Inner Peace Center for the Arts being reborn in former retail space in downtown Lumberton

Arts center being created in former Lumberton retail space

Tomeka Sinclair Features editor

			
				                                Courtesy photo | Sara Voecks
                                The building that once housed the Kimbrell’s Furniture store at Chestnut and Third streets in downtown Lumberton will now be the home of the Inner Peace Center for the Arts, a space that will serve as an art gallery/studio.

Courtesy photo | Sara Voecks

The building that once housed the Kimbrell’s Furniture store at Chestnut and Third streets in downtown Lumberton will now be the home of the Inner Peace Center for the Arts, a space that will serve as an art gallery/studio.

<p>Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian</p>
                                <p>Melvin Morris, the owner and curator of the Inner Peace Center for the Arts, and Sara Voecks, the center Marketing and Arts director, show where double doors will be installed at the old Kimbrell’s Furniture store, which is being renovated to hold the arts center.</p>

Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian

Melvin Morris, the owner and curator of the Inner Peace Center for the Arts, and Sara Voecks, the center Marketing and Arts director, show where double doors will be installed at the old Kimbrell’s Furniture store, which is being renovated to hold the arts center.

<p>Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian</p>
                                <p>Sara Voecks, the Marketing and Arts director for Inner Peace Center for the Arts, shows where a photography studio will be placed at the new location on Chestnut Street in Lumberton.</p>

Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian

Sara Voecks, the Marketing and Arts director for Inner Peace Center for the Arts, shows where a photography studio will be placed at the new location on Chestnut Street in Lumberton.

<p>Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian</p>
                                <p>Shown is the main gallery space at Inner Peace Center for the Arts, which is now at Chestnut and Third Streets in downtown Lumberton. Renovating the gallery is the first phase in a series of projects to transform the old retail space into an art gallery and studio.</p>

Tomeka Sinclair | The Robesonian

Shown is the main gallery space at Inner Peace Center for the Arts, which is now at Chestnut and Third Streets in downtown Lumberton. Renovating the gallery is the first phase in a series of projects to transform the old retail space into an art gallery and studio.

<p>Morris</p>

Morris

<p>S. Voecks</p>

S. Voecks

<p>E. Voecks</p>

E. Voecks

LUMBERTON — The Inner Peace Center for the Arts has left its home at 700 N. Roberts Ave. and made its way to downtown Lumberton.

Renovations are underway at the new site at Chestnut and Third streets that once housed the Kimbrell’s Furniture store, and the process is being documented and uploaded to the art center’s Facebook page. Once renovations are complete, the three-story building that has been vacant for years will become a hub for local artists to display their artistic creations.

“This has been a dream of mine,” said Melvin Morris, the center’s owner and curator.

“More space and the desire to have a more central location to the arts” were the motivations for the move. With downtown Lumberton being the central location for city-sponsored events like Arts on Elm, Rumba on the Lumber and the Lumberton Christmas Parade, Morris felt the space was ideal for a gallery.

“We were at a good location, but when this location was made available it just seemed right to move, especially with the ties we have to the Arts Council and Rediscover Downtown Lumberton,” he said.

The previous location closed toward the end of 2019 and Morris planned to begin renovating the new site soon afterward, with the goal of completing the renovation project by the summer of 2020. COVID-19 waylaid those plans.

“That whole year was dedicated to COVID,” Morris said.

Morris resumed renovation efforts earlier this year and with more than triple the space of the previous location he has plenty of room to expand his arts center vision.

The look of the new space will have an industrial feel while keeping some of the historic aspects of the building, including the old elevator system that is workable but needs to be brought up to code, said Sara Voecks, the center’s Marketing and Art director.

“We’re going to keep the elevator system, which goes down to all three floors,” Morris said. “That’s another project that we will be tackling.”

The center currently is in the first phase of renovations, which includes completing the gallery space on the second floor, where shows and exhibits will take place. The next task will be to complete the third floor, which will have in-house studio space that will include a print studio, gift shop and photography studio.

“Eventually we’ll be working into doing workshops, having classes here in the gallery space and things like that so people can come in and do paint nights if they want to or do photo shoots upstairs with me,” Voecks said. “It’s going to be an all-arts encompassing thing.”

The building will also serve as an event space for people to rent. An on-site photographer will be on hand for events, as will be Voecks, who also is a freelance photographer and graphic artist, who will work on graphics for invites or fliers.

Eric Voecks, a lighting and projections designer for the Givens Performing Arts Center, will work as resident artist at the studio and hopes to share his knowledge of theater with local youth.

“I don’t see a lot of opportunities in the area for younger people,” Eric said. “To grow theater audiences, you want to start young, so I’m really interested in working with the younger kids — elementary school age reaching high school — to develop writing workshops and play around with writing festivals.”

One idea is to hold play-writing festivals where attendees will be tasked with writing a short play in 48 hours.

The idea is to “get people together and the first 24 hours they spend writing and the second 24 hours you spend doing readings and workshops, and developing ideas,” he said.

He will also work with Morris in adding more entertainment and production value in terms of putting in new lighting equipment and control systems to add more “flair and pizzazz,” Eric said.

“We’ll be doing some black light art exhibits,” Morris added.

COVID-19 slowed bringing the arts ideas to fruition.

“Because of COVID and the way everyone is navigating that I don’t want to put out a date (on the opening), but the hope is like really soon and when I say really soon, I mean within the next six months or even before that,” Morris said.

Morris and Voecks see the space holding a soft opening for the gallery space in the spring when the studio has its first walk-through.

“We’ll be able to have an exhibit immediately following our first walk-through,” Morris said.

Other events, like jazz nights, poetry reading, summer camps, classes, and the exhibition also will resume once the first phase is complete.

Morris is looking to get community support for the renovation effort via future fundraisers.

Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.