A new art festival is making its way to Orange County next year. The Beacon will be a countywide biennial public art festival scheduled to occur throughout Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough in the summer of 2022.

The Beacon aims to become a major art festival destination and generate spending at local restaurants, shops and other services in the county from visitors participating in the festival.

Katie Murray is the Orange County Arts Commission director. She recently presented plans for the Beacon at the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Murray said the festival has three goals: showcase large art in addition to financially supporting artists, support the downtown community which struggles in the summer months, and provide a free and accessible festival for all people in the community.

“I, of course, tend to think that the arts can solve almost every problem,” Murray said. “I have been thinking for a long time about what event can we create that really will put Orange County on the map. [This festival could] pull us kind of outside of the shadow, at least creatively, that we seem to kind of fall under and in terms of being in the Triangle with Durham and Raleigh, and something to become a new signature event for our community.”

Murray said there are 14 community partners involved in the festival, including the Orange County Arts Commission, all three towns, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and the Orange County Economic Development.

The festival is focused on three-dimensional art like sculptures, installation art and projection art. Murray said there will be a national call for artists who will be juried by a panel of experts. Those accepted will be given a stipend for travel expenses and installation costs.

Outdoor locations will be matched with artists based on their art medium. During the festival, the public can vote on their favorite art pieces through an online portal. At the conclusion of the festival, cash prizes will be given to the jury’s vote winners as well as the winner of the public vote.

Murray said the Beacon is modeled after ArtPrize, a biennial festival in Grand Rapids which brings in 500,000 attendees and an estimated economic impact of $33 million.

“This is obviously a goal, but I think that if we can start off our first year on the right foot I can see this event eventually having the same impact as ArtPrize,” Murray said.

Chair of the Orange County Commissioners Renee Price said she believes the festival will have not only a creative impact for the county, but a financial one as well.

“It’ll have a rippling effect and I think it’ll bring money,” Price said. “It’ll bring happiness and joy, which we’re going to need after this pandemic. We’re going to try to bring everyone together so it’s looking very, very good.”

The budget for the festival is set to be finalized by November and the call for artists will begin in December. The festival kicks off July 15, 2022 and will run through August 15, 2022.


Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

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