The ArtsCenter is a 501(c)(3) Arts Education non-profit located in Carrboro, North Carolina which offers classes, performances, and art exhibits all year round. The ArtsCenter facilities include a 350-seat theater, classrooms, a dance studio, a 100-seat performance space, and an art gallery. The ArtsCenter is the single largest employer of artists in Orange County, and serves more than 100,000 students and citizens throughout the area.
The ArtsCenter exists in order to educate and inspire artistic creativity and to enrich the lives of people of all ages. The vision of The ArtsCenter is to create an educational environment that provides opportunities, inspiration and tools to people of all ages and skill levels to participate in the arts.
The ArtsCenter, originally known as ‘ArtsSchool’ was founded in 1974 by artist Jacques Menache. Menache found inspiration for the ArtsSchool from his time living in Mexico City, where he found many multidisciplinary cultural institutes. During this time, Carrboro did not have as much of a strong artistic presence as it does today. Carrboro was seen as more of an industrial town. “There was a need in the community for cultural arts,” said Menache. Menache recognized the need for a space which could meet the needs of the artists in the community and shape the cultural climate of the town.
Menache rented a space on the second floor of present-day Armadillo Grill on Main St in Carrboro and organized classes for students. After opening the ArtsSchool, Menache advertised drawing and painting classes in the local paper. Soon after, Menache realized that the space he rented could be used for more than just drawing and painting classes. “The room was beautiful and had wooden floors,” says Menache, “so I had the floors refinished and started teaching dance classes, doing a little performing, and then pretty soon, people wanted to do theater in the space.” In time, Menache imagined that the walls in the space were “great for a little gallery”, and he began to host art openings. Later, Menache began projecting films in the back office.
“In the first 3 years, ‘74-’77, we were showing movies and having little dance performances, teaching classes in several disciplines, having concerts, and it snowballed. I ended up renting the whole upstairs and started teaching more classes. I put in a little art supply store for the students who came for drawing, and built a darkroom and started teaching photography” says Menache. By 1979, the ArtsSchool had over 300 students.
In 1979, As the ArtsSchool continued to expand, Menache raised the necessary funds to relocate across the street to Carr Mill Mall. As the ArtsSchool relocated, Menache changed the name to The ArtsCenter, to reflect the growth in space and diversity of programs. As well as a strong visual arts program, the organization included space for various performance arts, concerts, films, and poetry readings.
Eventually, the owner of Carr Mill Mall passed away. When a new owner bought Carr Mill, Menache decided to relocated once again. Menache saw that the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket across the street was about to close down and inquired about renting the space. After raising the funds, was able to secure a space in the old supermarket. This 20,000 sq. foot location was renovated and remains the location of the ArtsCenter today.
Some claim that the ArtsCenter contributed greatly to the artistic atmosphere in present-day Carrboro. Others claim that the ArtsCenter came at a time when there was already a catalyst for artistic growth. Some examples of this include the fact that big businesses and retailers were discouraged from opening in Carrboro, which contributed to a small-business and homegrown atmosphere.