A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Michael Tahaney compares New Bern’s arts and culture scene to a bird ready for flight: “Its wings are spread, and this town is taking off,” he says. Tahaney, executive director

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Michael Tahaney compares New Bern’s arts and culture scene to a bird ready for flight: “Its wings are spread, and this town is taking off,” he says. Tahaney, executive director

Anchored by the Arts in New Bern

Michael Tahaney compares New Bern’s arts and culture scene to a bird ready for flight: “Its wings are spread, and this town is taking off,” he says. Tahaney, executive director of the coastal town’s New Bern Civic Theatre, attributes the flight of theater, art, and music to a creative culture that welcomes artists of all types.

It’s hard not to feel inspired in a town where two picturesque rivers join forces to offer sweeping waterfront views at every turn, Tahaney points out. Add to that a historic downtown scene, small-town hospitality, and a vibrant local community, and you get a magnetic cultural scene.

Anchor your next trip to New Bern around one of its annual arts festivals, and you, too, will embrace a colorful new perspective as you explore this haven of creativity.


New Bern will highlight its arts community during the family-friendly Arts in April event. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

Arts in April

To shine the spotlight on its flourishing arts community, New Bern will hold its second annual Arts in April. The month-long celebration kicks off on April 5.

The first in a series of weekly plein air art demonstrations will take place on the grounds of Tryon Palace.

Cap off the weekend’s revelries with A Grimm Twist by the Dangerous Prodigy Circus, a reimagined performance of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with unexpected twists and turns at the New Bern Civic Theatre, April 5 to 7.

Tryon Palace’s Latham Garden is a formal garden of flowers, pathways, and clipped hedges that were commonly used in English gardens of the period. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

The second weekend begins April 12 with the monthly tradition of Art Walk, presented by Craven Arts Council. On Saturday, there will be Art Exhibits at St. Cyprian’s Church and a one-night-only benefit performance of The Diary of a Mother at New Bern Civic Theatre.

April 20 brings back New Bern Follies, an old-fashioned variety show honoring The Athens Theatre’s origins as a Vaudeville theater.

As a grand finale, Music Fest will close out the Arts in April festivities on April 28. “If you’re a music lover, it’s going to be all music, all day, downtown,” Tahaney says. Music Fest will feature public street performances in front of Athens Theatre and Bear Plaza. 

Check out the full Arts in April schedule at Visit New Bern.


See plein air artists at work during the week-long North Carolina Plein Air Festival. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

From Nature to Canvas

Mother’s Day marks the start of the fourth annual North Carolina Plein Air Festival in New Bern, a week-long painting competition of 35 national artists, May 12-19. Plein air painting — or painting what the artist sees in the natural world — gives participants a chance to enjoy New Bern’s beauty as they improve their techniques and increase their speed.

Spectators benefit, too. “Plein air is the only thing I know of that allows the public to see the creative process from beginning to end,” says Kippy Hammond, the event’s coordinator.

Hammond adds that watching artists in action can spark renewed interest in painting — or inspire people to pick up a paintbrush for the first time. Many art collections begin at plein air events, she says. “Some of the paintings are sold straight off the easel.”

Check the festival’s app to locate artists and their locations, as well as information about demonstrations, workshops, and pop-up sales. “For people who are new to plein air events, the app also gives tips for interacting with artists in the wild,” Hammond says.

In November, the New Bern Artists Studio Tour, organized by Craven County Arts Council, offers a peek into the town’s special spaces where creativity blooms. Last year’s event featured 50 artists who work in a variety of media — glass, clay, and paint, to name a few.


Kick off ArtWalk — held the second Friday of each month — at Craven Arts Council & Gallery. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

Perennial Art

In addition to special events, New Bern gives residents and visitors year-round options for embracing the arts.

Downtown comes alive on the second Friday of each month with ArtWalk. Around 30 shops and galleries extend their hours to showcase artists and welcome art lovers. “Our downtown has six dedicated gallery spaces within three blocks,” says Jonathan Burger, executive director of Craven County Arts Council. “With all the variety, people are sure to find something they love.”

Start your evening with a glass of wine, and get a first peek at the latest exhibit at Craven Arts Council & Gallery. Pick up a map of the ArtWalk circuit at this gallery and shop, filled with works of local and regional artists. Along the self-guided tour, featured artwork is celebrated with refreshments and live music.

See local art at Community Artists Gallery & Studio. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

In addition to sponsoring ArtWalk, Craven Arts Council hosts exhibitions each month. Its May show, “ROY G BIV,” invites artists to create one-square-foot art in a single hue. These pieces will line the walls of the gallery in a rainbow of colors.

In the heart of New Bern, all types of locally created art fills Community Artists Gallery & Studio on Middle Street. At this cooperative of artists from Craven and surrounding counties, visitors stumble upon photography and paintings created with watercolors, pastels, and acrylics ranging from abstract designs to landscapes. The gallery also displays handmade jewelry, purses, textiles, and the works of emerging artists.


Savor flavorful tapas as you enjoy live entertainment at Baxter’s 1892. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

Take Note

Travel back to the early 19th century at the newly opened Baxter’s 1892, inspired by its century-old building. Every Wednesday through Sunday night, the elegantly appointed venue features live jazz, blues, singer-songwriters, and easy listening. “We really want to focus on presenting quality music in a truly professional way,” co-owner Tyler Griffin says.

Take a seat at the bar and sip a Buttercup, a specialty cocktail made with brown-butter-washed bourbon, amaretto, and cherry-vanilla bitters, as the night’s performers croon away on the elevated stage. With a sound system designed by the Emmy Award-winning Chuck Davis and the famed drummer Bernard Purdie in its house band, you’re in for a musical treat.

The Craven Arts Council & Gallery is housed within Bank of the Arts, formerly the First Citizens Bank building. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

Just around the corner, Bank of the Arts hosts intimate At the Gallery Concerts five times a year, representing the music of 20th-century songwriters. The May 25 show will feature the music of Petula Clark by Crystal Bright and the Sliver Hands. Enjoy a pre-concert talk about the night’s music selection as well as wine and refreshments at intermission.

Footloose on the Neuse, New Bern’s free summertime concert series, features a wide range of music styles — rock, beach, soul, and classic rock. Mark your calendar for Friday, May 24, when the series kicks off at Union Point Park. Plan to bring the kids, your camp chairs, and enough energy to dance the night away on the waterfront.


Theater-goers at the New Bern Civic Theatre.

Don’t miss New Bern Civic Theatre’s 2024 lineup, ranging from classical to pop productions. Photography courtesy of Visit New Bern

On Stage: Theater Through the Seasons

RiverTowne Players hosts musicals, plays, and other performances in the historic Masonic Theatre. Originally built for vaudeville acts and concerts, the theater housed Confederate arms and later a Union hospital during the Civil War. This season, you can see the Tony Award-winning Fiddler on the Roof three weekends in April. In August, Blithe Spirit hits the stage, and in October, the whole family can enjoy Finding Nemo Jr. For the season finale, simply follow the yellow brick road to the performance of The Wizard of Oz, running November 30 to December 15.

The completely renovated Athens Theatre, built in 1911 for vaudeville, traveling theater groups, and silent movies, is now home to New Bern Civic Theatre. The classic musical, Cabaret, premiers in May. The theatre’s 2024 season ranges from Shakespeare and energetic musicals (SpongeBob, Camp Rock, and Grease) to a celebration of African American heritage and culture. Thanks to its new, custom-designed audio system, Tahaney says the sound is truly astonishing. 

As your New Bern arts and culture retreat comes to an end, you’ll see why the town is inspiring a new class of creators. “There are a lot of artists here, working together, teaching each other,” Burger says. “They’re helping each other to create new and better work each time they do.”

This story was published on Mar 11, 2024

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.