Cain Center for the Arts: Lake Norman’s New Home for Inspiration, Creativity and Community

Exposure to arts & culture can have profound benefits on a community, economically, socially and educationally. Studies have shown that engaging in the arts can positively impact stress levels, enhance self-confidence and even improve academic performance among children and young adults. Communities that incorporate arts in their events, program offerings and gathering spaces provide a competitive economic edge and help to foster neighborhood vitality. The Region of Excellence Award for Improving Quality of Life honors recipients that develop a program, project or plan that enable people of all generations in a community to have the amenities, services and opportunities they need to thrive. The Town of Cornelius was honored this year with one of our two awards in this category for their development of the new Cain Center for the Arts, a community hub for visual arts, performing arts and social experiences.  

In 2013, town officials began discussing ways to help enrich and revitalize their local community. Through research, they discovered all the benefits associated with the incorporation of arts and culture through a centralized venue that offers entertainment and educational opportunities. This desire to improve quality of life in the Lake Norman region resulted in an extensive four-year strategic planning process, conducted with an appointed investigative committee, and an allocation of $4 million to create an arts district. The planning process resulted in the creation of a non-profit, which became an anchor for a public-private partnership with the newly established Center and the Town of Cornelius.  

In 2017, 1.85 acres were purchased as the area where the new $25 million arts center would be built. As construction continued, the nonprofit began operating through the existing Cornelius Arts Center. Local philanthropists Ericka and Bill Cain offered significant financial support during the building process, which resulted in the official name being established as “Cain Center for the Arts.” The finished two-level, 35,000 square-foot facility opened in January of 2023, complete with a 400-seat performance theatre, a public plaza for outdoor concerts, a gallery space for rotating art exhibits and more. The Center now encompasses both the new facility and the existing Cornelius Arts Center, where some rotating programs and exhibits are still housed.  

Cain offers similar experiences and programs that other arts centers do, such as painting and ceramics classes, summer camps focused on dance, visual arts and acting, plays, symphonies and musical theater performances and visual arts exhibitions. One of the ways Cain has stood out is their commitment to provide comprehensive arts education opportunities to historically underrepresented populations who haven’t previously had easy access and or cannot financially afford such experiences. The Center partners with several local organizations to provide unique experiences to audiences outside the venue, such as an online arts workshop for 96 Ada Jenkins families and a free bilingual arts class offered to several Neighborhood C.A.R.E older adult clients.  

The Community Impact Music Program allows local students ages 7-18 who may not otherwise be able to afford extracurricular activities the opportunity to attend private one-on-one music lessons for a full academic year at no cost. Instructors from local community partner, Learn Music, tutor these individuals and work with them to prepare for two public performances throughout the year. Once the year ends, students receive an instrument to take home at no cost so they can continue practicing and growing their passion.  

“Since opening, Cain Center for the Arts has presented over 25 performances from 16 different artists in its theater, hosted 3 exhibitions from NC artists in its new gallery, four community celebration events and much more!” says Executive Director Justion Dionne. “In the five months that Cain Center has been open in downtown Cornelius, over 7,000 people have walked through the doors and enjoyed spending time together as a community through the arts. We have been grateful for the opportunity to connect our Lake Norman Communities through the arts and look forward to continuing to grow those connections as we look into the future.” 

If you’re passionate about offering accessible arts education across barriers, be sure to check out the Center’s “Join Us” page on their website to learn more about ways you can volunteer at Cain, sponsor an upcoming program, donate to their annual fund and more. Be sure to continue monitoring their website and accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay updated on new shows, programs and exhibits coming later this year.