By Laurie Paolicelli
There’s an art to everything in Chapel Hill. Even the buildings are covered in murals, public art is on display from the downtown post office to South Building on campus, and Epilogue Books, down the street from where the iconic Intimate Bookshop used to be, celebrates the literary arts every day. When it comes to the arts, it’s fair to say this a community of like-minded people.
Back in 2009, a group of local artists noted one missing feature, however: there was no local art gallery downtown and thought it was about time we had one. Their goal was to establish it right on Franklin Street, loud and proud, and after several meetings with the Town’s Economic Development department, the building owner Michael Brader-Araje, and together with marketing gurus at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, FRANK Gallery opened in 2010 on — you guessed it — Franklin Street.
On one side of the negotiating table at the time was Dwight Bassett, Economic Director for the Town of Chapel Hill, Roger Stancil, who was Town Manager at the time, and George Draper, chair of the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership. The Visitors Bureau served as a creative agency, eventually developing logos, public relations, and grand openings.
But an equally formidable team was on the other side of the table: artists. And the room was filled with artists, too — a crowd of them who desperately wanted this gallery. The leader of the group was Gordon Jameson; Jameson was also serving with the Orange County Arts Commission. He understood the complexities of public funding, private landlords, and an audience of hundreds of artists.
Jameson spoke of Chapel Hill’s long history providing art education, leading the way on public art, and celebrating the written word. That no art gallery existed on Franklin Street was conspicuous by its absence. A community art gallery, he argued, could serve as a catalyst for art walks, events, and represent the values shared by all of us.
And the crowd – our community – agreed.
After months of negotiation, the Town of Chapel Hill was able to provide seed money to get FRANK Gallery off the ground, and, with the help of a building owner Michael Brader-Araje’s space at 109 E. Franklin Street, the gallery opened in 2010.
The artists did the rest, from painting walls, prepping space, using personal artifacts to make it all come together.
The gallery had its ups and downs. They were a hit with visitors and locals alike and the artists worked hard to make it happen. But after seven years FRANK closed its doors at 109 E. Franklin St. and reopened in 2018 at University Place. The gallery remains in that space today. Nerys Levy, a member artist at FRANK, believes it’s a smart location. “We are an entertainment area, and we’re here for people to have another side of life,” Levy said. “We are in the middle of a mall project that is undergoing massive renovations to meet the needs of the future. We hope we are a part of that future.”
“Since its inception as an artist-run gallery in 2010, FRANK has provided enrichment, education, and exquisite local art to our community,” says Barbara Tyroler, another longtime member artist. “As a photographer, artist, and educator, FRANK not only provides a professional venue to share my own work but most importantly, a forum for discussion and opportunity to collaborate with other artists who value outreach and community service.”
Natalie Knox, the general manager, joined FRANK in 2017. She holds a BA degree from University of Texas at Austin in European Studies with a minor in Art History, and has extensive experience in retail management and merchandising. Natalie loves being a part of the community at FRANK, as well as continuously discovering the talent and friendships within the arts community locally and regionally. “The feedback we hear from locals and visitors is always positive,” she says.
Art galleries are the link between artists and collectors, scouting for new talent and showcasing artists with exhibition programs. Creating community-based, artist-run galleries takes courage, but they can be highly successful. This artist-run gallery has continued to grow their activities and remain a positive boon to the southern part of Orange County, NC.
FRANK is a reflection of Chapel Hill and its artists, lovers of art, and those who just like to be surrounded by beautiful things. That’s almost all of us. Which reminds us of an art joke.
Why are great artists so famous?
They can always draw a crowd.
Off the Wall Fundraising Gala Tickets Available
FRANK’s signature fundraising event is well-known for its excitement, spectacular selection of art, and community roots. Join them in their 12th year as they support FRANK Gallery’s mission to enrich our community through art.
October 8th, 2022
Attend either from you home virtually or at the gallery in-person
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.