Building a regional arts hub

By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Artists and arts groups in the Triangle wanting to hold “pop-up” events, and property owners with available space, can turn to a pop-up toolkit, prepared with the help of law students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The toolkit spells out logistics and details of planning and staging the events, from permits and insurance to rules on access to parking and restrooms.

Emerging local arts leaders who want to increase their arts revenue through more effective use of marketing, social media, fundraising and other business functions can attend monthly workshops, while photographers, filmmakers, writers and other creative artists can learn about copyright law and other legal issues at monthly talks by lawyers.

And artists, nonprofit and for-profit arts groups in the region, and anyone else looking for information, resources or opportunities, from funding  and technical support to exhibit and performance space and calendars, can visit a website devoted to arts in the region.

Spearheading all those efforts is Triangle ArtWorks, a nonprofit formed in 2010 that aims to serve as a resource hub and advocate for the region’s arts community.

“We are working to make it easier for artists and arts organizations and businesses to thrive, which is good for the entire Triangle, not just the artists,” says Beth Yerxa, executive director and co-founder of Triangle ArtWorks.

When she chaired the Raleigh Arts Commission in the 2000s, Yerxa and Leigh Ann Wilder, who at the time served on a Commission panel and now is director of arts in communities for the North Carolina Arts Council, saw a gap in resources and infrastructure for the region’s arts community.

“There were a lot of organizations doing various levels of support for different types of artists,” such as fundraising by local arts councils, or professional support for segments of the arts community such as visual artists, says Yerxa. “But no one really was looking at how best to get the arts, as a business community, the resources they need to thrive and be financially sustainable.”

Lawyers, in comparison, can turn to county, state and national bar associations for professional development, networking, insurance, newsletters and other resources, says Yerxa, a lawyer.

But as a “business community,” she says, “artists have nobody doing that work.”

So she and Wilder launched Triangle ArtsWorks.

An all-volunteer nonprofit that operates with an annual budget of $10,000, and 30 to 40 active volunteers, the group serves artists and arts groups, both nonprofit and for-profit, in Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties.

It operates in The Frontier in Research Triangle Park in space donated by Research Triangle Foundation.

And with a total of roughly $10,000 in grants from Duke Energy Foundation, Durham Arts Council and the Town of Cary, it has been building its own organizational infrastructure — including development of its board and raising money — with the assistance of consultant Maggie Clay Love.

The group also is redesigning a digital platform it built, including a website, database and social media network, to connect and provide resources for anyone involved or interested in the arts.

Triangle ArtWorks also is talking with local arts councils throughout the region about expanding its program of two professional-development workshops a month for artists and arts groups.

Its board recently created a fundraising committee that initially aims to raise $70,000 — including $10,000 through December — to continue to strengthen its organizational “capacity.”

And Yerxa, a member of the North Carolina Small Business Alliance who quips she has “no arts bone in my body,” works with a range of economic development and planning organizations to connect the worlds of business and the arts, and raise awareness about the value each adds to the other and to the region.

“The arts enrich our lives,” says Yerxa. “The arts create jobs and are jobs. Artists are innovators. If the Triangle is building itself as a technology and innovative community, the arts need to be part or that.”

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