Published first at Southport Magazine by Bonnie Bray
Detailed plans for the renovation of Southport’s former city hall will be unveiled by Up Your Arts in a series of presentations on September 20.
As part of its “Save the Hall, Y’all” campaign, the local non-profit organization is hosting An Art Tour in Four Acts to introduce the public to the building’s past, present, and potential future as a performing arts and community center.
Tickets are currently on sale for a fundraising event designed to look and feel like a night out on the town at the imagined new center. Attendees will participate in a two-block walking tour of four downtown Southport homes, each featuring a unique musical act. Appetizers, wine and beer from Southport restaurants and wineries will be served, and all comers will be invited to give feedback on the proposed renovation and programming.
The musical acts are as varied as the city residents who have expressed an interest in “saving the hall” since news of Up Your Arts’ efforts went public earlier this summer. One house on the walking tour will feature a jazz ensemble, the Nick Michaels Trio, comprised of members of the Brunswick County Concert Band.
A second house will host seven members of Southport’s Browns Chapel AME Zion men’s choir. Violinist Linda Estep, one of the founding members of Wilmington’s Brierwood Ensemble will perform at a third house. And progressive bluegrass fiddler Will Maxwell rounds out the group at a fourth house.
Long before it was Southport City Hall, the now-vacant building, located at Moore and Davis streets, was the Historic Brunswick County Courthouse. Southport was called Smithville then and it served as the county seat from 1808 until 1978. Built in the mid 1800s, the structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, one of only seventeen antebellum courthouses remaining in North Carolina at the time.
The old courthouse served as city hall from 1979 until 2014. Two years later, all municipal operations were relocated when the building was declared unsafe; it has been vacant ever since. The City of Southport is committed to retaining ownership, but no funds are currently budgeted to undertake capital repairs necessary for reuse.
Up Your Arts is inspired by the building’s history and its standing in the community, both for its prominent downtown location and for its status as a center of municipal life. The organization has developed a plan to restore the building as an arts-focused community center with a variety of sustaining uses, open to and operating on behalf of city residents and visitors at no cost to taxpayers.
The September 20 fundraiser comes in advance of plans by Up Your Arts to present city government officials with a formal proposal for next steps. Given six months time to study the building’s structure and potential for serious renovation, the group would then prepare a comprehensive plan for construction and funding, along with details about future programming and management.
In addition to creating a state-of-the-art concert venue, and space for visual and performing artists to work, Up Your Arts proposes to renovate the grand hall upstairs for reuse as public meeting chambers for the city’s governing body, as well as provide additional space for weddings and events when the Southport Community Building is booked to capacity.
The grand hall is acoustically well suited to support a broad range of performance art — dance, choral recitals, chamber music, storytelling, children’s theater, etc. The first floor would house rented studio space to visual artists, private or shared, and the wide, central hallway would function as an exhibition gallery.
Up Your Arts also plans to dedicate space to be used communally by Brunswick County non-profit organizations, so that they may have a physical presence in Southport. Finally, a small gift shop would feature the work of local artist organization members and those students currently engaged in arts-related instruction at the Brunswick Community College campus in Southport.
Tickets for Save the Hall, Y’all: An Art Tour in Four Acts are $25 per person. They can be obtained online at https://upyourarts.org and at four retail locations in Southport:
The Adventure Kayak Company at 807 N. Howe Street,
Ricky Evans Gallery at 211 N. Howe Street,
Wine Rack at 102 W. Brown Street, and
Uncorked by the Sea at 602 N. Howe Street.
Total attendance is limited to 250 people, so get your tickets today before they sell out.
For more information or to volunteer, please contact Bonnie Bray or visit www.upyourarts.org.