Museums, Performance Halls and Organizations
Although Wilmington and the Cape Fear region are geographically far flung from the world's acknowledged cultural centers, the area boasts a lively professional arts scene that is the envy of many more-sophisticated cosmopolitan communities. Given the relatively small size of the city of Wilmington, its artistic offerings are disproportionately large -- and have been since nearly the beginning.
Cape Fear people love to be entertained. Consequently, there are many established institutions devoted to the arts, including the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts and St. John's Museum of Art. Touring exhibitions and artists, as well as an astonishing number of tremendously talented locals, keep everyone's social calender overbooked. The most commonly heard complaint about the arts scene is that there's just too much to do! It is no exaggeration to say there's something offered every night of the year and, often, one has to choose between events.
Downtown Wilmington is the hub of arts organizations and activities for the region, luring musicians, painters, actors, filmmakers, sculptors, paper-makers, and dancers to crowd the coffeehouses and cafes to discuss their crafts. Clubs and restaurants serve up a stimulating offering of live music and theater on a regular basis, including a long-running, live soap opera in a downtown basement bar. Cinematique, an ongoing film showcase for "classic, foreign and notable films" is jointly sponsored by public radio station WHQR and the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts. Films are screened to capacity crowds and often a film has to be held over to accommodate interest.
Two dozen acting companies employ the talents of locals in writing, music and performance. Wilmington has its own symphony orchestra, a vibrant chamber music series, regular concert series and dozens of ensemble groups ranging from professionals to enthusiastic amateurs. There are several stages in town including Thalian Hall, Kenan Auditorium and Trask Coliseum at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the Scottish Rite Temple and even the lawn of the deRosset house, home to the Wilmington Historic Foundation.
Touring companies regularly visit Wilmington, particularly during the Azalea Festival in the spring and Riverfest in the fall. Over the centuries, Wilmington has hosted such notables as Lillian Russell, Maurice Barrymore, Oscar Wilde and John Philip Sousa. Come closer in time and consider these performers: Al Hirt, Peter Nero, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Chet Atkins, Frank Sinatra, The Ciompi String Quarter, Judy Collins and Koko Taylor. Add in Itzak Perleman, Livia Sohn, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Company and James Galway. How about Roberta Flack, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, the Beach Boys, The Embers and Ray Charles?
The visual arts occupy an important position in the region's cultural experiences. In addition to dozens of commercial art galleries, the region has St. John's Museum of Art, regarded as one of the finest small art museums in the southeast. The Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear is a central facilitator and coordinator for the arts in the area. This organization works diligently to create opportunities for the arts to flourish, documenting the activities of various arts organizations, providing local artists with vital information and funding to further their professional development, and sponsoring innovative arts programs in area schools.
The Cape Fear region is a rich environment for the arts, offering a variety of opportunities for both creating and enjoying the cultural arts. Listed below is just a sampling of the arts scene in the region.
Unless otherwise indicated, all addresses are in Wilmington.