Rallying Around the Cultural Scene – First Off: Bel Air Artisans Center

“The arts are the best insurance policy a city can take on itself.”
Woody Dumas, former Mayor of Baton Rouge

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In our day to day lives of work and family responsibilities, there isn’t a lot of time to wax poetic over a question like, what speaks to the stability of a community? That’s why I am writing this post. When I first launched this blog last July,  I visited the BAAC where the people involved are welcoming and talented. Unable to draw a straight line myself, I am thankful for the beauty creative people bring to our lives.

I grew up in Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago, and was taken regularly into the city, to the ballet, to the opera, to museums, and theater. The city provided a cultural playground. I understand how the arts speak to the stability of a community, how necessary they are, not only for those who live here, but for the people moving to Rocky Mount. They want a diverse population, a cultural context that the Mills, Railroad, and Tobacco stories provide. They want a historically relevant sense of place, and they want a place that offers art, music and theater.

I think you would agree that those of us who live busy lives often take for granted places in Rocky Mount that are important pieces in the revitalization puzzle. Think of the Tar River Orchestra & Chorus, the many facets of  The Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences, The Dunn Center for the Performing Arts, and the Artisans Center: all essential to the stability of the community.  The Artisans Center is an incubator space for creative people with plenty of room for expansion. It has endless potential still untapped. I’m concerned this place will remain under appreciated until we understand what a critical piece the arts have in drawing people to the area and the enrichment of our own lives.

The Bel Air Artisans Center has had extensive love and money poured into the building, turning it into a creative place for the entire community. The building is for sale, but its mission remains important to the future. This is a plea to artists, for all creative people in the community to consider your significant role in the future of the city. I want the community to rally around all the arts because they represent more than we may have realized. In the case of the Artisans Center, you may not need a studio, but you would enjoy the inspiration of artists hard at work. Visit, bring friends, let’s think of enriching ways to entice people to the BAAC. Support music, the performing arts, the cultural scene.         And….don’t be surprised if you find me in the street directing traffic towards

             115 S. CHRUCH STREET.  Hours: Thursday-Saturday 10-5     (252) 442-8115

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Making Their Home In Rocky Mount -Carole Mehle

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Carole Mehle

An artist, a writer, Carole Mehle is a Rocky Mount native with a drive and dedication that contributes everyday to the place she calls home. She graduated from Rocky Mount High School and laughingly says, “I teach to support my art habit.” Edgecombe Community College, the Rocky Mount campus, is lucky to have Carole who teaches English and Humanities. Carole is downtown everyday, a prime example of staying at home and making a life that is creative and interesting. She has a grandmother who is 103!  and checks on her everyday. That gives you insight into this young professional woman.

Carole paints, collages, creates mixed media, makes jewelry and glass magnets. She wrote a novel when she was ten years old. I bet she drew the cover jacket for it as well. She has a studio at Bel Air Artisans Center and is involved in planning an Artists Open House this fall. Once the date is announced, I urge everyone to attend. Carole will tell you what an amazing place the Center is. The artists help critique each others work, inspire each other, and have formed a community that is important to Rocky Mount when seeking creative companionship. Carole is a great spokesman for working and living in Rocky Mount.

A quote from Carole: “I have so many good memories of growing up in Rocky Mount, from riding the train at Sunset Park to visiting the Children’s Museum and Braswell Library as a child. I remember many wonderful afternoons spent shopping on Main Street, and going in the back doors. Much of my life has centered around Main Street, from my first “nursery school” on Hill Street to a former workplace on Howard Street and my current workplace on Tarboro Street and my space at Bel Air Artisans Center. I have always made the arts a part of my life. In the last few years, between the emergence of the Dunn Center, the Imperial Center, Nash Arts, and the Bel Air Artisans Center, Rocky Mount has developed culturally. For me, that has really made staying here a much easier decision. Because I was interested in things like art, music, drama, books, and culture that the general populus of our area does not seem too interested in, finding outlets and people to encourage these outlets has greatly enhanced my life, and hopefully those I touch on a daily basis — perhaps without even having to say a word, thanks to my art.”

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Making Their Home in Rocky Mount

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Robin Owens Latham

Robin is a bright, articulate, native born Rocky Mount woman, who is living and working in a place she has always called home. One reason she remains is to live close to her family. Robin has memories of  accompanying her grandmother on errands downtown Rocky Mount, stopping at Almands to pick up a prescription, on to Sonny’s Take Out for a foot long hot dog and a 10 ounce Coke. Robin says, “Coming downtown was just what you did.” She can tell you a lot of  ‘once upon a time stories,’ the history of things, about the people who began to move away in the 1950’s, who have now inherited downtown buildings which they can’t bring themselves to sell, but have allowed the buildings to sit vacant. Robin has lots of ideas about these challenges, and is a big proponent of her home. Rocky Mount is lucky to have her on their team.

Robin graduated from Northern Nash high school and has gone on to teach English full time at Nash Community College.  You can find her nurturing the creative side of herself at The Bel Air Artisan Center in a studio she shares with her husband, Mike Latham, the current Chair of Rocky Mount Historic Preservation Commission. Robin paints, collages, works in mixed media, and makes jewelry. The best birthday present I’ve heard about in a long time is the gift Mike gave Robin; the gift of her studio at the Center. FYI: Different size spaces include utilities and 24 hour access and can be rented by the month. No wonder the current 12 studio artists are big supporters of the Center. It provides them exposure, and the inspiration they derive from one another. Here is a quote from Robin you will enjoy.

“My dream is for the downtown area of Rocky Mount to come back to life. My family and I shopped downtown frequently all throughout my childhood. I loved the old Belk Tyler’s, Almand’s Drugstore, and so many more great shops. There are some wonderful local businesses still there and newly added. We just need more! If I had a billion dollars, I would buy up the buildings and give grants to people to create businesses on Main Street – some with apartments above! Life brings life! We can do it!” 

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Handcrafted with copper or aluminum wire and a variety of beads - vintage beads, semiprecious stones, etc
Handcrafted with copper or aluminum wire and a variety of beads – vintage beads, semiprecious stones, etc