CARRBORO — Should Carrboro create a special arts and creativity district, and what would it be like if it did?
About 35 people attended a recent meeting at The ArtsCenter to learn about other towns and cities that have created arts and creativity districts.
Carrboro is a town that has grown naturally into a place for artists to live and work, said Robert Donnan of the Saxapahaw area, who facilitated the discussion.
Jacquie Gist, the only member of the Board of Aldermen to attend the meeting, challenged that statement, saying the town, the aldermen and hundreds of others have worked very hard over the years to bring, keep and support the arts in Carrboro.
“It didn’t just happen,” she said.
A number of people had been given assignments to research and present information about other towns and cities that have arts or creativity districts. Those towns included Parker, Co.; Frederick, Md.; Paducah, Ky.; Shreveport, La.; Peculiar, Mo.; and Winston-Salem.
The presenters explained how some of the towns grew and financed their arts districts, but unlike Carrboro, many were developed in areas where houses and buildings were vacant, rents were low and inexpensive space was available for studios and galleries.
In some of those districts, people or businesses received benefits because they were helping revive depressed neighborhoods or downtowns.
‘The SoHo effect’
That model doesn’t match Carrboro’s situation, Gist said. During the past 30 or 40 years, Carrboro became a cool place to call home, and it’s become harder to find inexpensive places to live, she said.
“I worry about the SoHo effect,” she said, referring to the artsy but expensive warehouse district in Manhattan. “Arts come in and make a place a really neat place to live so that the people who created the community can no longer afford to live there.”
Gist said she wants to create an arts district, adding: “I don’t want it to be an expensive arts district so that the artists and others who already live here can’t afford to live here.”
Alison Weiner, a musician, said she would like to identify what artists and aspiring artists need to support themselves.
C.J. Suitt, who founded the Sacrificial Poets, a group that teaches young people writing and speaking skills through poetry, said he would want an arts district to support emerging artists.
If a young person who might become the next Lead Belly or Muddy Waters was living in the area, what would they need? he asked.
“What are the incremental steps that a town and a community can give them?” he said.
‘To do list’
Phil Szostak, who is creating plans for a new arts center building Main and Roberson streets, talked about Winston-Salem’s arts district.
Four groups, including the Downtown Arts District Association, the Associated Artists of Winston-Salem, The Arts Council and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership work together to keep the district running and vibrant, he said.
“They came together and came up with a list of ‘to do’s’ and they’re slowing going through these things,” Szostak said.