Cat’s Cradle Owner to Carrboro BoA: Growing Arts Scene Presents ‘Dilemma’

The owner of the Cat’s Cradle told the Carrboro Board of Aldermen at Tuesday night’s meeting that his business and the ArtsCenter are both in the same situation – too big for their current buildings.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second of two public hearings on the proposed Arts & Innovation Center and new hotel.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said at the last month’s public hearing on the CAIC proposal that she wanted to hear from Hampton Inn executives, Main Street Properties and Cat’s Cradle owner Frank Heath at the Feb. 3 meeting.

All parties answered that call on Tuesday night, starting with Manish Atma, president of Atma Hotel Group, which manages the Hampton Inn at 300 East Main.

The plan is for the Hampton Inn to add a second hotel there, where the ArtsCenter currently resides, as the ArtsCenter moves into the CAIC, along with Kidzu Children’s Museum.

Atma talked about the proposed 140-room, five-story Hilton Garden Inn.

“We opened the Hampton Inn in August of 2013,” said Atma. “We have housed over 80,000 adults and children in the last 14 months at our hotel that have visited local restaurants, bars, and shops.

“In total, we’re anticipating the same amount of people in our new hotel.”

Atma added that the Hampton Inn does not, however, run with an average 95 percent occupancy, as former Carrboro Mayor and retired state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird reported to the Board of Aldermen last month.

Laura Van Sant and Kevin Benedict were at Tuesday night’s meeting, representing Main Street Properties.

Van Sant talked about a subject that seems to be on the minds of many Carrboro residents, judging from comments at the last CAIC hearing: The Cat’s Cradle. Citizens say they want to know where that beloved 300 Main Street venue stands in all of this.

In a statement released to WCHL on Monday, Cradle owner Frank Heath offered no opinion on the merits of the CAIC proposal. Instead, he expressed frustration that the Cradle began to outgrow its current space for big-drawing musical acts years ago, yet the space remains the same.

Main Street Properties is The Cradle’s landlord, and Van Sant came into the Aldermen meeting Tuesday night with her version of discussions between the two parties over the past several years.

“The Cradle has always paid discounted rent at 300 East Main,” said Van Sant, “an amount that has not increased since 2005. From 2007 to 2010, we worked with the Cradle and paid to design a new building that actually could be built where we’re talking about putting the hotel now.

“And it could have been built at the same time as we’re building the new parking deck, and sold or leased to The Cradle at cost. But The Cradle chose not to pursue that opportunity.”

Van Sant said that a later offer to sell or lease VisArt’s old space next door to the Cradle was also rejected.

“Next, we contributed substantial funds to the Cradle in 2011, so it could expand its current capacity from 615 people to 849 people, and so it could open the back room,” said Van Sant. “Working with the town, we proposed a long-term lease with only inflationary rent increases, so The Cradle would face no risk of displacement from surrounding development.

“The Cradle rejected that lease offer.”

Heath was supposed to speak next, but he had stepped out. Speaking on his behalf, Diana Straughan said that Heath was likely “floored” by Van Sant’s comments, and unprepared to respond during the time allotted.

“I don’t think he felt like it represented some things that actually took place,” said Straughan, “but he really doesn’t want to hash it out here.”

Heath returned to speak toward the end of the meeting. He apologized for stepping out, and confirmed that he didn’t want to follow Van Sant’s comments, which, he said, didn’t match his recollection of events over the past seven years.

He said that competition from growing Triangle cities makes the expansion of arts venues in Carrboro an urgent priority.

Heath added that he realizes it’s difficult for a small town to make the necessary decisions when considering two successful arts organizations that have outgrown their current venues.

“We have a great dilemma at the moment because the ArtsCenter and the Cradle are well-established enough and successful enough that both organizations really do need to expand, in order to fully realize their potential.”

The next meeting of the Board of Aldermen regarding the CAIC proposal is on Feb. 17. That meeting will be a work session, at which Alderpersons will discuss it among themselves.

To hear more from Tuesday’s meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, stay tuned to WCHL throughout the week.

‘Carrboro Arts And Innovation’ Plan Raises Hopes and Questions

Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney says the idea of co-locating Kidzu Children’s Museum and the ArtsCenter is intriguing: “It’s a great concept.”

But she’s got some concerns about the plan.

“We potentially could be looking at a $4.5 million dollar investment in this property and that’s a lot of money for a building that’s essentially custom-built for two organizations that haven’t yet proven long-term sustainability,” says Chaney. “It’s a big risk so we need to hear from the public as to whether they think the potential benefits are worth that risk.”

Here’s how the deal might work: the ArtsCenter owns its building in the middle of the 300 East Main development. The Center is proposing a land swap with East Main Partners that would allow the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel on the site of the current ArtsCenter.

In return, the gravel lot at the corner of Main and Roberson would be donated to the Town by East Main Partners. Carrboro would construct an $11 million dollar facility to be leased to Kidzu and the ArtsCenter, with the town and the nonprofits splitting the cost.

You can read the full proposal here.

Phil Szostak is an architect, ArtsCenter board member and a leading proponent of the plan.

“We’re trying to put a project together for downtown Carrboro that will not require any additional taxes or use of any new city funds to fund the project,” says Szostak. “The project now is proposed to be 50-50 public-private partnership where our partnership would require The ArtsCenter and Kidzu and other partners to raise half the money before the project is started.”

Szostak is also the developer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He says the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the DPAC has done for downtown Durham.

But Chaney notes Carrboro is a long way from the Bull City.

“I think it’s an entirely different scenario and Durham’s a much larger municipality, so that building can support a lot of different kinds of programming and at a higher price-point that what this building could support.”

Both Kidzu and the ArtsCenter are popular nonprofits looking to expand.

Kidzu has operated at a series of locations in Chapel Hill since opening in 2006. It is temporarily located at University Mall, where the museum expects to serve more than 100,000 visitors in the next year.

Last year more than 93,000 people participated in programs at The ArtsCenter but Szostak says the aging facility can’t support the growth of the organization.

“It’s very hard for us to expand. That building was originally done in 1987. We were meeting a demand then and we didn’t really have a lot of space to meet future demand. Now, 25 to 30 years later, we have a huge demand that we cannot meet. To go up in place would be almost impossible for us without shutting the ArtsCenter down for a year.”

And both groups say the Arts and Innovation Center would be a great fit for Carrboro.

“What we would really like the citizens of Carrboro to understand is there won’t be one penny that comes out of their personal pocket to make this center happen,” says Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall. “It will generate a good deal of economic development and money coming into the Town of Carrboro because the folks that visit this center will go out to eat, they will be shopping and purchasing gifts and things like that. There’s a good amount of economic development that this center will create.”

But Alderwoman Chaney worries the plan wraps up too many complicated issues into one package.

“The proposal itself that we’ve been asked to consider bundles two really big decisions that need to be separated. Those are whether there should be a second hotel in downtown Carrboro and whether the town should invest in a building that would accommodate the ArtsCenter and Kidzu and potentially other nonprofit arts organizations.”

That second hotel is a key part of the co-location plan, as it’s envisioned to be the source of new revenues for the town.

“It’s really hard to separate the two, if in fact we are looking at the taxes generated by the hotel to be one of the funding sources,” says Szostac. “We don’t have to do that, but we can certainly make the case that if the ArtsCenter does not move, that hotel does not get built.”

Szostak estimates it could bring in as much as $550,000 in taxes to Orange County each year, enough to cover the debt service the town would need to pay to finance construction.

The question of whether Carrboro needs a second hotel is just one aspect Chaney would like to see fully explored when the concept comes up for a public hearing later this month.

“What I do worry about is whether the business model that’s being proposed is really the most appropriate one,” says Chaney. “Is it the most appropriate way to leverage public funding? I think that’s the big question.”

Read Chaney’s full statement on the plan here.

All parties agree that the upcoming public hearing is merely the starting point for discussion.

“Every project should be scrutinized. This is public money and the town fathers really need to take a look at this and get the input from the public,” says Szostac. “Certainly I wouldn’t even suggest doing it without that.”

Kidzu and the ArtsCenter will host a series of public information sessions this week. Carrboro business owners are invited to a session on Tuesday, January 13, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter. A session for the general public will be held on Wednesday, January 14, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter.

A public hearing on the plan is schedueled for 7:30 on January 20 before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. You can also submit comments to town leaders online here.

Americana Legends Robin And Linda Williams Play ArtsCenter Friday

They’ve been together for more than 40 years, they’ve been regular guests on “A Prairie Home Companion,” they’ve been covered by Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris and more – and on Friday at 8:00 pm, the singer/songwriters Robin and Linda Williams will take the stage at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Robin and Linda on “Aaron in the Afternoon” Wednesday – and played the song “On and On” from their latest album, “Back 40.”


Ticket information for Friday’s show is available at For more on Robin and Linda Williams, click here.

Nonprofits Want Carrboro To Collaborate On Arts Center

A trio of nonprofits wants to partner with Carrboro to build a four-story “Arts & Innovation Center” downtown.

The ArtsCenter and Kidzu are asking the Town of Carrboro to build a 55,000 square foot building across the street from Armadillo Grill to be known as the Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center.

The proposal calls for the lot at the corner of Robeson and Main Streets to be donated to the town, which currently leases the property for parking.

Carrboro would contribute $4.5 million of the $12.1 million construction cost for the building. Some of that money would be generated by a new hotel proposed for the site of the current ArtsCenter. The nonprofits would raise the rest through donations, foundations and grants.

Under the current plan the town would own the building and lease it to the three groups in partnership.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the plan when meetings resume in January. The hearing is scheduled for January 20, 2015.You can find out more here.

“Not So Normal” Raises Big Money

More than 450 runners turned out in Carrboro on a cloudy but rain-free Sunday morning for the “Not So Normal 5K,” part of a weekend-long event that raised money for dozens of local charities.

Speaking at the finish line, race organizer Jay Radford said he was thrilled by the turnout and the support.

“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity, the kindness, and the support of our community,” he said. “It is simply amazing, the way people have rallied around this event…all the events for the whole weekend.”

The race was the centerpiece of the event, but the “Not So Normal” weekend also included a free concert at University Mall, numerous events on Friday and Saturday, and pre-race dinners on Saturday night hosted by numerous local restaurants. Radford says those dinners alone raised more than $5000.

Designed to benefit multiple charities rather than just one, funds from the “Not So Normal” event will go to support the Carrboro ArtsCenter, NC Children’s Promise, Kidzu Children’s Museum, and dozens more.

Sunday’s 5K Is “Not So Normal”

The Not So Normal 5K is finally here!

After two days of pre-race events around town on Friday and Saturday, the race will take place in Carrboro Sunday morning – with proceeds going to benefit dozens of local charities, especially the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and NC Children’s Promise.

Then at 4:00 pm, the event concludes with a free concert inside University Mall, featuring performances by DSI Comedy, local musicians Ella Bertram and the Buzztown Band, and the Nashville-based band Stereosparks.

Brian Buzby of the Buzztown Band stopped by WCHL this week to speak with Aaron Keck on “Aaron in the Afternoon.”

The whole affair has been organized by Jay Radford – a Chapel Hill dad who writes the “Mom in Chapel Hill” blog. For more information, visit

September Fundraiser/Concert Is “Not So Normal”

It’s being billed as “a celebration of community and philanthropy” – and it’s hitting Chapel Hill on the weekend of September 12-14.

It’s the “Not So Normal 5K.” Organized by Jay Radford – a dad who writes the “Mom in Chapel Hill” blog – the event is ‘not so normal’ because it will benefit not just one, but dozens of local charities. Proceeds from the 5K on Sunday, September 14 will benefit the Carrboro ArtsCenter and the NC Children’s Hospital; participants are encouraged to bring book donations for Book Harvest or food donations for TABLE and PORCH - and participants are also encouraged to form teams and solicit sponsors to raise funds for any non-profit in the area. (“Run for what moves you,” says Radford.)

And in keeping with the ‘not so normal’ vibe, the event is not just a 5K – it actually spans the entire weekend, from Friday through Sunday, with comedy shows at DSI Comedy Theater, a Pajama Party at the ArtsCenter, a movie on the lawn at Weaver Street Market, pre-race dinners at restaurants across Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and more.

The weekend culminates with an outdoor concert Sunday night at University Mall, headlined by rising country star Frankie Ballard (whose single “Helluva Life” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart earlier this year) and featuring Nashville-based performers Casey Jamerson and Stereosparks as well as local kids’ entertainers The BuzzTown Band. The concert is being presented by WQDR radio, 94.7 FM – so tickets to the show cost just $9.47.

Organizer Jay Radford spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck on “Aaron in the Afternoon.”

Aaron also spoke with the concert headliner, Frankie Ballard…

…as well as Casey Jamerson, who performed on Broadway and in Australia before starting her Nashville career…

…and Storey Condos, the lead singer of Stereosparks.

For a complete schedule of events and ticket information, visit

“10 By 10″ Takes Over The ArtsCenter

“10 By 10 in the Triangle” opened Friday and runs through July 27, with shows Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00. Visit for more details.

“What is that guy doing up there on stage?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” says my friend Kit. “But that is one awesome smoking jacket he’s wearing.”

It’s 7:55 on Friday evening and the curtain’s about to go up on the ArtsCenter’s thirteenth annual “10 By 10 in the Triangle” show – an evening of ten short plays, each about ten minutes long, performed by a cast of ten actors with ten different directors. It’s opening night and the place is buzzing. I’ve never seen a “10 By 10” show, but it’s a major event on the ArtsCenter’s yearly calendar: the ten plays were chosen from 750 submissions that came in from around the world, they’ve been working on it for months, and just scanning the audience, it’s obvious it’s kind of a big deal. The room is packed. All the local luminaries are there. Town leaders, theater royalty. Kit and I are sitting next to Lydia Lavelle.

Smoking Jacket Guy is David Berberian, as it turns out – one of the ten actors, already in character as the arrogant master thespian Vincent Van Buren, strutting about the stage, gladhanding the audience members in the pit (one of whom turns out to be a second actor, planted in the front row). The show begins, officially, when Berberian butts in on artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke’s opening spiel – though not until she proclaims this to be the best “10 By 10” yet.

(My actress friend Amanda is a veteran from previous “10 By 10” shows; she was in the audience with another past-show veteran. “We were like, ‘hey!’” she joked.)

The first play alone features an actor being pulled on stage from the audience, a surprise entrance from outside, a character in disguise as himself, and a hilarious “Shakespeare-off” where the lines may or may not actually be from Shakespeare. (I won’t spoil it.) All that in ten minutes. It’s chaotic, it’s unexpected, and it’s hilarious – a great opening play, and a perfect introduction to a show that (by its nature) is going to be a scattershot grab bag of diverse scenes, styles, emotions, and endings.

If you’re looking for a cost-efficient night out, “10 By 10” is the show for you. For one price, you get ten plays. There’s something in it for just about everyone. Will you love every play? Almost certainly not – they’re too diverse for that. But there will be something in it that you will love. By the time we walked out of the theater, two and a half hours later, we’d seen six love stories, two riffs on modern technology, and three takes on the theater itself; we’d seen men and women fly, die and return to life; we’d seen the concealing power of light and the revealing power of darkness; and there may or may not have been a naked guy. (I won’t spoil that either.)

Jeri Lynn Schulke joined me on the Afternoon News earlier this week to talk about the show. Here’s our conversation.

Overall – is it good? Yes. It’s a fun night out. You should definitely go.

How about each individual play?

Well, that’s a little trickier. Short plays do tend to follow a sort of template – like short stories, they tend to focus on particularly intense moments (blind dates, jarring revelations, the confrontation with death) and build toward what James Joyce referred to as an “epiphany,” a sudden overwhelming final realization that changes everything. So you’ll see a lot of recurring themes and patterns in these plays. Still, there’s a lot of room to move within that broad category – and because the plays in “10 By 10” are so diverse, different people will feel differently about each one. (You could tell that much sitting in the theater, where – for reasons we never quite figured out – the right-hand side of the audience was laughing more than the left.)

So it’s only fair that a review of “10 By 10” should incorporate several different perspectives. I compared notes with Kit and Amanda (both seasoned theater folks) – and between the three of us, notwithstanding some differences of opinion, we actually did come to a pretty solid consensus.

Among the ten actors, we kept coming back to two. David Berberian – the aforementioned Smoking Jacket Guy – delivers an especially strong performance; you see him in three wildly different roles and he disappears into each one. Also noteworthy is Caroline Strange, who’s prominently featured in the two best plays of the show (though she’s typecast a bit as an immature millennial in two of her three roles). Beyond that, Lazarus Simmons only has one major role, in a play called “Canyon,” but he makes it count. Page Purgar is also worth noting: she actually has three big roles, but she’s especially terrific paired with Berberian as a Catholic school teacher in a play called “Recess at Our Lady of the Bleeding Heart, Mind, and Spirit.” (“Recess” wasn’t our favorite play, but we generally agreed that it was the best-acted.)

The show is divided into two acts of five plays each. In the first act, the standout is “Canyon,” featuring Strange as a young woman planning to jump off the Grand Canyon (she thinks she can fly) and Simmons and Jillian Lea as a couple trying to stop her. In the second act, it’s “Lost in Thought,” a David Ives-esque piece with Jorge Donoso (also good in four very different roles) as a young man reflecting on a relationship turned sour. (Strange plays the ex-girlfriend; Simmons plays her new squeeze.) Of the ten plays, “Lost in Thought” is the only one that’s not a comedy; it was also easily our favorite, with “Canyon” a close second. They’re extremely well-acted, well-directed by Hope Alexander (“Lost”) and Lori Mahl (“Canyon”) – and remember I mentioned the “epiphany” that often comes at the end of short plays? These two earn their epiphanies. (Trust me, you will remember their last lines.)

As for the other eight: we loved “What the Theatre is All About,” the anarchic opening play with Berberian and Fred Corlett as dueling Master Thespians. We also really enjoyed “Recess,” again mostly for the terrific acting. We liked “Going Viral,” about a teenager (Donoso) who learns that his parents have made him an unwitting YouTube celebrity – but we agreed that it felt more like a sketch than a play. (No epiphany, I guess.) One of us loved “The Interpreter,” about a dating service that live-tweets your blind dates, but the other two were slightly turned off by Strange’s character (the live-tweeter), who came off as a bit shrill. (This is one of her two immature-millennial characters; the other one is in “Canyon,” more chill than shrill, and it’s great.)

There are two plays, “Ten Minute Life” and “This Is Not A Play,” both of which are about the process of writing a ten-minute play; we didn’t much care for either one (too meta!), but we all agreed that “This Is Not A Play” was more successful. (“Ten Minute Life,” our least favorite, tries to build to an epiphany that it doesn’t really earn; it’s too self-referential to be realistically emotional. Two of us actually liked “This Is Not A Play,” but we all agreed it would have been better as a five-minute piece.) We also weren’t sold on “The Wisdom of Pirates,” about a woman who decides to wear an eyepatch; there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it, but we didn’t buy the epiphany there either. (One of us said, “It thinks it’s smarter than it actually is.”)

And the show closes with a surreal pastiche called “A Streaker Named Desire,” which was really the only one that divided us: one of us liked it, one of us hated it, and one of us liked most of it but didn’t buy the ending. We’ll leave the final judgment up to you.

Carrboro Film Festival: Growth And New Perspectives

CHAPEL HILL – The eighth-annual Carrboro Film was well received this weekend, setting new standards for future film festivals.

Director of the Carrboro Film Festival Nic Beery said this was the biggest year so far.

“This year’s festival was bigger and better than ever. We broke box office records, we had international films, we have short films from around the corner and from around the world, and the audience response was nothing short of breathtaking” Beery said.

Some of the changes to this year’s festival included allowing foreign movies, and movies longer than 20 minutes.

This was also the first year the Carrboro Film Festival was split between two venues, the ArtsCenter and the Century Center. Beery said he was nervous about it, but the turnout ended up great.

“I was nervous about that, but I do believe it was a success. We averaged many more people in the audience for every block than we anticipated” Beery stated.

Although this year the Film Festival included several foreign films and longer movies, Beery said that the majority of the films were still from artists in North Carolina.

“I’d say 60 to 70 percent of the films were made from North Carolina filmmakers, which is awesome, which is a statement to how great our filmmakers are here at home, but it was nice to see films from Spain, and England, and France, and around the country too” Beery said.

Hundreds of artists and filmmakers from across the state submit movies for the festival, but not all of them can make it.  Beery said that as the festival grows, it gets harder selecting which films make it.

“It’s very hard to pick films for the Carrboro Film Festival; this year we got hundreds of films and quite honestly many of us felt there was 30 to 40 hours of film that we just couldn’t show, and it gets harder as the filmmakers kick it up a notch every single year” Beery said.

The Carrboro Film Festival takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving.

For more information on the Film Festival click here.

Carrboro Film Festival: Back & Bigger This Weekend

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Film Festival is back, and this time around, it has triple the entries and has expanded to two days. Event organizers say this weekend will bring the drama in all the right ways.

Jackie Helvey, along with fellow Carrboro Arts Committee member, Nic Beery, organized the town’s first film festival in 2006.

Helvey has watched the event thrive and grow to a 2-day event with submissions from across North Carolina and beyond.

This year marks the first time that international films and feature-length narrative and documentary movies are screened. The lineup this weekend also features another new addition—two free workshops on visual effects and 3D animation

“I think it has encouraged local filmmakers to create more,” Helvey says. “It’s not only that—we’ve gotten international fame. This year, we have a lot of films that are from other countries.”

Click here for the weekend’s schedule of events.

Seventy-three films, a record number for the festival, will be shown in both the Century Center and the ArtsCenter. In total, 198 films were submitted for consideration. Helvey, along with the selection committee, watched each film in order to narrow down the entries.

Helvey says that the recent opening of the Hampton inn, Carrboro’s first hotel, was an incentive for the Board of Aldermen to support the expansion of the festival as it would help accommodate the out-of-town attendees.

“The Board of Aldermen really understand that is it events like this that bring people to Carrboro, that expose people to Carrboro,” Helvey says.

Documentary filmmaker and UNC graduate Jonathan Michels first submitted work to the festival as a student.

“It has meant a lot coming back to the festival as more of a seasoned documentary filmmaker. It is just a validation of the hard work that has been put into the project,” Michels says.

Michels’ piece this year is about this past summer’s Moral Monday movement, a series of weekly protests in Raleigh against the N.C. General Assembly.

His film is called “It’s Monday and the South is Rising.”

“You’d also have thousands of people showing up to these rallies from all over North Carolina and even surrounding states,” Michels says. “It does mean a lot to people to see a film made about this event. It is also something that they can hand to other people and say, ‘This is what it was like to be at Moral Monday during the summer of 2013.’”

Michels explains the film is meant to be a snap shot of what it was like to experience the Moral Monday protests. Helvey says it is a “piece of history.”

In addition to documentaries, the selected films encompass genres ranging from drama, comedy, animation, student films and experimental pieces.

Click here for ticket information.