It’s Showtime

Photo Caption: The arts are booming in Garner, including at the newly renamed Garner Performing Arts Center, under the direction of enthusiastic new staffers Debbie Dunn and Jon Shearin.

The curtain is rising on the arts in Garner, says Debbie Dunn — and she’s helping to hoist the ropes.

Dunn was named manager of the 471-seat Garner Historic Auditorium in April, bringing a decade of show biz experience to boost the profile of this performance venue, and the arts as a whole in Garner.

“We’re part of something big ready to happen,” Dunn said. “The town and chamber have set the bar high, and Garner’s leadership is ready for the curtain to rise.”

Step one was a name change: With citizen input and town council approval, the auditorium is now the Garner Performing Arts Center.

Home to the award-winning Towne Players of Garner, the community Showcase of Talent and the long-standing Miss Garner Pageant, and frequented by notable locals such as Lorraine Jordan, Rozlyn Sorrell and Tom Browne, the auditorium has a strong foundation.

New plans include Garner’s first performing arts series, titled It’s Showtime, children’s programming, and space to hold arts classes.

New signage is on the way, and a new website,, offers options for online ticket purchase.

The website was designed by theater services coordinator Jon Shearin, who joined the auditorium staff in August, bringing an impressive arts and media background.

A recent landscaping project improves auditorium visibility, and outdoor public art could be next.

“The Garner Performing Arts Center is a source of pride. We want it to be spectacular and important,” Dunn said. “We want to be a complement to what’s offered down the road — that intimate, warm venue, seven miles from downtown Raleigh.”

Dunn, previously associate director of performing arts at Paul A. Johnston Auditorium at Johnston Community College (Shearin was on staff there too), quickly made her mark in Garner this spring, when she managed the stage production of the homecoming performance of American Idol Scotty McCreery of Garner.

The event drew 30,000 people; its coverage was part of an Emmy-nominated Idol segment.

Dunn first met McCreery in 2009 when she cast him in the popular Country Music Showcase at JCC, which she produced and directed.

Support for the arts is already strong in Garner: The nonprofit Garner Revitalization Association, supporting the downtown district, partners with the town on the Music off Main Concert Series; the Artists Guild of Greater Garner offers art shows and classes; and the Towne Players offer youth theater camps and year-round performances.

A public arts initiative launched in September with the unveiling of a Main Street mural by local artist Vince Wood.

Sonya Shaw, director of Garner’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, says enhancing Garner’s arts scene also boosts local business.

“Just this summer alone, performing arts-based events such as Scotty McCreery’s Hometown Tour, along with the North Carolina Symphony’s performance at the July 3rd Independence Day Celebration, contributed nearly $2.5 million to the local economy,” she said.

Her department’s goal for the auditorium is to create a “destination location” via the performing arts.

Last year’s sold-out Broadway Voices concert series is another prized example. The vision of arts aficionado Tim Stevens of Garner, the series brought nationally renowned Broadway talents to the auditorium stage, attracting fans from as far as Florida.

Presented through an innovative collaboration of the town, chamber of commerce and local sponsors, Broadway Voices brought statewide recognition for Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, earning the Arts and Humanities Award from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Association.

The series’ success paved the way for a second season of Broadway Voices, opening this year on Dec. 3 with new performers (see show schedules).

Meanwhile, Dunn is coordinating It’s Showtime, an eclectic mix of shows featuring comedian James Gregory; mentalist Craig Karges; the John Brown Quintet plus the Groove Shop Band; and Elvis illusionist Eddie Miles.

Partnerships with the United Arts Council of Wake County and the North Carolina Presenters Consortium offer additional resources for Garner arts; Dunn hopes to increase grants eligibility by applying for 501(c)3 status for an auditorium foundation.

The venue also stars as an anchor point in the Historic Downtown Garner Plan, a formal strategy to revitalize downtown both aesthetically and economically.

Downtown Garner has seen $1.6 million in private and public sector investment in 2010–11. In July, the Garner Revitalization Association was designated an accredited National Main Street Program by the National Trust Main Street Center for meeting commercial district revitalization performance standards.

“Most successful downtowns have a significant arts presence, both as an experience and as part of the economy,” said GRA Executive Director John Hodges. “If we harness our local talent and help nurture the arts related businesses that will follow, arts and culture can truly become an economic driver for Garner.”

The Garner Performing Arts Center has a special niche to fill within that vision, Dunn says.

“The long-term vision is that this will become a cultural arts campus,” she said. “We have a great history and lots of community support. Now it’s important to bring the goals and vision to life, of what we can do, holding the hands of the community and advancing the arts one step at a time.”

To see a listing of upcoming shows at the Garner Performing Arts Center, click here.

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