Ask someone walking down Franklin Street how they feel about the local arts scene. They’re likely to mention going to performances at Carolina Performing Arts or plays at Playmakers. Or maybe classes they’ve taken at The ArtsCenter, or Hillsborough’s reputation as a writer’s haven. They might mention the Carrboro Music Festival, or the Hillsborough Handmade Parade. Perhaps they’ll get nostalgic and talk about the legendary music scene of Chapel Hill of the ‘90s and early 2000s, citing some of the venues still standing today, like Cat’s Cradle and The Cave.
Now ask a local working artist the same question. You’ll probably hear they have a hard time finding places to exhibit, and therefore sell, their work. Or that they love Orange County but can’t afford to live here on an artist’s earnings. Or that they live here, but have to drive to Durham or Pittsboro to find studio or rehearsal space, or to teach a class.
This very easy and completely un-scientific exercise sums up the current state of arts in Orange County: we are a community of contradictions when it comes to the arts. We consume the arts; we go to plays and concerts and buy works of art, but we lack adequate resources to support the creators of the art we love. We’re proud of our many artist residents, but their input on issues impacting our economic growth and quality of life has been largely absent. We are a progressive leader in the state on issues like human rights and environmental protection, yet we’re trailing behind our neighbors when it comes to elevating our creative class. We are a community of creatives, but this artistic presence seems to be less visible as we develop and grow.
Beginning in 2017, the Orange County Arts Commission (OCAC) set out to examine this conundrum. Why, in a community where the nonprofit arts sector contributes $130 million to our annual economy, do most artists have to leave the county to work? How are we home to some of the most impressive community resources in the state, yet lack basic infrastructure for creative development? And what can we do to change this pattern, and make the arts a central part of our community’s character and planning?
Setting the Stage summarizes our findings and explains our path forward. We have identified three primary needs of our arts community and the OCAC’s plan to address them: the support provided by a stronger county-wide Local Arts Agency, creating more infrastructure and identifying new funding for the arts, and providing equitable access to the arts for all citizens. We have also examined arts space models in other communities in an effort to understand how we can create similar facilities in Orange County. As we work together with community partners to fulfill our identified goals, we look forward to a new and more prominent presence for the arts in Orange County, and as a result, an Orange County that better reflects the creative community we are.FINALforweb5
Download the report here.