Certified Arts Towns: Mercer CountyMarch 25, 2015
With several pockets of creativity, all of Mercer County has been recognized as a distinguished ‘Certified Arts Town’ from the WV Division of Culture and History, which only a handful of spots have received.
Encompassing several artistic hotspots, there’s a lot to explore in Mercer County. Bluefield alone even earned the Certified Arts Community distinction separately, if that gives you an idea of the depth of creativity here.
Murals do the streets, but the heart of Princeton’s art scene is the Riffraff Arts Collective, a group of 3 downtown buildings, housing studios, a gallery, performance halls and more, and a collaborative group of artisans who keep it thriving.
The center of the community’ culture is the Room Upstairs, housed in the arts collective’ main building. From the moment you walk in, you’re immersed in the arts. The professional recording studio and performance hall has an urban underground vibe, in an old-fashioned restored ballroom with mismatched couches and furniture. There are weekly performances, as well as special events.
Across the street, you’ll find Stages Music School, striving to raise up the next generation of performers. Giving kids a place to cultivate their musical talents, Stages is a “School of Rock” for local children. Every student gets an introduction to a variety of musical styles, and over the years, they have performed at The Hard Rock Cafe, The House of Blues, and BB Kings in Nashville and Boston.
And then there’s the Turnaround Concert & Gathering Hall next door, an upscale venue that’s also available for rental. The collective is also a part of the push to restore another historic theater in town.
More expansive than Turnaround is the sprawling, state-of-the-art Chuck Mathena Center. Priding itself on making events affordable to the public, the center offers classes in addition to its regular performance season.
Even the smaller shops help maintain the artistic vibe of the town. Sister’s Coffee House hosts open jams every month.
Home to Concord University, the school’s fine arts programs are at the core of its artistic character.
The music school hosts an annual solo and ensemble festival, an honors recital for the top students. But you can also catch the many musical groups throughout the year, including:
- A selective jazz ensemble
- A marching band that performs during football games
- A pep band for the basketball team
- A symphonic band that explores classical sounds
- And those are just the instrumental groups. The school also has the Collegiate Choir, and an elite group, the ConChords, who tour internationally.
- There are also art galleries on campus, with rotating exhibits displaying a variety of works throughout the year.
The county also encompasses the town of Bluefield, which is bursting with performing arts shows. Because they’ve been named a standalone Certified Arts Community within the Mercer community, you can read more about their artistic endeavors here.
A historic hub, Bramwell also has an artistic side. Alongside a hot of seasonal performances, The Bramwell Theatre Festival theater troupe performs its famous “Smoke on the Mountain” each summer.
The musical, featuring 27 amazing bluegrass tunes, follows a gospel group during the final years of the Great Depression, during a key performance at the local church. Join their ‘audience’ as part of the play, and see the behind-the-scenes of their big production, as well as what each performer is thinking between numbers.
Have you explored Mercer County’s arts scene?