Last Fridays Artwalk, a Hillsborough Arts Council event series, was founded in 1999 by artists and business owners who wanted to attract more locals and visitors to the downtown area to celebrate the creative spirit permeating this thriving Orange County community of approximately 10,000 residents.
Today, it’s become part of Hillsborough’s identity; hundreds of people from all over the county attend, because — as Tom Stevens, former Hillsborough Mayor and current gallery owner, says: “There’s so much to do, so much to see, so much to just be part of, woven together within a couple blocks.”
Tom came to neighboring Chapel Hill in 1972 to attend the University of North Carolina and has lived in Hillsborough since 1994. He retired from social work and leadership training, became mayor, then former mayor, finally to pursue art full time; he now owns the Thomas Stevens Gallery, which is right downtown. His gallery has become a Last Fridays destination in itself, with live music in the upstairs studio, overstuffed furniture, a bit of wine, surrounded by artwork on easels and walls.
The Gallery has become a gathering spot to learn about what’s going on, from art and wine to local government decisions. It’s about community. Tom’s passions are art and the town where he makes his art. He’s long believed in the magic of Hillsborough, and it shows.
Last Fridays Hillsborough attracts all kinds of folks: art lovers, food lovers, lovers strolling in the open air. Restaurants are buzzing, laughter echoes from the bars and shops. Even the jewelry designers and chocolate makers keep their doors open.
This year, Last Fridays Hillsborough runs through November 24. If you haven’t been you’re missing out on a mélange of delights, including but not limited to a Makers Market, featuring 25 local artists and community groups; drumming and dance waves as part of the Living Arts Collective; rotating gallery openings and receptions; live music; family-friendly activities and opportunities to connect with history and the community; and roaming poets.
Founders, business owners, and volunteers say Last Fridays Artwalk in Hillsborough has attracted new residents and new businesses and highlighted the sense of community that is part of the fabric of the town. Jenn Weaver, current Mayor of Hillsborough, attends the event regularly. “It’s a showcase event where our small town really shines,” she says, “It shows how much we have to offer even in the midst of a larger county and metropolitan region in North Carolina. My family strolls or bikes down and enjoys the restaurants, spoken word, and live music, and the chance to see friends from all of our neighboring communities [Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Mebane].”
“Last Fridays Artwalk in Hillsborough is a really cool way to bring lots of different art forms together and to celebrate the local places that make Hillsborough thrive,” Jim Parker, local resident and business owner, says. “While every city has its own art events, the Hillsborough Artwalk is special because it thrives off of cooperation from local businesses that aren’t usually centered around art. This includes restaurants like Wooden Nickel, stores like Dual Supply Hardware, and even Coldwell Banker Realtors downtown. They often host events and join in the spirit of the community.”
In addition to activities in downtown Hillsborough, there’s even more happening at The Eno Arts Mill, an arts hub located in the historic Eno Mill in West Hillsborough, NC, managed by the Orange County Arts Commission. Down the street is the new Eno River Brewing at 329 Eno Mountain Road. Nash Street Hillsborough features some of the best BBQ around, and award winning frozen custard at Whit’s.
This small town on the Eno River might seem Mayberry-quaint compared to its bigger neighbors, Durham and Chapel Hill, but it’s actually quite lively. Its history and charm also set it apart.
For more than thirty years, the Hillsborough Arts Council (HAC) has been developing and providing arts events, programs, and educational opportunities for the people of Hillsborough and surrounding communities. Last Fridays is one of them, and it just might be the best.
Add these 2023 Last Fridays dates to your calendar:
- August 25
- September 29
- October 27
- November 24
Free parking is available:
Town of Hillsborough
Eno River Parking Deck
228 South Churton Street
Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.