Carrboro is known for its artistic leanings, but now they’re closer than ever to making it official.
The seven-member Creative Carrboro committee, given voice by Recreation and Parks Director Anita Jones-McNair, is researching how best to make Carrboro into an “Arts and Creativity District.”
“We want to hear the opinions of the people before we do anything,” said Jones-McNair during their fact-finding event on October 25 at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.
The committee set up stations to take the survey at various high-traffic Carrboro locations, like the Open Eye Café, the Carrboro ArtsCenter and under the gazebo at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. The committee sometimes make three stops in a day, said Jones-McNair. Anyone passing by is urged fill out a paper survey or complete it online on one of the provided laptops and can discuss ideas with the committee members present.
A UNC-Chapel Hill public policy class was also on hand to talk to people with questions about the initiative. The class, taught by Dr. Anna Krome-Lukens, is a capstone class for public policy majors. Four of the students are working on Carrboro’s potential art district.
“I liked [this project] because it was local and we get to see what we’re working on,” said student Jasmine Cook.
Emmanuel Hobbes-Brown is creating a GIS map of Carrboro to represent all the locations that could be classified as public space as well as businesses offering arts-related services to the public.
“You’d be surprised just how many things Carrboro has to offer,” he said.
“We’re trying to bring the community together,” said Cook.
Survey-taker and eight-year Carrboro resident Maria Soharz agreed.
“Arts are an important part of what makes Carrboro vibrant,” she said.
She was an art major at UNC, even though she now works in a lab. But many of her art major classmates want to live in Carrboro because of its artistic opportunities and walkability, she said. But they can’t afford to live or buy office space in town.
She said she appreciates the democratic research efforts into a arts district solution.
“That’s how we do everything we do,” said Jones-McNair.
The committee hopes to have enough information gathered by the beginning of next year to present a plan for a creative district to the Carrboro Board of Alderman.
In addition to the surveys and GIS map, they also looked at successful art districts in other communities, like Winston-Salem, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Parker, Colorado. These towns took actions as diverse as putting up special arts districts signs to promote pride to giving tax breaks to local artists.
Jones-McNair said it’s up to the survey results to decide what’s ultimately best for Carrboro. It could be a big project, or “it could be nothing,” she said. “They might like Carrboro as it is.”
Creative Carrboro committee member and former ArtsCenter director Art Menius says the mix of committee members, three from Carrboro governmental departments and four from the private sector, creates a good balance of perspective to do good work.
“It’s a living organ that always requires tending,” he said.
Despite the work, he said, an arts district would be well worth it.
“The most important good we can do is work to maintain affordable space to live and work in Carrboro,” he said. “It will be an on-going initiative as long as there is a Carrboro.”