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Art studio's future uncertain

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Students and instructors at the Lincoln Art Studio are used to getting their hands dirty. With the studio's future uncertain, they're rolling up their sleeves to get the attention of Chapel Hill's leaders.

Located in the former Lincoln High School building on Merritt Mill Road, Lincoln Art Studio offers eight pottery wheels, three kilns and 2,000 square feet of workspace, as nice a facility as you'll find in the Triangle. It's operated by the town's Parks & Recreation Department, offering courses on a sliding scale to about 300 community members per year. Course fees cover all direct costs ($21,000 annually, including staff and materials); the town pays utilities.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School system owns the building, which houses its administrative offices. "The school system staff have informally let us know that they need the space back," says Kathryn Spatz, director of Chapel Hill's Parks & Recreation Department. The 30-year lease runs out at the end of 2007. Spatz presented the town council with the impending space crunch three years ago, but no action was taken.

Resident Anne Shelton is one of many students who want the center to stay. "We want to make sure the parks and rec commission understands that this really is an important community service and that it does need to continue--ideally where it is." The studio is in the middle of a diverse neighborhood full of senior citizens, African Americans and Latinos. "I've gotten to meet people there I would never have met otherwise," Shelton says.

But she realizes that the schools' needs might make that impossible. "Time moves very quickly," she says, "and we want to make sure plans are made now to identify or create a space."

It's unclear where that space would come from. Spatz says the town has a severe shortage of indoor recreation space. Hargraves and Estes Drive community centers "are oveprogrammed as it is."

With the town council's decision this week to eliminate the Apple Chill Street Fair (which cost the town more than $87,000 in 2005 alone), perhaps the town will consider new ways to use its resources.

The future of Lincoln Arts Center will be on the agenda at the town's Parks & Recreation Commission meeting Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. in the Community Center Meeting Room at 120 S. Estes Dr.

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