Chapel Hill looks for residents' input on local art programs
A student passes by a mural outside of Carolina Coffee Shop on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. The mural, titled "Parade of Humanity" and created by Michael Brown, was restored in 2008 and stands as one of several pieces of public art in Chapel Hill.
The Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Arts & Culture organization released a survey last Tuesday asking Facebook users and town members what they can do to improve the arts locally.
Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture was formed about two and a half years ago, but according to Executive Director Susan Brown, who also serves as director of the Chapel Hill Library, the organization is still working towards forming a concrete mission statement.
By asking the community, Brown and her team said they hoped to receive the most direct and applicable feedback about their past work with arts programming, festivals and events and their future in the arts.
“We realized we’ve been doing good work in these areas, but we didn’t have a unified sense of why we were doing that work — what the purpose is,” Brown said. “We have (our own) thoughts, but the first word in community arts and culture is community, so we decided to ask folks what they thought.”
The four question survey asked about specific actions Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture should take, and how arts have impacted the participant’s life.
Director of Downtown Partnerships Matt Gladdek, who is in the process of working with Brown on the new initiatives, said the arts have broadened his perception of the world and people around him.
“One of the things that arts does that is invaluable is allows you some insight into someone else’s perspective,” Gladdek said. “I think that can make us all more empathetic and understanding of other people’s experience in life.”
Brown said the town is known for having a culturally-involved population, especially in the case of the arts.
“Chapel Hill enjoys such a great reputation and reality for a very engaged community,” Brown said. “They know best what impact arts and cultural activities can have, so before we started designing a new program or festival, we wanted to ask those kinds of deep questions.”
Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture is working towards creating a new website, mission statement, logo and eventually programming. Brown said all of the responses from the survey will be taken into account when deciding the design and intentions of these elements.
Kathryn Stewart Wagner, associate director of UNC's Arts Everywhere, took the survey last week and said there are three actions Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture could take to help the community thrive: offering opportunities for artistic partnership and participation, promoting events already happening on a broader scale and creating a culture of curiosity.
“I think the town — and all of us — could help encourage this curious nature that we all have inside of us by really allowing opportunities for exploration and people getting in touch with their own innovative and creative side,” Stewart Wagner said.
Stewart Wagner said she believes the arts are the best way to bring people together because it forces people outside of their comfort zone.
“The arts can be a great connector,” Stewart Wagner said. “Everybody’s lives are so busy. The arts perhaps encourage us to think outside of ourselves and outside of any boxes that we put our thoughts and our lives in. It can be kind of a common language that creates a shared understanding with a wide variety of people.”
Brown said the survey is valuable to Chapel Hill because the arts have such a widespread impact on many different aspects of life.
“Arts and culture are seen as a really important way to build community, to highlight diversity, to attract visitors and to drive economic development,” Brown said.