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Cain Center for the Arts

Tara Boucher  |  January 18, 2023


Cain Center for the Arts

The Cain Center for the Arts will host a nearly week-long celebration when it opens its doors in January.

The regional arts center on Catawba Avenue will have a Community Open House on Jan. 3, where all are welcome to check out the $25 million facility that includes a 400-seat theater, art gallery, classrooms and more. The event will also feature free art workshops for both kids and adults, and the first performers on stage will be local.

Since Cornelius residents passed a bond in 2013 to invest in the redevelopment of downtown, Executive Director Justin Dionne wanted the public to have first dibs on the shiny-new centerpiece.

“We want the grand opening to be a big celebration for the entire community,” he said. “This project has been driven by the entire community.”

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will have a ribbon cutting at 10:30 a.m., with the open house taking place later in the afternoon. The center’s first art exhibit will be “Hot Glass Alley” by Charlotte-based artist Jake Pfeifer.

“We wanted the public to be first,” Dionne said.

After two nights of donor appreciation receptions will come the marquee grand-opening event Saturday night. The Cain Center is welcoming Renee Elise Goldsberry, known for her Tony Award-winning role as Angelica Schyler in “Hamilton.” She also has roles in two current TV series: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” and “Eureka!”

Dionne said the big searchlights will be outside for a big-ticket feel.

“We wanted to really make a thing, that if you’re gonna come to it, years later say, ‘I was at THE grand opening,’” he said. “There’s only going to be one.”

Interior features

Two of the primary overarching themes of the Cain Center are public spaces and facility area flexibility.

The center will have hours when the public can come into the two-story lobby and check out the current art exhibit, but also work and gather with friends.

“We want people to feel like this place is theirs,” he said. ‘And it’s not just for Cornelius, but Huntersville, Davidson, Denver, Concord. This is their place.”

Surrounding the main theater will be classrooms designed for more than teaching art. They can also be used for events, training or a corporate party. Further, the dance studio can hold light exercise classes like yoga and pilates, plus the main stage can be extended for banquets.

The conference room, which overlooks Catawba Avenue, will transform into the donor lounge during performances. 

The first performance after the grand opening will be Jan. 14, when pianist Christian Sands will bring his jazz trio to town.

Another catalyst

Since the Cain Center vision came to light, other changes have been planned for the downtown area.

Town leaders changed the corridor’s land use to become the Arts District, and last year the Lake Norman Social District was created in the area around the Old Town Public House. Mayor Woody Washam has hinted that higher-end restaurants have expressed interest in coming to cater to Cain Center patrons. 

Prior to leading the Cain project in 2017, Dionne was part of creating an art-centric district in Salisbury, where dinner-and-a-show was a convenient transition on a night out. 

“They really have a great historic downtown, and the infrastructure has been there a long time,” he said. “When you see a show there, you park your car, walk to restaurants, walk to the theater. I think that will be one of the goals here eventually.”

Dionne mentioned how OTPH’s owner Case Warnemunde had already created a foundation of events in Cornelius. His company Bella Love continues to put on the ‘Tawba Walk and 2nd Friday street festivals.

What about the Cornelius Arts Center?

The Cain Center assumed programming for the town-run Cornelius Arts Center in 2021, and has been operating out of the space at the end of the Oak Street Mill. 

The CAC will continue to host galleries and the intimate Music at the Mill series, but its hours will be adjusted.

Dionne started as the only full-time employee when he was hired in 2017, but as the Cain Center prepares to open, there are now eight. They are still looking for part-time employees and require 15-20 volunteers for every performance.

(Source: lakenormanpublications.com  pc: Cain Center, Stephanie Kelly)

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