an art gallery, a theater, a performing arts school and the facilities also provide the public with a place to hold functions such as weddings and fundraisers.
It is, Twiddy says, a sort of de facto convention center.
The Center also gave birth to a very popular activity for children and families, The Center Players. While there had always been a School of the Arts associated with AOA (formerly known as Pasquotank Arts Center), The Center Players formed with the availability of the Maguire Theatre, the Center’s second floor, 200-seat theater space.
“That’s the part, working with children and having an impact we make on their lives constantly, that amazes me,” says Twiddy. “The kids are learning so much more than learning on stage. They are learning some incredible life lessons. They are learning teamwork and responsibility and commitment.”
If all of that is what’s happening now, what about four years down the road? Sure, it’s tough to predict the outcome, but Twiddy seems to have a handle on steering her ship ahead.
“What I hope for, number one, we’ll own the building at that point,” she says. “Our financial security, we’ll be quite secure.”
Twiddy is a boots on the ground sort of director. She’s in the trenches, as the saying goes, but she also has an eye on how to grow the arts center’s coffers.
One thing she points to is the need to expand AOA’s presence. Arts of the Albemarle, she says, is not simply an Elizabeth City organization, it’s regional.
“But that’s something we have to work on,” she says of bringing in more regional support.
Twiddy also hopes to expand the School of Performing Arts. She points out that once upon a time AOA did provide individual training and they hope to return to that point.
“The history of the school is about individual instruction and I think there is a need for that and that certainly is on my radar screen to better serve,” says Twiddy.
She also hopes that four more years will see a full downtown that serves a vast clientele from more than the surrounding area. She says the word is getting out in southeast Virginia about Elizabeth City and she anticipates more people will make AOA and downtown a destination for the arts.