you're reading...

Cornelius News

The Cain Center for the Arts is off to a boffo start

The Cain Center for the Arts executive director Justin Dionne | Photo by Dave Yochum

March 22. By TL Bernthal. As the inaugural season for the Cain Center for the Arts hits mid-season, executive director Justin Dionne is looking ahead and booking acts for the fall.

The inaugural season was somewhat like a soft opening for the center staff, learning what works well and how to enhance the experience.

“This year was a year for getting open and to be in the learning mode,” Dionne said.

Dionne said the first season was purposefully “very, very, really diverse” in both music and performing arts.

Music ranged from jazz, classical blended with pop, folk, Irish and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, which will cap the inaugural season with a matinee Sunday, May 14.

The Cain Center will host the Charlotte Ballet on Saturday, March 25, as part of the goal to bring professional, regional performing groups to Cornelius, Dionne said. Dance and musical theater, for example, also fulfill a niche in the stretch for diversity.

Part of the plan

Booking the Charlotte Ballet and the Charlotte Symphony are also part of the programming promise made to residents. Dionne said that when he came aboard five years ago, area residents were asked what they’d like to attend at the Cain Center for the Arts.

The Cain Center for the Arts grand opening was January 3, 2023

Two popular performances that Lake Norman residents brought consistently were the Charlotte Ballet and the Charlotte Symphony, with the thought that they’d be even better without the drive into Charlotte, he said.

When the Cain Center reached out, the feeler was met with enthusiasm. Turns out, “they would love to come to expand their audience,” Dionne said.

Will you see it again?

How often any particular group or performer will appear depends on how well the shows do, Dionne said.

“The litmus test is how do ticket sales go?” Dionne said

Sold-out performances by musical theater group Forever Young and comedian Jon Reep showed Dionne he needs to try to book those performers or ones like them.

Sell-outs are one measure, Dionne said, but it’s not the only one. How they made the audience feel is another.

Dionne said comments made to him about Forever Young’s January performance fell into two categories: “We’re sorry we missed it” and “We’d love to see it again.”

Dionne is working on the fall 2023 and 2024 schedule now.

Response to the first season has been great, with good turnout for performances, Dionne said. “Just because it doesn’t sell-out doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success.”

New season

The fall season will probably start in mid-August.

Although there aren’t any summer shows planned, that could change this summer and in future years, Dionne said. He said could pick up the phone and it’s an agent saying a performer will be in the area and has availability. If it’s a good fit for the center, you could see surprise notices of a show planned for two weeks out, Dionne said.

The Cain center also has a rental program for events in the theater, which has chairs that fold down and can be covered for a dinner or dance floor.

“Our goal is to never have it intentionally dark,” Dionne said.


Discounting tickets like is often done on Broadway is not part of the Cain Center business model, Dionne said.

“Tickets are selling so well there’s no reason to discount,” he said. Ticket prices have not been an issue.

Even though discounted tickets for the public are not in any plans right now, that could change in the future.

The center sometimes reserves a block of tickets to a performance for community accessibility through organizations the center partners with. The ticket cost is offset through contributions made to the center.

For example, some of the 21 students in the Cain Center’s music program attended the February show of Sons of Serendip, a quartet that uses instruments that some students are learning. A ticket would cost $40 to $60, a price that some of the students and their families cannot afford.

“It’s an opportunity for the students, and perhaps a family member, at no cost to see what they are learning,” Dionne said, noting such inspiration to a student is priceless.