About a year ago, Katie Murray did the equivalent of standing in front of an empty canvas and describing the work of art she hoped to create. Sure, there will be changes, sacrifices, revisions, unexpected compromises, but in the end, would the finished piece resemble what was originally set out to be achieved?
Murray believes so. The Eno Mill Gallery will celebrate its first year of being a full-on community art space, and the Director of the Orange County Arts Commission is giddy about what’s been accomplished, and what the future holds.
“I think the best thing about it has been I set out to create a space that is welcoming to all types of people,” Murray said. “Regardless of abilities or demographics, or if they’re even art people. I’ve tried to be really intentional in our programming to communicate that and also make it different from what a lot of people think about art spaces. I think it’s worked.”
In October 2021, the Orange County Arts Commission opened the “front space” of the Eno Arts Mill Gallery, which includes the gallery, the classroom, and office, and some additional studios. The back area studios opened in March 2020. In past studies conducted on the needs of the Orange County arts community, available studio space has been considered lacking. The Eno Arts Mill Gallery alleviated some of that issue, and it has been successful in providing regular opportunities for artists to exhibit their creativity.
In the year since its opening, the new space has elevated the local arts scene and supported the needs of the artists.
“For us in the Arts Commission, we have an actual space now, as opposed to before where I had an office in the county manager’s building,” Murray said. “The gallery has lifted the the art scene as a whole. Our research, when I came into this job, revealed the No. 1 thing we need in our arts community is more physical space because it just does not exist in Orange County. In theory, if you provide what it is the community says it needs, it’s going to be supported and that is what’s happened. It’s been pretty cool.”
But achieving a goal as it relates to standards to please artists is one thing. How that project is accepted and supported by the community as a whole is another story. In this area, too, Murray believes the Eno Arts Mill Gallery has succeeded.
“When you start something new like this, you don’t really know if it’s going to be supported or not,” she said. “I just remember in our grand opening, the first Friday of October last year, I was so nervous and we had more than 300 people come. You couldn’t find a parking space. It was just packed and I was so happy and then that’s continued. We’ve had a couple group exhibits in the gallery that have just been so special, like the one we did in April called ‘Home.’ Artists from around the Triangle putting this work out there that was so heartfelt. In that opening we had more than 400 people show up. It’s been fun to see our First Friday openings gradually grow.”
In September, the Eno Arts Mill Gallery featured solo artist, Kelly Oaks. Single-artist openings can be a little risky as there generally is a smaller pool of attendees. But Murray said the turnout for the Kelly Oaks exhibit was incredibly strong, and she attributes that, at least in some part, to the reputation the gallery is earning for solid arts events.
It’s also doing well as a venue for selling artwork. “We’ve sold close to $20,000 in work this first year, which, considering most of the work that we sell isn’t at a very high price point, that’s a lot. That’s a lot of artwork. And considering that three months of the last year we were completely back in shutdown, we couldn’t have the openings we’re having now.”
One area Murray said she hopes to find ways to expand is finding other methods to involve the community, particularly in the area of classes and camps offered at the Eno Arts Mill Gallery.
“We’re figuring out those things,” she said. “We’re figuring out there are certain things you can put out there and it’ll fill up in a second. And then we also are learning there’s certain things that are more abstract concepts that maybe they’re not going to fill up the first time we put it out there, but maybe they will the second time. Maybe we need to tweak the length of the class or the cost of the class. Some people want to dip their toe into something and just try it out. They don’t want to invest a ton of time and they don’t want to invest a ton of money. So we need to make it as brief and affordable as possible for folks to try something out.”
Murray also said the Eno Arts Mill Gallery would be better prepared to have its schedule of arts camps ready at an earlier date to better meet the needs of local families.
In addition to celebrating the anniversary of the Eno Arts Mill Gallery, the sixth-annual Paint it Orange Plein Air Paint-Out event will run Oct. 5-7. The three-day event draws dozens of artists to Orange County to capture some of the area’s beauty.
Participation is $30 ($25 for early registration). Artists can submit up to three of their favorite paintings for jurying on Oct. 7 at the Eno Arts Mill Gallery in Hillsborough. An awards reception and preview party will take place at 5 p.m., followed by a reception and Wet Paint Sale at 7 p.m., in which the submitted paintings will be available for sale.
“There seems to be a real plein air community here in North Carolina,” Murray said. “It’s like this whole sub-genre of painters and they all know each other and they meet up at these paint outs around the state. I take a lot of pride in the fact that ours has gained a reputation as being one of the best in terms of organization and hospitality and just the community. It is Paint it Orange, and we want everybody to get out and paint all parts of the county. Some painters do, but the majority of the painters stick around Hillsborough because it’s just such a cool little town to paint. The historic part of town really draws the painters. Then you get right outside of town and into the farmland and that also draws a lot of painters. You’ve got all these parks and the river and there’s just a lot for people to paint depending on what their area of interest is. I’m proud of the fact that it has gained the reputation as being one to not miss.”
After registering to participate, artists will first check in at the mill to show the surfaces on which they will paint. Those will be stamped to verify the surface was blank at the beginning. Each participant is given a map, but they are allowed to paint wherever they want. The artists have all day Wednesday, Thursday, and half of Friday to paint. On the final day, artists can turn in no more than three paintings.
“Those three get hung in the gallery, so there usually is about 100 works of art on the wall,” Murray said. “The work is juried and we give cash prizes for first, second, third and people’s choice. And then we have this wet paint sale and the public can buy the works right off the wall. Last year we sold 23 paintings. They’re usually pretty affordably priced and, you know, they all are capturing our community. It’s a really good fundraiser.”
To register for Paint it Orange, go to: https://events.humanitix.com/6th-annual-paint-it-orange-plein-air-paint-out