Kinston creates smART community to attract artists - WNCN: News, Weather

Kinston creates smART community to attract artists

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KINSTON, N.C. - In the past month, there have been shots fired into 5 different homes in Kinston. While police track the trend, local residents say they don't want Kinston to be known for crime.

Local artists, community leaders and city officials are working together to turn the areas of downtown into an arts district.

Inside the lime green, hot pink and bright blue homes, you’ll find artists.

"We all live, work and create art in this community and it's a wonderful thing to be a part of,” said glass blower, Joe Kavanagh.

Kavanagh moved to Kinston from Los Angeles for a job at Mother Earth Brewing. He works there during the day, but sells his glasswork on the side.

“When I was growing up, this was happening in Los Angeles, and I couldn't really be a part of it at the time. I thought it was the neatest thing ever,” said Kavanagh. “It's so cool to be part of the ground floor level and I see myself here for a very long time."

He lives in one of the city's newest renovated homes turned apartments. Entrepreneur and visionary, Stephen Hill, is his landlord. Hill grew up in Kinston and wants to change public perception.

“Everyone always takes the negative, they don't take the positive,” said Hill. “And this is just a positive thing for people to talk about."

Hill is a member of the NC Arts Council and wanted Kinston to be part of the state’s smART Initiative though public art projects, cultural events and transformation of abandoned homes. In the past 18 months, Hill has bought 22 rundown homes and renovated them.

“There is a lot of history and character that was long forgotten. And I just think that people are now starting to remember it again,” said Hill.

There are nearly 80 abandoned homes in the neighborhood, and most have the potential to be redone.

“It's great to be part of a project that you were with from the beginning and you start to see things actually changing,” said Kinston planning director, Adam Short.

City officials say they’ve wanted to revitalize and renovate the Mitchelltown Area for years, and this just happens to fit perfectly with their plan. In a survey sent out to residents, folks showed interested in increasing housing options and preserving historic homes.

“From the city's perspective, we want to do whatever we can to help new private development and more diverse private development,” said Short.

“This has gone better than we planned,” said Kinston city manager, Tony Sears. “Anytime you have an individual in the community who wants to reinvest to remake your community, we want to help them."

Last month, the city council approved the Mitchelltown Area Revitalization Plan and deemed this area as the Arts and Cultural District. One part of it means artists can sell their work out of their homes. Kavanagh hopes this will entice other artists to move, like he did, to Kinston.

"I would like to see street artists move in,” said Kavanagh. “I'd really like to see graffiti, stencil. Anyone is welcome though. Performance artists, a few more painters. A few more painters would be great."

Right now, there are dozens of units rented and there is a waiting list. Most rents range from $300 to $600 a month.

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