ARTS ACTION ALERT! Want a center for arts in Chapel Hill? Let your council know!


Chapel Hill Museum building

Want to help create a vibrant center for arts in Chapel Hill?  A proposal for creation of the “523 Center” in the old Chapel Hill Museum, located at 523 E. Franklin Street, has been submitted to the Chapel Hill Town Council and will be considered at their meeting on May 9.  For more information, and tips on how to show your support for this proposal, read on!


A little background

This idea began after the Council asked the Parks and Recreation Department to get public input into how to use the building, as it was vacant following the museum closing. At a public hearing on December 7, 2010, attended by 70 people, many ideas were presented, but the majority of proposals involved use of the building for some form of arts programming or arts center.  After the meeting, the Town, through its Cultural and Public Arts Department, began using the building as a place to program cultural arts activities and as a meeting space for local community organizations.  As Jeff York, Cultural & Public Arts Administrator for the Town, described, “It really took off.  The place just seemed alive.”  Events included 400 in attendance at the opening of the “Local Histories, The Ground We Walk On” exhibition organized by elin o’Hara slavick, a UNC art professor, as well as regular group meetings, theater rehearsals, and exhibition related lectures.

What is at stake

The issue before the Town Council on May 9 is the continued use of the facility by the Town’s Cultural and Public Arts Department for programming.  Specifically, the Town’s Public Arts Commission has requested a budget allocation of  $78,500  to continue operating 523 E. Franklin Street as a cultural arts venue for 2011-12.  The proposed budget covers staffing, operations, programming and utilities, but does not include funds for maintenance and repairs.

See the Proposal to the Council, a summary of public comments, as well as the “Cultural Arts and 523 building Concept Statement” here.

The issue was presented to the Town Council at their last meeting but tabled for the May 9 budget meeting. While there was support for the proposal, there were concerns raised by some council members.

The Town of Chapel Hill has very limited space for arts programming.  At this point, the Cultural and Public Arts Department uses space in the Town Hall and other town buildings, and the Town provides some monetary support for the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, but the Town has no space dedicated to the arts.  The 523 E. Franklin building gives them the dedicated space needed to expand their programming.   In comparison, other towns in the Triangle have created or are creating arts centers (ArtSpace, Sertoma, Pullen, CAM in Raleigh, and the Durham Arts Council building, Cary‘s new arts center, etc.) and are not only benefitting from the programs and events offered at these spaces, but are also benefiting economically from the vibrancy these spaces add to their towns and the visitors they attract. Chapel Hill simply needs such a facility.  The Creative Community needs to get behind the Cultural Arts Office and support this effort.

How to show your support!

Individual action works and this is especially true at the local level.  Your elected officials want to know how their constituents feel about an issue.  So, if you live in Chapel Hill and support the continued use of 523 E. Franklin by the Cultural and Public Arts Department, call, write or email your city council and Mayor NOW.  Here is their contact information.  It’s easy and quick to do.

Don’t know what to say?  You can tell them a personal story about how the arts in Chapel Hill have benefited your family or business and that you want more of it.  Or you can simply tell them that you support use of 523 E. Franklin as an arts center.  Making the contact and registering your support of this effort is the most important thing, it is not how well you say it.

523 Franklin as part of growing arts programming in Chapel Hill

523 Franklin is part of the Cultural Arts Concept Statement submitted by the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission to the Council in its last meeting. Although this Statement only talks about future possibilities, and with the current economy it is not clear when such programs could move forward,  the retention of the use of 523 Franklin is key to the future of arts and culture programming in Chapel Hill.  Jeff York sees the creation of the space as an arts incubator.  As he writes in his Concept Statement.

The Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission recognizes that 523 East Franklin Street is a desirable facility in which to test and refine many elements of a cultural arts program. One concept for launching a cultural arts program at 523 East Franklin is that of an arts incubator that would be a community-based public resource, flexibly managed, collaboratively programmed, and innovative in spirit. The 523 Arts Incubator would support existing and emerging artistic ventures in a growing art community that both nurtures local arts traditions and seeks understanding through the arts of Chapel Hill’s place in region, nation, and world. As a community-based public resource, the 523 Arts Incubator will be available for exhibitions, cultural activities, meetings, programs, and events related to its mission. The facility and programs will be flexibly managed and open to both non-profit and for-profit organizations. Collaboration will be encouraged, including public-private partnerships.

Collaboration as key to future use

As noted in the concept statement, the Town sees collaboration with public and private entities as an important component of the future use of the 523 Franklin building.  If the continued use of the building is approved by Council, the Town Arts Department is currently working with elin o’Hara slavik on an agreement for slavik to oversee use of and curate part of the building for shows and to allow students to learn the business of art administration and curation.  Under this agreement, slavik’s time would be paid for by UNC, which would save the town money, while allowing the space to be open longer and more programming for the Town to enjoy.



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David Richardson says:

I was at the opening of local histories and it was terrific! Great cultural events are one of the reasons I decided to move to here and continue to stay!


Sherryl Kleinman says:

I strongly support an arts center in Chapel Hill. I remember going to wonderful exhibits in exactly that space in years past, when the CH Museum was there. One exhibit included black and white photographs of family care homes in the Triangle. It was a sad day when the museum closed. This would be a wonderful replacement.

Given all the talent in Chapel Hill, how could we NOT have an arts center?

Patrick Kavanaugh says:

To whom it may concern: I am writing in support of and to request that the Chapel Hill Town Council approve the formation of CHART at 523 East Franklin. Town – Gown Harmony: This cultural arts center developed by faculty and student to be enjoyed by all is a perfect opportunity to promote a positive relationship between our community citizens and the University. Dr. Slavik: She is a rising star in this town, blazing a path down the road of arts in a way not seen here in decades. Already a leader, she has gone about the development of community arts with both professionalism and with passion that resonates. History would likely look back on her as an important figure in our town one day were we to do all we can to provide her with the means to help her, help us achieve our vision and mission for the Arts in Chapel Hill. Neighborliness – What a perfect opportunity and a pragmatic one as well, to utilize this facility – lest it sit empty and unused on one of our most important and currently vulnerable avenues. And most importantly, her works! My wife and I have seen her art. We love it. Our kids love it! No doubt this project will be a huge hit!

I urge you to retain the CHART space. Our area is becoming a nationally known hub for the arts but we are short on having spaces where young, unsung artists–as well as the recognized pros–can exhibit their work and where other artists around the country can also be shown, enriching our area as a very unique and important arts hub. Local Histories, curated buy elin o’Hara slavick, is brilliant, and made me see what an architectural treasure this building is. We need more of those too. This is an investment in the kind of area we are and want to be. Thank you for your consideration.

Laurel Fredrickson says:

I want to join in supporting the proposal to create an arts space in Chapel Hill for arts programming, sorely needed in the area. This will be a venue that will bring together people from the Triangle as a whole and contribute to its cultural and economic development..

Peg Bachenheimer says:

I would like to know what all the proposals for the old library building are. I heard there were quite a few and I think they should all be published.

admin says:

There is a link in the blog post to the background documents that were part of the Council’s agenda. Those documents include all of the comments at the public hearing.

elin o'Hara slavick says:

As far as I know, my + Jeff York’s proposal for CHART, is the ONLY proposal out there. There have been people saying “sell it” or “close it” or “it should be this or that” but we are the only ones to step forward with a plan and vision and energy to do it! No one has offered to buy it. No one has submitted any other plan. It is a historical building in the heart of the historic district. What a shame to close or sell it or let it sit idle!