Earl Scruggs Center and Don Gibson Theater, Shelby
Although relatively small in population, Cleveland County has given the world two musical giants. Earl Scruggs, an innovative banjo player from the small community of Boiling Springs, created a distinctive style of picking the banjo that catapulted the instrument from a background to a sophisticated lead instrument. Through his partnership with Bill Monroe and others he created bluegrass music. Don Gibson of Shelby was a songwriter of great talent. A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, he enjoyed a string of hits from 1957 into the early 1970s including “Sweet Dreams”, “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Destination Cleveland County (DCC) has created multiple partnerships and raised significant funds to complete two civic and tourism projects in Shelby — the Don Gibson Theater and the Earl Scruggs Center. The Don Gibson Theater, renovated from a downtown cinema, opened in 2009 and has attracted positive attention to the town and increased local revenues.
The Earl Scruggs Center, scheduled to open in early 2012, will be located in the newly renovated courthouse building. The Center will host displays documenting and chronicling the music of Earl Scruggs and its occupational, regional and social contexts. In this way, hometown hero Scruggs serves as the catalyst for local history and contemporary artistic expression in the county. In addition to articulating the life and career of Scruggs, exhibitions will offer opportunities for visitors to glimpse the broad musical, literary and raconteur talents of regional citizens.
Much of the local information about artists and artistic events was compiled by a documentation team of folklorists and historians from UNC-Chapel Hill. Destination Cleveland continues to collaborate with local citizens to create oral histories that inform the exhibits. Further plans include a community theater and classrooms for the Center.
This grassroots project, which involves strong partnerships with local stakeholders as well as nationally-recognized researchers, writers and designers, has allowed the citizens of Shelby to leverage local arts assets for innovative arts-driven economic development: It demonstrates the power of identifying and growing cultural resources through arts inventory processes and community outreach. In 2010, the project received $1.5 million in funding from the federal government’s Economic Development Administration.