Known as the Smithsonian of the South, Raleigh is one of the premiere art destinations in North Carolina. The city recently adopted a vision to become the southern capital for arts and culture and residents here have embraced the non-profits, galleries and museums that are devoted to inspiring a community of art lovers. 

The North Carolina Museum for the Arts is considered one of the premier art museums in the south. The museum’s associate curator of contemporary art, Jennifer Dasal, describes Raleigh’s art scene as vibrant. “It’s very eclectic,” says Jennifer. “The sheer amount of local art interest – galleries, community programs, creative media, printmakers, photographers, glass artists, sculptors, jewelers and more – allows for an exciting mix and melding of directions and styles.” As with all cities across America, artists, patrons and arts institutions in Raleigh felt the impact of the recession. “Regardless, the need to create art and show it to the public never fades,” says Jennifer.

Wonderful community resources help keep Raleigh’s art scene strong, by providing unique opportunities to artists and art lovers of all levels and ages. The Visual Art Exchange (VAE) is a non-profit incubator and gallery that supports and educates emerging professional and student artists. VAE is also the force behind SPARKcon, an interdisciplinary art and design festival held each September in downtown Raleigh.

Artspace is another non-profit devoted to providing arts education and community outreach programs. Located in downtown Raleigh in the historic Sanders Ford building, Artspace holds interactive workshops for more than 2,000 school-aged children each year, provides art programming for at-risk youth as well as classes and workshops. Artspace offers more than 100 public events annually, all of which are open to the community and free of charge.

On the first Friday of every month, the downtown art galleries and studios host Raleigh’s First Friday Art Walks, a self-guided tour of downtown’s cutting edge cultural hot spots, showcasing new art and artists. With live music and refreshments along the way, residents and visitors find First Fridays a wonderful way to experience Raleigh with family and friends. 

What’s next for this interesting city and its local artists? Jennifer says that while downtown Raleigh is still the nexus of the art scene, she sees a trend for art to grow outside the confines of the city center. “Raleigh has grown exponentially in the past decade or two,” she says. “I think we’ll start to see studios, community programs and art projects moving outwards throughout the city. I think North Raleigh is due for some opportunities.”

Here’s your opportunity to explore the local scene, with our guide to the galleries, events and artists that bring art to life in Raleigh. 

The Venues

Visual Art Exchange (VAE)
Known as the place where emerging artists get their start, this gallery exhibits the work of more than 1,300 artists each year in more than 60 exhibitions. Located at 309 West Martin Street, VAE is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. First Friday hours are 6 pm to 9 pm.

This dynamic studio environment of established and emerging artists is a center for hands-on arts education and nationally acclaimed exhibitions. It offers open studio space to local artists and its regional emerging artist-in-residence program provides NC-based artists with six months free studio space each year. Located at 201 E. Davie Street, Artspace is open to the public on First Fridays from 6 pm to 10 pm.

North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA)
With a permanent collection of art spanning more than 5,000 years, from ancient Egypt to the present, this museum provides an educational, aesthetic, intellectual and cultural experience. Recently renovated to let natural light in without disturbing the art, the facility’s travelling collections have included Monet, Rembrandt and Rodin. Located at 2110 Blue Ridge Road, NCMA is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. The museum stays open until 9 pm on Friday nights.

Contemporary Art Museum (CAM)
Located in the warehouse district in downtown Raleigh, CAM seeks to curate the most contemporary works of art and design and is on the fast track to becoming one of the highlights for residents and visitors. CAM is located at 409 West Martin Street. Closed on Tuesdays, the museum is open other weekdays from 11 am to 6:30 pm (stays open until 10 pm on First Friday) and weekends from 12 pm to 5 pm.

The Galleries

Flanders Gallery: A gallery dedicated to exhibiting provocative and innovative contemporary art, with as many as 18 exhibits each year. Located at 302 S. West Street.

Flanders Gallery: A gallery dedicated to exhibiting provocative and innovative contemporary art, with as many as 18 exhibits each year. Located at 302 S. West Street.

Adam Cave Fine Art: Representing a select group of regional and nationally known painters, printmakers and photographers you will find this gallery on the second floor of an historic building in downtown Raleigh, 115 1/2 East Hargett Street.

Gallery C: A fine art gallery known for bringing the works of talented artists to the attention of serious private collectors, corporations and museums, Gallery C features more than 30 contemporary artists as well as historically important North Carolina art, Haitian art, folk art, animation art and antique prints.

Local Color Gallery: An artist cooperative where you can meet and interact directly with local artists who work in a variety of mediums. Located at 22 Glenwood Avenue, the gallery is open each Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm and on First Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm.

The Mahler Fine Art: Here you will find the very best in regional emerging and established artists – a diverse selection of painters, printmakers, photographers and North Carolina fine art. Located at 228 Fayetteville Street, the Mahler building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lump: An artist-run gallery, Lump is committed to exhibiting thought-provoking and challenging contemporary art that falls outside the confines of a commodity-driven art market. Located at 505 S. Blount Street, the gallery is open on Saturdays from 12 pm to 5 pm and by appointment during the week.

Tipping Paint Gallery: This artists’ collaborative features wonderful art ranging from realistic to abstract, humorous to serious and an opportunity to meet and talk with the artists. Located at 311 West Martin Street, the gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm and First Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm.

Art Calendar 2014

Show your support for the arts in Raleigh by getting out, meeting the artists and learning more their work. This year offers many opportunities, from First Fridays to our annual fall festival for the arts and upcoming exhibitions. Bookmark these websites to find events you’ll want to attend.

First Friday
Held the first Friday of each month, this gallery crawl is a great way to experience downtown Raleigh. Events run from 6 pm to 9 pm and involve many galleries, restaurants and other venues. Participating venues are marked with flags to help you on this self-guided tour.

A festival designed to showcase the creativity, talent and ideas of the Triangle region of North Carolina, SPARKcon is a program of the Visual Art Exchange (VAE). This four-day grassroots festival held on Fayetteville Street each September is filled with art, music, dance, film, fashion, design and more.