Municipal Auditorium

Updated: April 2019


A Modern Concert Venue with Stunning Ben Long Ceiling Fresco

The Municipal Auditorium of the City of Morganton, also known as CoMMA by locals, is a modern venue hosting concerts, Broadway shows, dance shows and theater as part of their MainStage Series, which typically runs from August to May.

An intimate outdoor amphitheater, The BackPorch, is located off the main gallery and features artists from North Carolina to Nashville during the summer months.


The  Municipal Auditorium , also known as  CoMMA  short for  City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium , opened in November of 1986.

The Municipal Auditorium, also known as CoMMA short for City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium, opened in November of 1986.

Outside along the side of the building is  The BackPorch , an amphitheater where during the summer months artists from North Carolina to Nashville perform.

Outside along the side of the building is The BackPorch, an amphitheater where during the summer months artists from North Carolina to Nashville perform.

The  Municipal Auditorium  also honors Etta Baker (1913-2006), an American Piedmont blues guitarist and singer, who lived in Morganton. Etta started playing the guitar at age three and was solely taught by her father. She played both the 6-string and the 12-string acoustic guitar and the 5-string banjo. In 1956 at age 43, she recorded her first songs. Etta received several awards throughout her musical life.

The Municipal Auditorium also honors Etta Baker (1913-2006), an American Piedmont blues guitarist and singer, who lived in Morganton. Etta started playing the guitar at age three and was solely taught by her father. She played both the 6-string and the 12-string acoustic guitar and the 5-string banjo. In 1956 at age 43, she recorded her first songs. Etta received several awards throughout her musical life.

Etta Baker with her husband Lee raised nine children, many of which continue the family’s musical tradition to this day. Several of Etta’s instruments and other memorabilia are displayed in a memorial case in the atrium of the  Municipal Auditorium .

Etta Baker with her husband Lee raised nine children, many of which continue the family’s musical tradition to this day. Several of Etta’s instruments and other memorabilia are displayed in a memorial case in the atrium of the Municipal Auditorium.


The atrium of the  Municipal Auditorium  also features an impressive ceiling fresco, titled  Sacred Dance & the Muses , by world-renowned fresco artist Ben Long. The fresco is approximately 24 feet wide, and 33 feet long (7 meters by 10 meters) with a 14-inch (36 centimeters) rise from the sides to its center. It took Ben Long and his team of three master artists and six apprentices three months to complete.

The atrium of the Municipal Auditorium also features an impressive ceiling fresco, titled Sacred Dance & the Muses, by world-renowned fresco artist Ben Long. The fresco is approximately 24 feet wide, and 33 feet long (7 meters by 10 meters) with a 14-inch (36 centimeters) rise from the sides to its center. It took Ben Long and his team of three master artists and six apprentices three months to complete.

Pictured in the fresco are the  Nine Muses  of Greek Mythology. The muses were deities, who gave artists and philosophers inspiration and creativity. The three muses at the center of the fresco are  Calliope ,  Euterpe,  and  Polyhymnia .  Calliope , the Goddess of Epic Poetry, is depicted playing the salpinx, a trumpet-like instrument of the ancient Greeks.  Euterpe , the Goddess of Music, is shown with the wind instrument Aulos, while  Polyhymnia , the Goddess of Sacred Poetry, plays the string instrument Pandura.

Pictured in the fresco are the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology. The muses were deities, who gave artists and philosophers inspiration and creativity. The three muses at the center of the fresco are Calliope, Euterpe, and Polyhymnia. Calliope, the Goddess of Epic Poetry, is depicted playing the salpinx, a trumpet-like instrument of the ancient Greeks. Euterpe, the Goddess of Music, is shown with the wind instrument Aulos, while Polyhymnia, the Goddess of Sacred Poetry, plays the string instrument Pandura.

The two giant masks represent the Greek symbols of Comedy and Tragedy. Below these masks are  Terpsichore , the Goddess of Dance, holding a Lyre, followed by  Thalia , the Goddess of Comedy. To the left of this group is  Melpomene , the Goddess of Tragedy, seemingly gliding from the mask of Tragedy. Sitting atop the mask Comedy is  Erato , the Goddess of Romantic Poetry.

The two giant masks represent the Greek symbols of Comedy and Tragedy. Below these masks are Terpsichore, the Goddess of Dance, holding a Lyre, followed by Thalia, the Goddess of Comedy. To the left of this group is Melpomene, the Goddess of Tragedy, seemingly gliding from the mask of Tragedy. Sitting atop the mask Comedy is Erato, the Goddess of Romantic Poetry.

Ben Long, typically, closely models the faces in his frescos on those of his family, colleagues, and friends. The golden ribbon that flows throughout the fresco is the ribbon of life and is made of 22-karat gold leaves.

Ben Long, typically, closely models the faces in his frescos on those of his family, colleagues, and friends. The golden ribbon that flows throughout the fresco is the ribbon of life and is made of 22-karat gold leaves.

The person sitting on the stairs with paintbrushes in his hands and an exhausted look on his face is said to be the artist Ben Long himself. From mid-January to early April of 2004, Ben Long and his team painted this fresco standing atop an 18-foot (5.5 meters) high scaffold. An inscription below the bottom of the stairs reads:  To my muse Ella Quinn Long .

The person sitting on the stairs with paintbrushes in his hands and an exhausted look on his face is said to be the artist Ben Long himself. From mid-January to early April of 2004, Ben Long and his team painted this fresco standing atop an 18-foot (5.5 meters) high scaffold. An inscription below the bottom of the stairs reads: To my muse Ella Quinn Long.

Ben Long also captured in this piece his teacher, Maestro Pietro Annegoni of Florence, Italy, with whom he apprenticed for nine years. His apprenticeship culminated in 1976 when he received the prestigious  Leonardo da Vinci International Art Award .

Ben Long also captured in this piece his teacher, Maestro Pietro Annegoni of Florence, Italy, with whom he apprenticed for nine years. His apprenticeship culminated in 1976 when he received the prestigious Leonardo da Vinci International Art Award.

Ben Long uses 15th-century techniques to paint his stunning artworks.

Ben Long uses 15th-century techniques to paint his stunning artworks.

This group features  Urania , the Goddess of Astronomy, at the center surrounded by stars and holding a planet. She is accompanied by  Clio , the Goddess of History, holding a long roll of papyrus. From the clouds appears  Pegasus , a muscular winged divine stallion.

This group features Urania, the Goddess of Astronomy, at the center surrounded by stars and holding a planet. She is accompanied by Clio, the Goddess of History, holding a long roll of papyrus. From the clouds appears Pegasus, a muscular winged divine stallion.

The person standing in front of the tall flames and dressed in a dark suit is said to be Ben Long’s friend Samuel Gray, director of the  Mountain Gateway Museum  in Old Fort NC.

The person standing in front of the tall flames and dressed in a dark suit is said to be Ben Long’s friend Samuel Gray, director of the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort NC.

Ben Long created numerous sketches and drawings before he started his work on the fresco. This sketch depicts  Erato , the Goddess of Romantic Poetry, which he placed on top of the mask Comedy. Several of his drawings are displayed throughout the atrium.

Ben Long created numerous sketches and drawings before he started his work on the fresco. This sketch depicts Erato, the Goddess of Romantic Poetry, which he placed on top of the mask Comedy. Several of his drawings are displayed throughout the atrium.

The Ben Long Ceiling Fresco

You may want to take a seat in one of the viewing chairs and relax while you admire the spectacular ceiling fresco in the atrium, titled Sacred Dance & the Muses, by Ben Long.

Ben Long is a world-renowned fresco artist, who uses 15th-century techniques to paint his stunning artworks. He learned these ancient techniques during his 9-year apprenticeship with Maestro Pietro Annegoni in Florence, Italy. His apprenticeship culminated in 1976 when he received the prestigious Leonardo da Vinci International Art Award.

The fresco measures approximately 24 feet (7 meters) wide and 33 feet (10 meters) long. The existing ceiling had to be removed to allow for the installation of mesh and plaster coats that would accept the fresco. It took Ben Long and his team of three master artists and six apprentices three months to complete the project in April 2004.

For the fresco, Ben Long chose the Nine Muses of Greek Mythology. The Nine Muses were Greek deities, who gave artists and philosophers inspiration and creativity. Adding to this theme, he included two giant masks representing the Greek symbols of comedy and tragedy.

Following his artistic tradition of closely modeling the faces of the figures in his frescos on those of his family, colleagues, and friends, he included his friend Samuel Gray, director of the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort NC, as the person dressed in a dark suit and surrounded by flames.

He also captured his teacher, Maestro Pietro Annegoni of Florence, Italy, who stands behind a group of humans and raises his right arm as if he wanted to wave.

The person sitting on the stairs with paintbrushes in his hands and an exhausted look on his face is said to be the artist Ben Long himself.

Other Works from Ben Long

Other frescos by Ben Long can be viewed in Uptown Charlotte in the lobby of the → Bank of America Corporate Center, in the → Historic First Presbyterian Church and inside the open-air public archway of the TransAmerica Square.

Did You Know?

Fresco comes from the Italian word for fresh, referring to the process of painting on plaster, a technique and a medium Michelangelo (1475-1564) used to paint the ceiling of the famous Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

The plaster is a mix of lime and sand. The artist applies the mix onto the wall and then paints the area while it is still wet, which requires perfect timing and great skill as the pigments of the paint bond rapidly with the wet plaster.



401 South College Street, Morganton, NC 28655
Tel.: → (828) 438-5294

Box Office:
Tel.: → (800) 939-7469

 
 
 

Fresco Visits:

Mon. to Fri.: 10am to 5pm.

Box-Office:

Mon. to Fri.: 12pm to 5pm.


Fresco Visits:

All year.

Concerts:

Depending on the show.


Fresco Visits:

Free admission.


Concerts:

Prices depend on the show and the seat.


Free on-premise parking.


The Municipal Auditorium is accessible by wheelchair.


Restrooms are available.