CORNELIUS – Town leaders recently visited downtown Salisbury to see how art has sparked economic development.
The trip comes as leaders determine how they will convince Cornelius residents to approve a $4 million bond referendum on the November ballot aimed at funding an arts and cultural center in downtown.

“We would have done this trip whether or not the bond referenda happened,” Mayor Lynette Rinker said. “The things we learned will be a part of the narrative and education process and a justification for why we need the economic development and the bonds that are tied to the arts center.”

Town leaders explore one of Salisbury's art studios. (Jackson Sveen/Herald Weekly photo)

The center could house the Cornelius Arts Project, located at the Old Mill, along with several other amenities, like studio space for artists and additional classroom space. 

Troy Fitzsimmons, the Cornelius Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture director, said the expansion could nearly double the current space from 6,700 square feet to between 12,000 and 14,000 square feet.

“As part of our comprehensive master plan, the citizens told us the want more arts opportunities in Cornelius,” Rinker said. “We also saw this as an opportunity to leverage some of the burgeoning arts festivals and things that are happening now, really driven by private citizens, and use that as an economic development tool to revitalize our east side of town.”

Salisbury has held an annual sculpture contest for the last five years, attracting artists coming from around the country to show off their work.

Along the busy Main Street in Salisbury, there is unique artwork on every block. Sculptures are scattered around downtown and on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for nine months, from April to December. Several of those pieces have found permanent homes throughout downtown.

Stores that closed their doors have been given new life with a pottery store and art galleries. The site of the very first Food Lion has been converted into a black-box theater and an arts co-op.

“We’ve really had a flurry of activity in the last 10 years as far as rehabilitation in the downtown,” said Salisbury Urban Design Planner Lynn Raker. “The city has really done a lot to step up and follow or precede with the streetscape, because we realize its hard to pound on the private owners and tell them they really need to do something with their building if the city doesn’t come along with the infrastructure."

Rinker said the best advice she got while visiting Salisbury was from Joe Morris, a former director of community planning services.

Morris told her to ’light the imagination of the entrepreneurs and the market place will take care of it,’ Rinker said. “That is the secret to their success.”