Bon Voyage to the Arts of the Pamlico leader

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Turnage Theater wasn’t exactly dark when Debra Torrance walked through the doors five years ago, but she’s leaving behind a substantial list of impressive accomplishments.

Torrance and her husband, documentary filmmaker Clay Johnson, are leaving Beaufort County for the mountains next month. While there is no faulting their timing, our community will miss them.

Beaufort County natives and newcomers have a local arts scene that should be the envy of towns our size and larger, thanks in large part to Torrance’s effort and execution.

It’s one thing to have grand visions for what elaborate projects should look like, but it’s quite another to have the relentless optimism and put in the time to make them a reality.

Torrance has worked throughout her time as Executive Director to keep AoP growing and expanding in its funding resources, programs, participants, and diversity within the communities of Beaufort County.
She has filled all corners of the theater with activity and carried arts programs throughout the county.  Arts of the Pamlico has presented programs for all of the people of the county.  These include youth arts programs, art exhibits, concerts, movies, community events, festivals, parades, performances, support for art groups from writers to dancers to musicians.

On the practical side, she helped raise millions of dollars to pay off the theater’s mortgage, replace the roof and begin to restore the classic vaudeville theater.

She also wrote multiple successful grants to help with various restoration projects.  Groundwork for plans to restore the upstairs of the theater is in place.

Other accomplishments include being named the non-profit of the year by the Chamber of Commerce, establishing the AOP School of the Arts for Kids, along with two community theater groups, the Bubble Gum Theater for youth and the AOP Players for adults.

Torrance also brought the ECU Opera Department and Storybook Theater to the Turnage for regular performances, expanded the annual Fine Arts Show and added a full schedule and broad variety of art exhibits.

The shows (at least most of them) went on even during the pandemic as Torrance nimbly shifted most programming online.



The Turnage was one of the first downtown venues to create activity as part of the center city revival, sparked by Torrance’s’ seemingly endless flow of ideas and recruitment of volunteers to implement them. The complete list of what she’s done to enhance our arts community is too large to for this space.

Here’s hoping the next Executive Director continues the upward trajectory.