The ArtsCenter Opens, Celebrates its Upgraded Home in Downtown Carrboro
Posted by Brighton McConnell | Aug 28, 2023 | Arts, Nonprofit
Nearly a year after breaking ground, the ArtsCenter officially opened its new location in Carrboro on Saturday. The ceremony to welcome the public not only represented the celebration of moving into an upgraded facility, but also the culture of arts and learning the nonprofit has helped foster in the community.
Festivities began at the prior ArtsCenter location: 300 East Main Street, where it’s lived for decades. Staff, community members, and the Paperhand Puppet Intervention performance group gathered outside to lead a parade just around the block to the new location. The giant puppets and drums caught many people’s attention, beckoning them to look toward the white building at the corner of Roberson Street with a yellow and silver roof that has the new The ArtsCenter logo emblazoned on it.
Community members and staff gather at the ArtsCenter’s 300 E. Main Street location before beginning a parade to celebrate the opening of its 400 Roberson Street location on August 26.
The parade, which featured artwork and figures from Paperhand Puppet Intervention, begins.
The parade walked along the sidewalk of East Main Street, but put on a show for traffic at the intersection of the road with Roberson Street.
The parade continued past the front signs of the new ArtsCenter to its back parking lots off Sweet Bay Place.
Once there, Executive Director Jenny Shultz-Thomas thanked those in attendance for their support of the longtime nonprofit. While The ArtsCenter is now in a permanent home – one it owns – it holds a long history in the town, which lasted due to ongoing community engagement and investments. Shultz-Thomas said she finds this particular location fitting, since people will be able to see The ArtsCenter’s past from this now-present space.
“The ArtsCenter started right above Armadillo Grill,” said the executive director. “If you turn your head, Armadillo is right on the corner of this brick building. And then it moved right across the street to Carr Mill Mall, and then to 300 East Main where we are now, and [now] to this corner.”
Prior to the ArtsCenter’s purchase of the site in 2022, the property housed a UNC financial office for several years – but was owned and managed by Duncan Yaggy, a Chapel Hill businessman and retired medical professional. Yaggy was invited up during the opening ceremony on Saturday, with Shultz-Thomas thanking him for allowing The ArtsCenter to take the space into this new use.
“Mr. Yaggy’s family owned this property for many years and has seen this property through many phases of its life,” said Shultz-Thomas. “So, giving the tour this week was a wonderful opportunity [for him] to see the transformation. The arts will always have a place here, so thank you for inspiring all of us and making sure the arts are part of this community.”
“On behalf of the Yaggy Corporation,” Yaggy said in response, “we’re really proud [of] what you have done with this building. It’s just so exciting.”
Jenny Shultz-Thomas, the executive director for The ArtsCenter, speaks ahead of the ribbon-cutting ceremony and official opening of its new location.
Duncan Yaggy, whose company had owned 400 Roberson Street for many years, thanked Jenny Shultz-Thomas and the ArtsCenter for its vision for the site.
Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils echoed that excitement. He said he believes the nonprofit staying within the block – compared to Jones Ferry Road, where it initially planned to move – is a win for the town. Seils shared a story of recently walking downtown this summer when he passed Roberson Street and the new, illuminated ArtsCenter sign caught his eye.
“Immediately, I saw the impact that this new building is going to have right here at the end of Roberson Street,” said the mayor. “It’s going to liven [it] up. We’re going to finish The 203 Project down the street here, and it’s going to anchor these two ends of the street – anchoring it for the arts and culture in Carrboro. And I’m so glad The ArtsCenter is going to be staying right here in downtown Carrboro where it belongs.”
After some group photos and cutting a ribbon, the building threw open its doors for people to begin either wandering around on their own time or taking a guided tour led by staff members of the space. The nearly 18,000 square-foot space is much bigger than the prior ArtsCenter home, which allowed for the nonprofit to configure and customize several areas of the building. The new ArtsCenter still has dedicated rooms for some of the same offerings it had in its prior location – like a painting room, a ceramics room, and a performance space. But it also expands some options and adds several amenities – like a sewing room with a laser cutter machine, a digital art room, a dedicated youth center, and ample gallery space at both entrances.
The Sweet Bay gallery in the new ArtsCenter is the main featured gallery space, but additional gallery extends toward the back of the building near its theater entrance as well.
The new ArtsCenter will have dedicated rooms for some of the same offerings it had in its prior location (a painting gallery, a ceramics room, a performance space). But it also will add some amenities, like a sewing room with a laser cutter machine (shown here), a digital art room, and a dedicated youth center.
The new performance space is smaller than the prior ArtsCenter auditorium, but has capacity for more than 100 people. People watched a magic show, improv comedy, and other performances on August 26.
Visitors receive a demonstration and description of the 3D printers at the ArtsCenter as part of a tour on August 26.
Garry Crites, who is the new educational director for The ArtsCenter helped show off those features to touring guests. He said while the new amenities and more space do mean that more classes will be possible, the nonprofit is going to offer its resources to anyone interested in using their creativity.
“We’ll be offering classes in here,” Crites said, using the 3D printer space as an example. “But also, this is space that is going to be available to the public as well. We’re going to be offering training in a lot of the maker space areas, so just because you’re not taking a class does not mean that you’re blocked out of this area. We think it’s going to be a really powerful part of what we’re stepping into.”
Emily Evans, who is on the nonprofit’s board of directors, agreed that the goal is for The ArtsCenter to be a space for all community members to spend time. A former student of the center’s classes herself, she said her children now take classes too and its importance in providing art resources to the community helped inspire her to join the board two years ago. As a member of its community outreach committee, she emphasized The ArtsCenter’s commitment to thinking equitably to serve its students and make it a place for the entire town.
“We’ve done a lot of really amazing work to connect with existing groups within Carrboro and figure out where we have common space – figure where we can provide them with something they need and we can serve them,” said Evans. “It’s a work in progress… we have more work we need to do, but we’re thinking about it and trying to make it really intentional.”
Evans said the physical location was her favorite aspect of the new home, citing how connected it feels to downtown while also having trees, ample parking for visitors, and an entrance to the Libba Cotten Bikeway. Similar to the celebration’s theme of expansion, creativity, and staying nearby for people to access, she said the board is grateful to know The ArtsCenter is remaining in its “true home” of downtown Carrboro.
“To be able to be here – where you can walk to all the restaurants and shops in Carrboro and have a space that fits for what the ArtsCenter does with enough room to maintain and grow its programs – is just amazingly gratifying,” said Evans.
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