The Kinston Arts & Cultural District

Long known as a hub of agricultural commerce, today Kinston is becoming known as a destination for arts, culture and entertainment in eastern North Carolina. In 2013, the City Council decided to take advantage of the changes occurring in Kinston.

At the time, the town was reviewing its downtown revitalization strategies and decided to declare the old Mitchelltown Community an Urban Redevelopment Area. This allowed the City Council to take advantage of certain tools and methods to combat the states of blight and disrepair into which many homes had fallen. As part of that effort, the City Council voted to make a portion of Mitchelltown – primarily the neighborhoods between the Neuse River, historic Mitchell Street and Atlantic Avenue and the railroad tracks – the Arts & Cultural District.

What sets the Arts & Cultural District apart is that the City Council changed its zoning restrictions to allow both residential and commercial uses in the homes and buildings. And that is the purpose of the ACD – to provide artists a place and a neighborhood where they can live and work in the same space.

But this isn’t just limited to painters or potters, the Arts & Cultural District is a place for artists of all types and genres, from glass-blowers to woodcarvers to musicians to singers to metal-workers to basket-weavers to dancers to authors to actors.

Essentially for the Arts & Cultural District, the arts encompasses just about any endeavor that involves creativity and that moves the creator or the person watching/experiencing the art.

But this is not an artist enclave. This is a public area. The city’s new Arts River Walk will run through it. It will be connected to the rest of commercial downtown and the Kinston Arts Council and the Kinston Music Park via public art. It is a place where people will visit, will stop to watch artists at work, will stop to interact with the artists and will stop to buy art.

Click here to see available houses.

If you have questions, please call or email us – 252-643-0571 or matt@smartkinston.com.

The smART Kinston City Project Foundation

After the creation of the Arts & Cultural District, it became clear there was a need for an organization to focus on recruiting artists and promoting Kinston as an arts and culture and entertainment destination.

That’s why in 2013, the smART Kinston City Project Foundation was created – inspired by the North Carolina Arts Council smART Initiative, which seeks to work with communities throughout the state to promote their art-based and creative talent-based economics. Today, Kinston is an official part of the NC SmART Community Initiative.

The primary purpose of the smART Kinston Foundation is to bring artists to the district – to live and work and also to be part of the larger Kinston/Lenoir County community. The goal of the Arts & Cultural District and the smART Kinston Foundation is not to create an artist enclave, but rather to create a place where artists can thrive side-by-side, as well as a place where people can visit the artists in their home studios/galleries. More importantly, we want to create a place where the artists leave their neighborhood to work with the community, whether it’s leading a workshop or teaching a class or working to create a piece of public art. To help with this recruitment we have created an Artist Relocation Package that focuses on helping artists financially with moving expenses and supplies, as well as on providing artists with a supportive framework to foster their creativity, help them grow as artists and to assist their efforts to turn their art into a sustainable business model. In return, we ask only that they be active members of the ACD and that they partner with us to give back, whether through public art or working with their neighbors and other community groups.

But that’s not the only purpose of the smART Kinston Foundation. We also exist to partner with other community organizations and government agencies, as well as private businesses, to promote Kinston/Lenoir County’s creative enterprises, to promote the arts within the community, and to promote Kinston/Lenoir County as an arts, culture and entertainment destination.

Click here to find out more about our Artist Relocation Package.

If you have questions, please call or email us – 252-643-0571 or matt@smartkinston.com

Board Chairman and smART Kinston Foundation Founder Stephen Hill

UNC-TV imageStephen Hill is a downtown Kinston entrepreneur. He is the founder and owner of Mother Earth Brewing and The O’Neil hotel. He also has ownership stakes in The Red Room, Ginger 108 and Discovery Insurance, as well as Hillco Ltd.

He chose to build his brewery and other businesses in downtown locations because of his love for Kinston and because of his love for historic architecture. As a longtime member of the N.C. Arts Council, he was part of the creation of the N.C. smART Initiative and saw a model that he believed Kinston could use.

Drawing from that experience, he advocated for the creation of the Arts & Cultural District and began buying homes in the area, renovating them, improving the appearance and safety of the neighborhood and preparing to begin recruiting artists to Kinston.

Already he and other business owners, especially Vivian Howard and Ben Knight of Chef and the Farmer have laid the groundwork for the Arts & Cultural District by encouraging employees – many of whom are part-time artists – to move into the “rainbow” houses.

As the owner of one of the businesses responsible for putting Kinston on the culinary and craft beer maps, he believes the community has even more potential to grow – potential that the Arts & Cultural District will help unlock.

“I see Kinston as an entertainment destination. You know, somewhere people come, they can live, work and play. But not only that, they can eat, drink and be merry,” he told WUNC in a June 2015 interview.

Because of his efforts working to create the Arts & Cultural District and to grow downtown Kinston, Stephen was named the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Citizen of the Year.

“Fifty years from now, when someone asks how Kinston was able to change the whole character and fabric of its downtown, the answer will be easy – it was because of Stephen Hill,” wrote local attorney John Marshall in his nomination letter.