A lack of infrastructure and equitable access are two primary barriers for a healthy creative ecosystem for Orange County artists and residents, but a new project approved by the Orange County Board of Commissioners seeks to remedy those issues.
The Orange County Arts Commission, in partnership with the Gold Family and its partner, Hedgehog Holdings, aims to transform Hillsborough’s historic Eno River Mill into affordable studio space for the creative community. The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the concept at its Oct. 15 meeting.
“This will provide space for creators who don’t own a home or don’t have a home studio who really need an affordable place to create and host shows,” said Penny Rich, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “We are really excited to turn this into an arts space.”
The mill, located in West Hillsborough along the Eno River, opened as a yarn mill in 1897 and operated until 1984. It was bought by the Gold Family in 1988. Hedgehog Holdings became managing partner in 2015. Currently, it houses Weaver Street Market's commissary, the Expedition School, The Cloth Room Events Space and several small businesses.
“The arts commission has been working to find more space for the arts throughout the county, which has proven difficult for a number of reasons,” said Orange County Arts Commission Director Katie Murray. “We’re so fortunate to have found a developer and owner who share our vision for what the mill can be. We plan to start small with artist studios and use that momentum to activate other vacant mill space through the arts. This project will be a game-changer for the community arts scene, and we’re so excited to get started.”
The first phase of the project would create 13 move-in-ready artist studio spaces. Subsequent phases would provide space for additional programs, increasing arts access for residents regardless of socio-economic status while transforming the Eno River Mill into an arts destination and economic asset for the Town of Hillsborough and Orange County.
The goal will be to sub-lease the artist studio spaces to recover the county's costs and generate a small profit to help pay for future phases.