Active Retirees Embrace the Arts

By Carol Timblin

In North Carolina, Raleigh has flipped over Monet in recent months, as residents and visitors have embraced everything French during a rare exhibit being shown in only three cities in the United States. Charlotte is second only to New York City in arts funding. Wilmington is known as Hollywood East because of its movie industry. Winston-Salem claims the first arts council in the nation. In South Carolina, Spoleto Festival USA has put Charleston on the international map. Hilton Head Island is ranked Number 22 in John Villani’s book The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.

The arts are hot in southeastern cities and towns. Active retirees who love the arts are seeking out large cities and towns with strong arts programs and more affordable communities that are close to cultural centers. If you’re thinking about retiring or relocating to a community with an arts focus, here’s our list of top towns and cities in the Carolinas, plus a short list of places in Georgia and Florida where there is a healthy arts climate:

1. Charleston, SC
Every year for the past 29 years Spoleto Festival USA has transformed the historic city of Charleston into a world stage, where opera, theater, music, dance and visual arts are celebrated. To date, 100 world premieres and 93 American premieres have occurred at the festival.  Companion Piccolo events, which focus on artists in the Southeast region, are moderately priced or free. The arts have always been an integral part of life in Charleston. The Charleston Museum, which dates to 1773, is America’s first museum. It houses the largest South Carolina collections in the nation and owns two of the city’s National Landmark Houses (Heyward-Washington House and Joseph Manigault House). It also stages special exhibits such as the “Age of Glamour: Fashions of the 1920s and 1930s” through Feb. 18, 2007. The Charleston Stage Company presents plays throughout the year at the Dock Street Theatre, site of one of America’s first playhouses, and the Footlight Players are now in their 75th year. More than a dozen galleries, including the renowned Gibbes Museum of Art specializing in Low Country art, grace the quaint streets of the city. Every year art enthusiasts gather in Charleston for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition featuring more than 500 artists and vendors. Crafts such as Low Country sweet-grass baskets have a place in the sophisticated city, too, and are exhibited at the Charleston Crafts Gallery. Musical concerts are held at various venues, including many of the city’s historic buildings and sites. Area colleges also contribute to the cultural life of the city.
Contact: Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 423 King St., Charleston, SC 29403, 843-853-8000,

2. The Triangle
(Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill)
The Triangle, and Raleigh in particular, continues to garner international attention for the outstanding exhibits it attracts. Now showing through January 14 at the North Carolina Museum of Art is “Monet in Normandy.” It is one of three museums in the country to receive the exhibit (others are San Francisco and Cleveland).  The capital city has taken on a French atmosphere, with restaurants, cooking schools, wineries, tour companies and shops focusing on everything French. Otherwise, the museum has one of the most comprehensive European art collections in the Southeast. The city is also the home of the North Carolina Symphony, Carolina Ballet, North Carolina Theatre and other outstanding arts groups, plus its colleges and universities (including NC State University) offer a wide array of cultural events. Durham also has some prestigious colleges and universities, too, including Duke University, home of the brand new Nasher Museum of Art featuring galleries and a sculpture garden. North Carolina Central University’s art museum, also in Durham, celebrates African-American art. Downtown Durham (site of the renovated Carolina Theatre) hosts many festivals and special events, including the Full Frame Documentary Festival and the prestigious American Dance Festival. At UNC Chapel Hill the Carolina Playmakers are still going strong. Nearby Carrboro, a former mill town that has become a trendy place, celebrates poetry, music and art at many different festivals throughout the year.
Contacts: Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, PO Box 1879, Raleigh, NC 27602, 800-849-8499 or 919-834-5900,;/ Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, 101 E. Morgan St., Durham, NC 27701, 800-446-8604 or 919-687-0288,;/ Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, 501 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516, 888-968-2060 or 919-968-2060,

3. The Triad
(Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, NC)
All three Triad cities have an arts component, but Winston-Salem has carried the “City of the Arts” label ever since the Moravians settled here more than 250 years ago.  The city claims the first American classical music, the state’s oldest symphony, the nation’s first arts council and the North Carolina School of the Arts, the first state school of its kind in the country. As might be expected, all art forms “ music, dance, theatre, and visual arts “ are revered in Winston-Salem. The city boasts some of the finest art museums in the country “ Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA); Reynolda House, Museum of American Art (former home of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds); Charlotte and Philip Hanes Gallery at Wake Forest University; Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University; and Museum of Early American Decorative Arts (MESDA) in the village of Old Salem, plus dozens of small studios and galleries in the Downtown Arts District and West End. It also has some excellent performance venues at the various colleges and universities and places such as the Stevens Center (restored Carolina Theatre). In nearby Greensboro there are many more art museums and galleries, theaters (including a restored Carolina Theater), and musical events, including the renowned Eastern Music Festival. (featuring more than 80 events). The city also has several colleges and universities, including UNC-Greensboro. High Point is best known for its international furniture market, High Point University and the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. South of the Triad and scattered around the town of Seagrove are more than 100 potteries, many of them still carrying on the state’s strong, historical pottery tradition.
Contacts: Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 317 S. Greene St., Greensboro, NC 27401-2615, 800-344-2282 or 336-274-2282,;/ Winston-Salem Convention & Visitors Bureau, 200 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, NC 27101, 866-728-4200 or 336-728-4200,;/ High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, PO Box 2273, High Point, NC 27261, 800-720-5255 or 336-884-5255;

4. Charlotte Area (NC)
Charlotte has the one of the largest arts budget in the country, second only to New York City. Music, art, dance, theatre and literary programs thrive in the Queen City, which has hosted internationally acclaimed exhibits and some of the world’s top performers. It is the home of the renowned Mint Museum of Art, Mint Museum of Craft & Design, the North Carolina Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts and McColl Center for Visual Art, offering residency and outreach programs. In addition, there are dozens of art studios and galleries, as well as performance venues, in the Center City, SouthEnd and NoDa Arts District. Gallery crawls attract large crowds. Dozens of art groups, including the Charlotte Symphony (founded in 1932), the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Opera Carolina, Little Theatre and others are members of the Arts & Science Council. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg hosts the annual Novello Festival, a stellar event devoted to books, authors and reading. ImaginOn, one of the city’s newest and most exciting facilities, houses a children’s library, performance hall, and educational wing. Charlotte is also known for its colleges, universities and culinary schools, including Johnson & Wales University. Nearby towns such as Davidson, Matthews and Mint Hill offer arts programs and opportunities for involvement.
Contact: Visit Charlotte “ The Convention and Visitors Bureau, 500 S. College St., Ste. 300, Charlotte, NC 28202, 800-722-1994 or 704-334-2282,

5. Asheville Area (NC)
Surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, with tastefully restored Art Deco buildings comprising its downtown, Asheville is the perfect venue for arts experiences. Galleries, studios and craft shops showcasing original handmade crafts and contemporary works of art abound in the mountain city, home to the renowned Southern Highland Craft Guild and the Folk Art Center.  In the city center Pack Square is flooded with people during annual arts festivals and events such as Bele Chere, Shindig on the Green and the Mountain Dance & Folk Festival, a celebration of Appalachian music, dance and culture. There are Summer Evening Concerts at the Biltmore Estate, the All That Jazz series in January at the Grove Park Inn and the Brevard Music Center’s Summer Institute and Festival. The Asheville Downtown Gallery Association stages art walks, while the Asheville Art Museum hosts numerous exhibits throughout the year. On the French Broad River, an important part of the cityscape, the River Arts District provides an ideal setting for off-beat art studios and warehouses. Beyond Asheville, designated craft trails wind their way through the mountains, and students pursue a variety of arts and crafts “ from woodcarving to hand-blown glass “ at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown. Residents and visitors enjoy productions at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville. Nearby Flatrock Playhouse (the State Theater of North Carolina), Parkway Playhouse at Burnsville and Highlands Playhouse have been pleasing audiences for over 50 years. In addition, local institutions such as UNC-Asheville and Western Carolina University add to the cultural scene.
Contact: Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, PO Box 1010, Asheville, NC 28202-1010, 800-257-1300 or 828-258-6102,

6. Columbia, SC
Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina and home of the University of South Carolina, is an exciting place for art lovers. Museums, galleries, musical concerts and theatrical performances make the cultural life of Columbia rich indeed. The Koger Center for the Performing Arts is home to the South Carolina Philharmonic offering a smorgasbord of musical events throughout the year. The city supports about 10 professional theater groups which perform at various venues such as the 1855 Greek Revival Longstreet Theatre, Trustus Theatre, Chapin Community Theatre and others. The city also has a marionette theatre, one of only 20 in the country. Finlay Park serves as the backdrop for productions by the South Carolina Shakespeare Company. The city’s premier art museum is the Columbia Art Museum, known for its collections of European and American art, decorative arts and modern-day crafts, as well as its outstanding educational program. The McKissick Museum on the USC campus is known for its collections of folk art, minerals and gemstones and the Baruch Silver Collection. In addition, the university’s outstanding cultural events are a plus. The Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center gets rave reviews for regional artists’ works depicting the Riverbanks Region.  Annual festivals and special events add extra excitement to Columbia, as do activities in the nearby towns of Irmo and Lexington.
Contact: Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, PO Box 15, Columbia, SC 29202, 800-264-4884 or 803-545-0001;

7. Greenville/Spartanburg Area (SC)
The Greenville area is a hotspot for the arts. Support for museums, galleries, performance halls and cultural arts programs is channeled through the Metropolitan Arts Council. The nationally acclaimed Greenville County Art Museum is known for its Southern Collection of paintings and Andrew Wyeth Collection, while the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery is famous for its fine collection of religious paintings from Europe and America.  The Greenville Symphony Orchestra has been delighting audiences since its organization in 1948 and now makes its home in the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, a beautiful venue for various arts groups that was formerly the Coach Factory and Sauer Building. Concert tours and other large groups perform in the BI-LO Center, a sports and entertainment complex serving the Upstate. The Greenville Little Theatre provides classical theater, ranging from Shakespeare to Cole Porter. Artisphere, a three-day multicultural celebration of the visual and performing arts, livens up the downtown. Nearby Spartanburg also offers outstanding museums, theatre and concerts. Since its organization in 1995, the Hub City Writers Project has resulted in the publication of nearly 200 works, representing a wide range of genres. The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg provides cultural leadership, as well as funding and grants for arts groups. Serving the entire region is the 500-member Upstate Visual Arts groups, which sponsors exhibitions, educational programs and special events.
Contacts: Greenville Convention & Visitors Bureau, 631 S. Main St., Ste. 301, Greenville, SC 29601, 800-351-7180 or 864-421-0000,;/ Spartanburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, 298 Magnolia St., Spartanburg, SC 29306, 800-374-8326 or 864-594-5050,

8. Wilmington, NC
Wilmington, also known as “Hollywood East” since 1983, has logged more than 400 film and television credits, many of them such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” filmed or produced entirely at EUE/Screen Gems Studio. In fact, a number of stars and producers make their home in the Wilmington area. The Cucalorous Film Festival, rated as a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event and noted recently in Time, screened 33 dramatic and documentary features and over 90 shorts at the recent November event. Naturally, aspiring local actors often get to serve as extras on the sets. If not, they may participate in classes and productions at UNC-Wilmington and Thalian Hall, which opened in 1858 and is still going strong.  Wilmington’s Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum offers 15 galleries devoted to North Carolina and American art dating from the 18th century to the present and offers a variety of art classes for adults and children. There are more than 35 galleries in the Blue Moon Showcase and more than 100 shops at the Sterling Craft Mall in nearby Carolina Beach. Throughout the year the city hosts arts and crafts festivals, including Celebrate the Arts and Orange Street ArtsFest.
Contact: Cape Fear Convention & Visitors Bureau, 24 N. Third St., Wilmington, NC 28401, 877-406-2356,

9. Hilton Head Island/Bluffton, SC
Ranked Number 22 John Villani’s The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America, Hilton Head Island lives up to its name, while nearby Bluffton wins accolades for its art galleries and antiques shops. More than 800 members of the Hilton Head Art League keep visual arts alive by hosting two annual art shows and inviting nationally prominent artists to conduct workshops in the area. To the delight of island residents and visitors, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina offers Broadway-style shows, gallery exhibitions and a variety of musical concerts, including performances by the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. The island supports several other theaters, including the South Carolina Repertory Theatre. The Hilton Head Dance Theatre provides classical and modern dance performances. In addition, live shows feature a variety of music “ from bluegrass and gospel to classical and jazz.  A number of festivals and special events add spice to the area, but one of the biggest draws is “BRAVO “ Celebrate the Arts,” showcasing all the arts and the diverse cultures of Hilton Head and Bluffton throughout May.
Contact: Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau, PO Box 5647, Hilton Head Island, SC 29938, 800-523-3373 or 843-785-3673;

10. NC High Country
(Boone/Blowing Rock/ Banner Elk/West Jefferson/Spruce Pine, NC)
The hills are alive with music in the North Carolina High Country, especially during warm weather months. You can hear the legendary Doc Watson in concert at Cove Creek, bagpipe bands at Grandfather Mountain’s annual Gathering of the Clans and the North Carolina Symphony at Chetola Resort. Daniel Boone is the central figure in the “Horn in the West” outdoor drama, while an Appalachian Summer Festival showcases all art forms “ music, dance, theater and visual arts. Blowing Rock’s Art in the Park, primarily a summer event, is very popular. The brand new Mariam and Robert Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock serves as a venue for various cultural events, including productions by the Blowing Rock Stage Company. Good theater is also offered at Appalachian State University in Boone, Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk and Wilkes Community College in North Wilkesboro. The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts on the ASU campus provides exhibitions, education and outreach programs. Gallery crawls liven up the town of West Jefferson, known for its studios, galleries and area churches where fresco artist Ben Long did some of his first masterpieces. The High Country is also rich in Appalachian traditional crafts and culture “ from handmade pottery and weaving to storytelling and flat-foot dancing. The Southern Highland Craft Guild has a shop at the Parkway Craft Center on the Moses Cone Estate. Penland School of Crafts near Spruce Pine is known for its fine arts and crafts.
Contact: NC High Country
Host, 1700 Blowing Rock Rd., Boone, NC 28607, 800-438-7500 or 828-264-1299,

Other Art Communities of Note:
In Georgia
- Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, 233 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, 800-285-2682 or 404-521-6688,
- Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau, 300 N. Thomas St., Athens, GA 30601, 800-653-0603 or 704-357-4430,
- Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau, 101 E. Bay St., Savannah, GA 31401, 877-SAVANNA or 912-644.6401,

In Florida
- Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, 701 Brickell Ave., Ste. 2700, Miami, FL 33131, 800-933-8448 or 305-539-3000,
- Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, 655 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236, 800-522-9799 or 941-957-1877,
- St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 13805 58th St. N., Ste. 2-200, Clearwater, FL 33760, 877-352-3224 or 727-464-7200,

A growing trend is for people who retired to the beach or the mountains to return to the city now to enjoy what they see as a fuller life with access to the art, entertainment and educational opportunities. At Park Springs, which has an extensive art collection, we had a rather large number of members who relocated from the Georgia and South Carolina coast. We are excited that our Peachtree Hills Place is located right in the center of all the arts and culture that Atlanta has to offer. It will also feature beautiful art.”
“ E. Andrew Isakson, Managing Partner, Isakson Barnhart, Atlanta CCRC Developer