FRANK’s Downtown Influence
By: Tom Griffen
Artist Gordon Jameson is one of the founding members of FRANK, the Franklin Street Art Collective. While he and the artist members pride themselves in showing exceptionally fine art, they understand their responsibility is bigger than just that. A more important aspect—you might call it their focus, their vision, their why—is community. And not just community as a place, but community as a living, breathing thing that must be cared for with love and intentionality.
Back in 2009, the Town of Chapel Hill approached the art community and called for a meeting of the minds. Their plan was to pitch an idea for an artist-run downtown gallery to folks who’d be most directly affected—artists.
Gordon remembers it being a “get out of your yard and come play together” sort of rallying cry for creative-types. And since he fit the bill, he responded accordingly.
It was a perfect storm of opportunity—the Town, the Downtown Partnership, the Visitor’s Bureau, and the Orange County Arts Commission recognized a need for something besides pizza and souvenir shops on Franklin Street; they wanted to create an impetus, a destination to drive locals to downtown Chapel Hill.
Their idea—a world class gallery of fine art.
“A place for grown-ups,” Gordon says, “A gift that adds something new to the town.”
Willing artists rolled up their sleeves, ready to make something happen. When Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s Economic Development Officer, saw things starting to gel, he flat-out told the artists that they would be the ones running the business.
The room fell silent.
The sudden reality check made folks realize that if the co-op was going to work, leadership was needed. Recognizing the tremendous opportunity at stake, Gordon raised his hand.
The original group of ten board members took a year to hammer out details. They created a business plan, designed a vision for featured artists, and brainstormed how they’d work the jury. To demonstrate financial viability, they managed to fundraise $13k in two weeks. This cash was enough to convince the town to extend a startup loan, and by early 2010 FRANK was open for business.
“As a collective,” Gordon says, “the mentality has to be different than a typical gallery. We knew that artists got it when they stopped asking if their piece sold and started asking if any piece sold…a rising tide floats all boats.”
In 2016, FRANK’s community exhibitions included shows with groups such as IntraHealth International, Diversabilities, Brushes with Life, African American Quilt Circle, and Volunteers for Youth.
In the rear of the store, the Michael and Laura Brader-Araje Outreach Gallery (named for the building owners) is devoted to exploring how art can make a difference. It helps fulfill FRANK’s mission to promote the arts while infusing Chapel Hill’s downtown scene with dynamic exhibits.
Another project FRANK supported is Transplanting Traditions—a book named for the local non-profit farm where 100% of the farmers are refugees from Burma. The entirety of the book’s photos were taken by Karen youth artists.
Gordon says, “The kids’ minds were blown when they saw their work treated with the same respect as professional artists.”
One of Gordon’s favorite FRANK memories was when a group of young children visited to work on a coloring project. Gordon told the kids that the crayons were water-soluble and encouraged them to use them like watercolors. They did. With unbridled enthusiasm.
“The place came alive with their creative process,” Gordon says. “There was this amazing energy from their activity happening right here in this classy art gallery.”
Gordon says that the essence of FRANK is their desire to accommodate people. When Torey Mishoe, galley director, had a baby, FRANK allowed her to use the gallery in lieu of daycare.
“You know how some businesses have a dog?” Torey says, “We [at FRANK] had a baby.”
As for that upside-down “A” in FRANK, Gordon says it was a deliberate design meant to symbolize their unpredictability.
But then a math professor from UNC came into FRANK and told everyone that in mathematical terms, the upside-down “A” means all-inclusive.
Some things are serendipitous.