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Carnegie Hall Makes Lewisburg More Vibrant

By WHITNEY BURDETTE ∙ wburdette@statejournal.com

What do New York City, Pittsburgh, Dunfermile, Scotland, and Lewisburg have in common?

They're the only four places in the world you'll find a Carnegie Hall.

"It's really incredible to have a Carnegie Hall in West Virginia," said Alyssa Novoselick-Laird, development director for Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg.

Carnegie Hall has a long and storied history in Lewisburg, the Greenbrier County town named the Coolest Small Town in America in 2011. According to Heather Falls, marketing director, a 1901 fire at the Lewisburg Female Institute destroyed classroom space. The president of the college reached out to Andrew Carnegie, the billionaire who funded thousands of libraries in America and overseas, to fund reconstruction. Carnegie agreed to donate $26,000, and the residents of Lewisburg raised $10,000 to reconstruct the destroyed classrooms. 

The college president and Carnegie were from the same town in Scotland, Novoselick-Laird said. 

Today, thanks to Carnegie's generosity, the venue houses a 420-seat auditorium, classroom and exhibit space and offices. Many world-renowned acts come through Lewisburg for shows at Carnegie Hall.

"I think it has vastly enriched the culture of Lewisburg," Falls said.

In addition to concert series and art exhibits, activities for kids can be found at Carnegie Hall. Each year, two weeks in July are dedicated to the Kids College, a creative summer camp for school kids where they learn art, photography, dance, music, baking and entertaining. Other educational programs include the Spotlight on Schools and Art Explorers. Through these programs, Carnegie Hall and the local school boards have been able to develop valuable relationships.

"We have a partnership with the Greenbrier County Board of Education and with surrounding county boards of education," Novoselick-Laird said. "We do a lot of stuff in the schools. We put teaching artists in classrooms. We bring kids here do to shows. We give every fourth grader in the county a recorder and they participate in the link-up program. We're very involved with the school system."

And although Carnegie Hall's performance season is not year-round, the venue is a bustling place all 12 months of the year. In the summer, the hall also puts on another popular program, the Ivy Terrace Series. 

"Most people in town really love to come after work, they bring a picnic, alcohol or lemonade and have a good time listening to music outside," Novoselick-Laird said. "Those are the two things we do in the summer. Our season is September through May, so that's when we're promoting the big-time shows and school is also in session. We have so many things going on in the schools. It's busy."

The four Carnegie Halls are independently operated and governed by separate boards of directors. 

"We get support, not direct funding, but support, from Carnegie Hall in New York City through their Wheel Institute," Novoselick-Laird said. "That is our one connection to Carnegie Hall New York. Our name unites us and we belong to the same network, but we are four very different entities."

Through its educational programs, concert series and exhibit spaces, Novoselick-Laird and Falls agreed that the venue has added some spice to Lewisburg's arts community.

"I've traveled all over West Virginia and there's a lot of really great arts communities, but I think the arts is what makes Lewisburg so great," Novoselick-Laird said. "I think it drives a lot of tourism and helps with the downtown shops. We have a very collaborative sort of feel between the arts and commerce and our (convention and visitors bureau) is really supportive of the work we do. Studies have shown any time you have arts in the community, it increases a lot of economic impact of the region."