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Eno River Mill to become multi-use arts facility

The Eno River Mill will soon be renting out spaces for art.

The Eno River Mill will soon be converted to new affordable art space for the Hillsborough community. 

On Oct. 15, the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to proceed with phase 1 of the Eno River Mills Arts Project with Hedgehog Holdings, a property management company. 

“We were listening to the arts community to determine the needs of the county," said Katie Murray, director of the Orange County Arts Commission. "There is very little infrastructure for the county off campus."

The project comes after community concerns about the lack of art spaces outside of UNC, according to Penny Rich, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Many people not associated with UNC have little-to-no options for artistic workspaces, Rich said.

“Specifically in Chapel Hill, we hear that there is space for the students and professors, but not any space for the rest of the community,” Rich said. “If you’re a young artist right out of college or a person that didn’t go to college and you live in an apartment, where do you create? I’ve been an elected official for over 10 years now, and that comes out as a number one priority for folks in the county.” 

The spaces will accommodate a variety of artistic outlets.

“The space can be used for anything from painting to writing a play or a space to write poetry,” Rich said.

According to the project outline proposed at the Oct. 15 meeting, the project is multi-phased, meaning the first phase is to create affordable spaces, then to expand at a later time.

“We will look for commitments from artists. Once we get those commitments, we will start leasing the space,” Rich said. “The artists will pay the county, and the owners of the mill have agreed to pay for things like sinks and water for the artists.”

The lease is set for five years and, if successful, the profit created from the rental of these spaces will be used for phase 2 and phase 3 of the project, according to the project outline. 

Phase 2 consists of using a public, open space in which artists can display their work, as many current Hillsborough galleries are member-based. Additionally, the space will have art classes two times a month and have rentals available for events. 

Phase 3 consists of utilizing large rooms within the mill for rehearsal space, performing space and a possible woodworking studio, ceramics studio and metals lab. 

“Phase 2 and 3 are still things we are dreaming of,” Rich said. “I have a feeling the timeline will be moved up because of the demand for this. Once we put these applications online, I think we’re going to find we have dozens of artists wanting the space.”

Property management company Hedgehog Holdings is helping with making changes to the space.

“We’re excited about the energy this use will bring to the mill,” said Carrie Ehrfurth, historic preservation specialist for Hedgehog Holdings. “In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with Katie and her team to get the art space online.” 

The space will open once support from artists is secured.

“As soon as we get a commitment from those artists, which shouldn't be a problem, then we’re ready to go,” Rich said. “The owner of the mill was really willing to work with us. It's a good partnership, and artists are really excited.”

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