Chapel Hill News

Arts plan to stress collaboration among towns, UNC

To achieve residents’ vision of arts in Chapel Hill, the town may need to enlist the help of Carrboro and the university.

With limited space and funding constraints, expanding arts resources would take collaboration from within the local arts community.

“We’re doing everything we possibly could with what we have,” said Jeff York, director of the Public and Cultural Arts Commission, at a forum last month, the second of three community meetings before the commission presents its 5-year plan to the Town Council in June.

The commission reviewed its broad goals for the plan, which will likely emphasize makerspaces and entrepreneurship.

Last year, the arts commission partnered with Launch Chapel Hill and 1789 Venture Lab to promote local artists’ work. ​York​ hopes to see more such partnerships.

UNC has two makerspaces on campus, which are open to the public. They include welding materials, a 3D printer and studio space.

The commission also plans to collaborate more with Carrboro’s arts programming.

“I think town lines are arbitrary,” Don Rose, a Kenan Flagler Business School professor, and member of the Carrboro ArtsCenter board, said. “We have more Chapel Hill people coming to our programs than Carrboro people. It’s just a ZIP code issue. In terms of the arts, it should be immaterial.”

The recent light arts festival, Shimmer, was a collaboration with Carrboro. The second Friday art walk spans the two downtowns.

“People who live in both towns are often in both places, so it’s a unique opportunity to work together rather than fighting to get constituents to our programs,” commissioner Josh Rosenstein said. “Most constituents are trying to access programs from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the university.”

Dan Cefalo, chairman of the commission, said they have collaborated with the university in the past on events like the Science Expo at Morehead Planetarium, and he hopes to see more collaboration on the Carolina Square development.

“It’s a very big beast in our backyard,” Cefalo said.

Both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have struggled to find space for public art, festivals, performances and arts-related businesses.

“Right now we have no place to show art except for the library and town hall,” said York. “We have no place to have people perform art except for 140 West and our parks, which are wonderful outdoor venues but we have no indoor venue.”

York said artists who live in Chapel Hill often have to go to Durham to show their work.

“We don’t have a huge tobacco warehouse we could convert into something we could put arts in,” Rose said.

Emily Cass, vice chair of the commission, said the second floor businesses on Franklin Street are mostly creative industries. However, art venues like FRANK gallery struggle downtown.

The draft of the Downtown 2020 plan designates Rosemary Street as a hub for creative industries. Carolina Square, a collaboration between UNC and the town, will include a performing arts component along with added office space that could be used for the arts.

Karen Fisher, who teaches at the clay studio, said she often finds out about arts events after the fact. She said there’s not one place to go for information on arts programming in the area.

Community members suggested creating maps to direct people to arts resources in Chapel Hill. The commission discussed creating a newsletter or master calendar advertising arts events around town.

“There’s so much going on, but there’s not that cohesion of people working together,” Rosenstein said.

The commission oversees programming that reaches more than 70,000 people each year, including the Fourth of July fireworks, arts classes, studio tours and festivals.

The next community meeting will convene at Flyleaf Books on March 14 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

The department is also accepting surveys online at

What’s next

The Public and Cultural Arts Commission will hold its third community meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 14 at Flyleaf Books, 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. An arts survey is available online at