PITTSBORO — The Odd Company, or ODDCO, has a new next-door neighbor on West Street — and as luck would have it, this newcomer, the Small Museum of Folk Art, is just as offbeat.
After nearly five years at 219 East St. beside the Small B&B Cafe, the Small Museum of Folk Art closed up shop in June and just a month later moved in beside ODDCO, an unconventional retail art, gifts and clothing store just west of downtown Pittsboro off Hwy. 64 Business.
Now, after nearly four months of unexpected delays and expenses, the museum’s finally on track to reopen early next month, according to executive director Dave Clark.
“We got probably three weeks of getting the electrical hooked up, getting the ramp and stairs in, and then I hope to have it opening up the first part of December,” Clark told the News + Record. “Then we just, you know, let it do its thing.”
Opened in 2016 by collectors Clark and his wife, Lisa Piper, the Small Museum of Folk Art is home to nearly 600 works of folk and outsider art — creations made by self-taught artists “outside” of mainstream styles — including various pieces from local artists Clyde Jones, Vollis Simpson and Jimmy Lee Sudduth.
Some of the drawings, paintings and small sculptures came from Clark and Piper’s own travels, during which they collected folk art from all over the country. More than 400 came from Moncure collector Jim Massey, who wanted to ensure his pieces found their way to people — and a public — who would truly treasure them. Part of the museum’s mission is to educate others about the folk and outsider art traditions.
Their commitment to Massey, Clark said, explains why the museum’s still in Pittsboro when its caretakers no longer are. While the museum moved just a couple blocks west, Clark and Piper migrated even farther west. After running their Small B&B Cafe for a decade, they sold the cafe and restaurant this summer before moving to their mountain home in Marshall, a small town in Madison County in western N.C.
“We agreed to keep it in Pittsboro, which is why it’s there today,” Clark said. “We ... would have taken it with us, but (for) our commitment to the previous owner and to the town of Pittsboro and their arts programs. We are really set on keeping it there and making it work.”
Moving the museum next to ODDCO was just icing on the cake — and it ended up there thanks in part to ODDCO co-owner Cristina Virsida, who has been helping Clark and Piper manage the move on the ground, along with other interested residents.
“ODDCO is a wonderfully quirky little venue and they do music. They do art. They have a couple libations, but for the most part, we love Cristina’s energy. She’s got a great eye for art,” Clark said, adding, “So, it was a great match for us and for her. ... It seems to be a great place for people to come in and stop at the (Phoenix) Bakery and just hang out.”
But the move wasn’t just a love match, Virsida told the News + Record; it’s also an attempt to amplify the museum’s reach — both figuratively and literally.
“We’d have two metal buildings that were focused on art on the same property and thought that with both of us here, we could bring a bigger presence to local art, but also to the galleries and other people in town … and (we could) also use the space,” she said. “We have this great green space in the backyard that is mostly unused, and they could have access to that, too, and be able to do more outreach, more children’s programs. (It would bring) more opportunities for them with the community to really branch out of that tiny little space that they have in the building.”
So, what’s the hold-up? Securing the necessary county permissions and beating the bushes to pay a slew of unexpected expenses — all while living about 250 miles away.
“We had it all permitted, and everything that was done originally at the Small Street location was done through the county’s permission, so we had all of the electrical done and all of the footings were designed by an engineer,” Clark said. “Then we moved it, and they’re like, ‘Well, you’ve got to do it all over again,’ so we had to contact the engineer and pay him more money to just basically put 2021 on the design and stamp it.”
He added with a laugh: “So, you know, we’re struggling with getting the county satisfied, but we’re very close now.”
To move the building, they had to unearth it from its footings and other attachments. Beyond electrical work and HVAC projects, Clark said they also have to build a new deck since they weren’t allowed to reuse the old materials. All of it has cost thousands of dollars — and for a donation-driven nonprofit that operates on a budget of around $11,000, that’s quite a hit.
“We had over $11,000 in the bank, and I think maybe we’re down to $2,000 or $3,000 — I mean, it’s going to be gone by the time we get this open,” Clark said. “I will contribute what I have to keep it going. It’s not going to close, but you know, I don’t have bottomless pockets either.”
To help offset costs and recoup the nonprofit’s budget money, Piper started a GoFundMe in July for the organization at bit.ly/3qBk0gq. So far, the GoFundMe has raised just over $3,000 of its $10,000 goal.
“That helped somewhat, but this last year has been difficult for everybody,” Clark said. “ … So the biggest thing (that the community could do) is, you know, when we get it open, to come out and see it, put five bucks in the donation bucket, and we’ll build it back up.”
According to Virsida, people can also stop by one of ODDCO’s fundraising events for the museum, like the concert they hosted in their backyard on Nov. 13. Featured acts included artists Bob Bedell, Clare Means and Brendan Hinch, among others.
“We’re gonna keep doing that,” Virsida said. “We want to build that into all of our events so that there’s some portion of fundraising. Some amount of either it’s a ticketed event, or it’s a pass-the-hat kind of thing, that people know that their dollars to some degree are going to be helping to keep the folk art museum going.”
Looking ahead, Clark said he and the museum’s board hoped to resurrect one of its original missions: educating others about folk art. Before the pandemic, the museum would host tours for school groups and retirement communities; they’d also carve out a presence at several local arts festivals, including the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance.
“Some of those things have dropped off with COVID and then with us selling, we just — our energy just got pretty thin and the board was a little bit tired,” Clark said. “So, we kind of revamped that and got some new blood on the board, and there’s some people who are excited about seeing some of those things come back.”
But first thing’s first — they’ve got to reopen.
“There’s a lot of people with wonderful donations of art and wonderful donations of time and energy who are helping us out now,” Clark said, “so we’ll get it open. I know we will.”
Find out more about the museum at www.smallmuseumfolkart.org.
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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