Just before the pandemic brought nearly everything to a sudden halt, the Orange County Arts Commission held its grand opening for 11 artist studios at the Eno River Mills. The new space was an instant hit and filled up with local artists, despite the Covid shutdown.
So, when space adjacent to the new studio space at the mill came available, Orange County Arts Director Katie Murray wasted little time staking claim to it.
“I went to the county commissioners and asked for approval to move into this new space,” Murray said. “It’s about 7,000 square feet, and would allow us a lot of the things that we have identified are major needs for the arts community, such as class space. We’ve got a big classroom and then we also have a little classroom.”
On Oct. 1, the Orange County Arts Commission will hold the grand opening and artist preview show at the new Eno Arts Mill Gallery. The event is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Five years ago, when Murray first joined the arts commission, the organization did a gaps analysis to determine what was lacking in the arts infrastructure for Orange County, and class space was a major need. Also needed was gallery space for artists to display their work.
“This space checked a lot of boxes. It has class space, it has a big gallery, it has an accessible office for the Arts Commission so that the public can actually interact with us,” Murray said.
The studio space that opened in early 2020, and the additional space that is opening this week has Murray feeling very positive about the support the arts receives.
“I’m so excited. I’m maybe more excited than any other thing I’ve done in the course of my career, honestly. I’ve run an art center before, but it was existing and up and running by the time I took the helm. So, I’ve never actually started a space. The fact that we have the support in place to be able to do this is wonderful,” she said.
And the arts commission isn’t resting with the space it’s gained at the Eno Mill. Murray said as soon as the new space is up and running, the group will continue mapping out future expansions and offerings, including a community ceramic studio, a community darkroom, and rehearsal space for performing arts groups. Additional studio space is needed for collaborative and “noisy” artwork that involves metal, wood, machinery, and jewelry. She said the commission is even talking with the town about the possibility of a performing arts venue in the mill.
“That’s obviously a long way off but I’m excited that that’s an interest of the town and that they want to consider the Eno Mill as a potential space,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of empty space in the mill still and I just want to like take it over with the arts.”