Buy local

The arts are a huge part of the Orange County economy, generating $90 million in business, with $3.2 million of that coming from The ArtsCenter alone, notes Art Menius, the organization’s executive director.

The ArtsCenter employs 104 people, while on a smaller scale, two local galleries are co-ops, owned and run by native artisans: The Hillsborough Gallery of Arts and FRANK in Chapel Hill.

—Margot Carmichael Lester

There’s a lot of art going on in so many ways around Orange County. Some local artists work full-time; some pursue their creativity when they can.

Since we’re still not a 9-to-5 community, people are out and about all the time, doing interesting things, collaborating, brain-storming. And that’s inspiring. It’s really no surprise, given our national reputation as a place where the arts are encouraged and celebrated.

Public art is plentiful in and around government buildings, on Chapel Hill transit buses, in empty storefronts, in yards, in parks and on the walls of alleys and buildings (the latter thanks mostly to muralist Michael Brown). That’s how you know we love our art here: It’s everywhere.

The local art walks (Carrboro and Chapel Hill’s Second Fridays and Hillsborough’s Last Fridays) and street festivals such as Festifall celebrate local and regional artisans. You can even visit Artists Guild members in their studios during the annual Orange County Open Studio Tour the first two weekends in November. Even Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens is an accomplished painter.

Each art gallery has its own personality, so there’s one for most tastes. And in opinion-heavy Orange County, that’s important. For instance, Animation and Fine Art Galleries in University Mall specializes in animation gels and drawings. Restaurants and cafes such Cup-A-Joe regularly feature local artists’ work, and you can find other art on consignment in places like your favorite hair salon.

Too few people visit the Ackland on the UNC campus. From ancient works to contemporary art, this small museum is very doable whether you have an hour to kill or want a manageable family cultural outing. It’s not overwhelming and you don’t have to spend the whole day. In addition to the collection, the Ackland hosts special exhibitions in the museum and around the corner in its store on Franklin Street.

Speaking of programs, myriad options exist for making your own art. Formal classes are offered at the Ackland, Durham Tech Orange County Campus and The ArtsCenter in every medium and for all ages at any skill level; pottery classes are available at the Clay Centre. If you’re less interested in formal instruction, there’s a newish place in Carr Mill called Wine and Design where you paint along with a local artist while enjoying adult beverages that you bring. I haven’t done it, but it’s definitely on my list.

Even though I work with artists and visit museums and galleries all over the country, I always love coming home to Orange County. We have such a wonderful creative community where there’s always someone and something new to discover and enjoy.

Janet McKean is a consultant working with emerging product designers. She lives and works from her house in the heart of Hillsborough.