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No. 6: The Art Mill: Residents, town take a chance on a dream

2009 saw the rise – and the fall – of the town's first downtown arts center, the Art Mill.

Marcia Buike opened the Art Mill in February with funding assistance from her husband, Jim Buike, and local arts supporter Jim Harper. The Art Mill was home to weekly events, including art classes, and the gallery was filled with works from local artists.

The Art Mill's location on Main Street drew visitors downtown, including visiting artists, gallery customers and students in the Art Mill's art classes. But, despite the buzz that the Art Mill generated among Fort Mill residents, the storefront was in danger of closing just one month after opening.

In March, Buike told the Fort Mill Times that by June, the Art Mill wouldn't be able to pay its rent. In May, Buike went to the Fort Mill Town Council and asked for public funding for the arts center. Despite the objections of two council members, Waddell Gibson and Larry Huntley, the council voted to give the Art Mill $1,000 a month, starting in July, to keep the Art Mill open through the end of the year – a total investment of $6,000 of public money.

The council's decision paved the way for Buike to continue her efforts to revamp downtown Fort Mill through the arts.

In June, the Art Mill also helped launch Fort Mill's first-ever art crawl, an event that drew hundreds of Fort Mill residents downtown to visit the Art Mill, BacInTyme Coffee Café and Storm Dancer Studios. Buike also spearheaded Fourth Fridays in Fort Mill. Though the event was short-lived, the theme nights also drew a crowd to downtown Fort Mill.

Despite the council's reprieve and Buike's efforts, she wasn't able to raise enough money to keep the Art Mill open in 2010. In November, Buike announced that due to the “current economic climate,” the Art Mill would not renew its lease.

“Obviously, I'm disappointed,” said Mayor Danny Funderburk. “I thought it was a great investment in the town to get an arts and cultural community established, but it just didn't work out. It's a different time. Nonprofits across the board are having a tough time.”

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