Community Arts & Culture: New town division inspires and celebrates the community

February 3, 2020

From the silent gaze of a gallery portrait to the electric movements of festival dancers, the Town of Chapel Hill is now offering experiences that highlight different walks of life.

Community Arts & Culture is a newly formed division within the Town of Chapel Hill that seeks to, “inspire creativity and celebrate community,” through artistic and cultural events, installations and experiences.

Susan Brown, executive director of Community Arts & Culture and director of Chapel Hill Public Library, has spent the past year defining, organizing and executing the mission and values of the division.

“We’ve created a set of values that guide our work, and speak to the spirit in which we do our work,” Brown said. “Those values are inclusion, experience and understanding. That’s what we’re always looking to connect with.”

Inclusion

Wendy Spitzer, also known as Felix Obelix, is a local artist whose work was featured in the Art + Transit project, a collaboration between Community Arts & Culture and Chapel Hill Transit.

“I installed some art that I produced on a bus shelter by Ehringhaus dorm last summer,” Spitzer said. “I really like the Art + Transit bus shelters because it’s just a really nice example of a public art project that’s integrated into our daily lives. People ride buses in Chapel Hill. They don’t need to go to a gallery to experience art.”

Spitzer said she admired the work Community Arts & Culture was doing, and was happy to be a part of the execution of their mission.

“I think their impact is that they’re interested in bringing arts to the greater Chapel Hill community, rather than just speaking to a narrow group of people who might already identify as arts-interested or arts-oriented,” she said.

Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Downtown Chapel Hill partnership, shared the organization’s value of inclusivity, and says he integrates that into his work daily.

“I think by bringing in more people, you expand your net and your connection with people so that you can reach a broader group,” Gladdek said. “We’re constantly trying to bring in more people and more diverse artists and collaborators.”

At Festifall this past year, an event managed by Community Arts & Culture, Gladdek said inclusivity was a primary goal.

“A lot of the artists that were brought in were more diverse and avant-garde than in the past, and I think it was really fun,” he said. “I look forward to doing an even better job next year.”

Experience

Community Arts & Culture is responsible for several Chapel Hill artistic experiences, including public art and Festifall, as well as the popup gallery installations at 109 E. Franklin St.

“The Gallery 109 popup is a space that the University leases that they used to lease for the Ackland store,” Gladdek said. “Last February, through conversation with the University, the Town worked out doing a first popup there, which was a quilter’s group.”

Gladdek, with Downtown Chapel Hill, has taken on liability insurance for the space, which allows it to continue to operate and for more art to be created by artists like Spitzer, who put on a solo art show in the space last December.

The installation, Altered Chapel Hill, featured altered vintage postcards and images from Chapel Hill.

“I would love to see them continue to use that Gallery 109 space for all sorts of events because it’s such a wonderful, centrally located space,” Spitzer said. “It’s really big. It’s sort of a blank canvas space. I’m excited about what programming they might have in the coming months in that space in particular.”

While many of the experiences offered by the organization are primarily visual, Community Arts & Culture and the Chapel Hill Public Library are currently collaborating on a music streaming platform, called Tracks Music Library.

“We’re currently taking submissions from Triangle-based artists,” Brown said. “We’re looking for diverse music that we will make available as a free streaming platform.”

Local musicians can submit their music for consideration at the Tracks Music Library website.

Understanding

Community Arts & Culture has managed several events that emphasize understanding and growth, most recently with the installation of the Cash Crop! popup.

“I’m really proud of putting Cash Crop! on,” Gladdek said. “It highlighted a local sculptor and really put a spotlight on a difficult topic, with the 400-year anniversary of slavery in the U.S..”

Cash Crop! was installed at the 109 Gallery space, in collaboration with UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History and the local NAACP.

“In the midst of all of the painful things around race that have happened, especially in the past year, being able to try to be an ally and a supporter in understanding the experiences of a large part of our community is a really important role for art to play and for community groups like ours to be a part of,” Gladdek said.

Spitzer said the organization’s commitment to their audience’s growth was something she valued while working with them.

“They just seem very committed and interested in a real diversity of arts experiences in Chapel Hill, and they were great to work with,” she said.

Gladdek said he agreed with Spitzer in her admiration for Community Arts & Culture.

“I think that what Community Arts & Culture does so well is present different people’s experiences through arts that allows all of us to better empathize with those experiences,” he said.

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