In 1999, the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival Board learned that the Community Bible Church on Chestnut Street was for sale. It had been the dream for many years of Dr. Lucas Drew, Founding Director of the Festival, to have a permanent home for their summer performances; and it was with that motivating dream in mind; that the board of the Festival began to raise the funds necessary to purchase
the building.  It was quickly realized that since the Festival only used the building for a 6 week summer season, it would be worthwhile to join with another community group who might also need a home. It was decided that an ideal partner would be the Highlands Community Players. Their schedule was primarily a winter one, and that would complement the usage of the building. The final piece was put into place when the Town of Highlands agreed to accept the building and its improvements as Town property, thus creating a zoning exception. They became the third partner in this new organization, The Highlands Performing Arts Center.  As efforts began to underwrite the cost of the purchase and the renovation, several people stepped forward to make gifts: Sandy Cohn and Ruth Gershon, whose gift endowed the
main auditorium; Bill and Nell Martin, whose gift named the building for their parents; and Bill Galbraith, whose gift in memory of his wife, endowed the Reception Area. Many others also participated in making this dream a reality.

The Board of Directors was incorporated as a 501 C 3 not-for-profit in 1999, with the mission of providing the Highlands Community with a first-class, low cost, state of the art facility for nonprofit organizations within the community to use as a venue for performing arts.  After almost two years of planning and renovation, the building was opened to the community on June 16, 2001. It has been seen from the
beginning, as an integral part of the Highlands Community, providing space for creative expression of all kinds.  In 2009 alone, it has hosted programs and events attended by over 12,000 people.  These programs were presented or sponsored by the following organizations:

The Highlands Community Players
The Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival
The Center for Life Enrichment
The Highlands Institute for American Philosophical and Religious Thought
Art League of Highlands
The Bascom-Louise Gallery, The Fine Arts Center
The Highlands School
Mountain and Jazz Festivals
The Highlands Film Festival
The Dance Group of Western North Carolina
The Bel Canto Opera Series
The Highlands Biological Station and The Highlands Biological Foundation
The Highlands Historical Society
The Mountain and The Laurel Garden Clubs
The Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance
Leadership Highlands
Folkmoot
Poetry Alive!
The Instant Theater Company

Since its inception, the Performing Arts Center has solicited increased general support from the community at large. In 2002, the “Partners for PAC” was created as a membership organization whose purpose is to provide through a donation, general operating monies. In turn, the Partners have been offered volunteer opportunities, a newsletter, and recognition as a Partner. In 2003 the No-Go Gala was designed as a major gifts fund-raiser. It allows people to participate in providing monies for the operating expenses of the PAC without having to attend an event. It has been very well received by the Community. Another source of funding has been grants and corporate sponsorships from the following:

Western North Carolina Community Foundation
Mary Duke Biddle Foundation
A. L. Williams Family Foundation
Rotary Club of Highlands
Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival
Highlands Community Players
Highlands Women’s Club
Center for Life Enrichment
Highlands Institute for American Philosophical and Religious Thought
The Bel Canto Concerts
Mountain Findings
The Britton Foundation
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Corporate Matching Grants Programs

The PAC, as it is frequently called, continues to broaden its audience demographics to include all age groups and socio-economic ranges. Its mission is to keep admission and ticket costs at an affordable level, allowing the entire community to enjoy its programs and events. Targeted populations include children and youth and local year round residents.

In 2001 over 35 rehearsals and events were scheduled. In 2002 that increased to 85. By 2003 there were 132 scheduled events not counting rehearsals. The number has risen steadily in the following years and still continues to do so.  In 2002, money was raised to purchase the land immediately behind the building for additional parking. With the help of the Town, this property was leveled and paved, and in 2006 this area was beautifully landscaped, as a gift from the Laurel Garden Club. The front garden was also a landscaping gift from the Highlands Falls Garden Club in 2004.  In 2006 a campaign was undertaken to raise money for the addition of a 20X40 foot back-stage to the building. This renovation took place in the winter of 2007, and was in full use during the 2007 summer season. It comprises dressing rooms and rest
rooms for men and women, a lift for scenery and instruments, an area for building sets and storage, and an updated Reception Area.  The thirteen member Board of Directors ran the building with the help of a part-time Administrative Director until November 2007, when the first full time Administrative Director was hired. This represented a major benchmark for the PAC, moving it from a primarily volunteer organization, to a staffed, professional one.

In 2011, PAC made another shift, implementing a Membership Program and scheduling series of performances in Bluegrass, Broadway and Storytelling.  Further enriching the performing arts in the Highlands area.

PAC History