The Paris of the Piedmont may soon be in the middle of a bohemian revolution as the town continues to discuss a possible new arts and creativity district.
Members of the steering project held three interactive public meetings Thursday, asking residents and stakeholders to offer ideas and help guide ongoing development plans for the proposed district.
“A lot of the genesis of Carrboro as a creative town goes back to Jacques Menache creating the arts school in 1974,” Art Menius, the Carrboro ArtsCenter Executive Director and member of the steering committee said.
“We’ve been inspiring creativity for 40 years in downtown Carrboro, so this is right at the heart of what we do and is many ways an expansion throughout town of our core nation.”
The proposed project is a collaboration between the town of Carrboro and the ArtsCenter in order to expand and redefine the cultural arts and entertainment district in the town.
Residents, artists and members took part in the meetings to discuss the needs and features of this expansion, voting on what they think is of highest priority. The biggest question became, would the town of Carrboro benefit from having a designated arts district?
The need for artist space
Lori Rhode, a local artist, said she attended the meeting because she felt it was important for artists to be in a place where they could inspire each other.
“Carrboro appealed to me as a place for artists anyway because there is that vibe, it’s here but it isn’t as developed as it could be,” she said.
Rhode is also part of the Triangle Weavers Guild and said she has seen the guild thrive in recent years with now a total of 85 members. She said, now more than ever, they need a bigger, permanent space to practice their art.
She said she sees other surrounding towns like Durham and Raleigh that have dedicated lower-cost art spaces and does not see why Carrboro does not do the same.
One of the most voted-on needs for the proposed district was the need for more studio space, in particular ones that would offer artists free parking space.
Using underutilized space
The discussion led into using underutilized buildings to develop more artist spaces and creating subsidized spaces within these unused buildings.
Carrboro Community and Economic Development Director and member of the steering committee Annette Stone said the town needs to strengthen what is already there and make sure that it serves the people that make the arts and creative district what it is, as well as giving residents and tourists a full experience of it.
Stuart Rosenfeld, principal and founder of Regional Technology Strategies, Inc. and member of the steering committee, said at this stage it is still very much about the process and how they can promote what they’re doing instead of what will actually be done.
“I think the challenge is to figure out what distinguishes Carrboro and what sets it apart,” Rosenfeld said. “Carrboro has a lot of depth and creativity already. But it’s a question of how it can distinguish and brand itself.”
Where to draw the line
Stone said the biggest takeaway from the meetings was how to redefine the proposed boundaries in order to be more inclusive of all members of the town.
In particular, underserved members, such as the Latino and Burmese community, were discussed.
“Downtown has a little distinct character itself, but there is desire to bring folks from the periphery,” Stone said. “We need to open up communication to do that.”
Rosenfeld said it is important to open up communication to residents because the value of the proposed project is ultimately the experience of the customers.
“I think any kind of strong economy is based on strong social connections,” Rosenfeld said. “You want to make sure you have something that is inclusive, that you include everybody in and that you make them feel like they are part of it.”
The next step
The three two-hour meetings are part of phase one in the proposed project, where the focus is to get feedback from members of the community and collect data.
Trish McGuire, Carrboro planning director and member of the steering committee, said the point that the project is in right now is to explore whether the community feels the need to establish an arts district.
“Our next step is to really map out the assets we have, that we characterize them, trying to get a full picture of what the artistic creative economy is in Carrboro,” she said.
Stone said they are still waiting to see whether the $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant they applied for will be given to them to establish the district.
“If funded then we’ll move on to phase two where we’ll take the data collected and try to develop a fully fleshed out plan that the (Carrboro) Board of Aldermen can consider for adoption,” she said
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