Q&A: Julie Hinson fosters creativity and community at Outer Loop Arts 

Julie Hinson (right) and Kelley Triplett, co-owners of Outer Loop Arts, stand in front of the space.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

By Alan Hunt

Durham native Julie Hinson is a potter and co-founder of Outer Loop Arts, a creative and retail space in the city’s Golden Belt district. The location hosts rentable studio space, classes and community events. Through word of mouth, social media and local art organizations, Hinson and her partner have attracted an array of artists to use their studio spaces.

The Durham VOICE’s Alan Hunt sat down with Hinson to discuss the ins and outs of her business.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Durham Voice: Where did you get the idea to start this business, and how does your background fit into that?

Julie Hinson: So, me and my co-founder, Kelly, had both been renting space at another studio, here in Durham, throughout 2019 and 2020. And it just wasn’t the right fit for either of us. We were both crammed into a really small corner, and the folks that were running it, while we were friends with them, weren’t really putting the folks who are renting from them first. So after a year and a half of us both working there in really tight quarters and getting to know each other really well, we decided that we wanted to try to open up our own spot, mostly because we wanted to have a place where we could do what we wanted to do. Then in November of 2020, me and her signed a lease on this space with no money and no backers, as we had both lost our jobs during COVID. So we were really just kind of taking a chance on being able to create this space. And the first couple months, it was just me and her paying a lot of money in rent and trying to figure out how to turn this into a collective art space.

All of the furniture was donated by the community. Then once we got the walls up in here and divided out our studio spaces, we were able to start advertising and getting artists in. Since then, we’ve had three different artists in here pretty much at all times, although we do have studio spaces available for rent right now. And over the last four years, it has just kind of blossomed into this really wonderful community. It’s been a crazy journey. But the best part about all of it has been just meeting all of these artists here in Durham and being able to be in a position to support the arts in that way.

I am a maker; pottery is what I do. It’s my full-time gig. But having this space as a way to build up other local artists has been the best part of it for me. I grew up in Durham, and I grew up loving art in Durham. I’ve watched the scene kind of grow and change and morph into this new thing, and now with all the building it is changing again. But I think me and Kelly really encompass that old school, DIY spirit where it’s just me and her trying to keep the doors open as hard as we can so that we can welcome more artists into this space.

What obstacles have you faced since opening?

The biggest one has been financial. We’ve been so lucky. Both me and Kelly know lots of people in the art scene. So we’ve been really supported by the community. I’m from Durham, Kelly has lived in Durham for almost 20 years; we love it here. And people really are our focus. But, you know, the opposite side of people being the focus is that we pay for everything ourselves. The landlord keeps raising the rent on us here. And we just keep trying to figure out, OK, how can we stay another year? Because ultimately, we would love to buy a building. It’s hard trying to find one because we have no outside backers. We’ve looked into angel investors and that kind of thing, but ultimately, we end up being on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and neither of us want to lose our houses.

I think the hardest thing right now is finding spaces that still cater to small business startups that are looking for local people. There’s a building right across the street, that was a utilities outpost for a really long time, then the dude sold the building and there was never even a for sale sign up. It was like, some New York investor came in and bought the building from him. And they renovated it and painted it agreeable gray. Now they’re trying to lease it out for five, six, seven thousand dollars a month, which for anyone without a corporate investor, is just impossible. We make no money running this; it’s purely a labor of love. I still pay rent on this space, even though I’m here and I run it. That’s the biggest struggle because we would love to be in a more permanent place, but finding a way to get there is really, really hard.

You have artists actively renting here. How did you find them and start getting people to come in?

You know, we do a lot of advertising on Reddit. A lot of advertising on Facebook. Both of us are members of various art guilds and organizations. So, we will post through there. We do a lot of word of mouth. Because, again, we can’t financially afford to place an ad in the newspaper. In a lot of ways, we are kind of stuck to free advertising. But we have been so lucky with the artists that we have housed here. And we ask for six months initially, and then after that, it is month by month. So we’ve had a lot of turnover. We’ve had a lot of people who’ve come in and been like, “this is exactly what I needed, and now I’m gonna go get my own studio space or build my own studio.” Yeah, it’s just been a lot of luck finding people.

Are these artists involved with decision making regarding the space?

Yeah, we’re pretty loosey goosey. Me and Kelly certainly are the ones that make the final decisions on stuff. But at this point, there’s not really a lot of decisions that need to get made. You know, when we have new artists come in, we say, “hang your work anywhere you want on the wall, do whatever you want with your space.” And that is a nice kind of flexibility about not only this building that we are in, but the way that we run the space is that we’re here for you. If you want to do it, check with us first, but like, pretty much do whatever you want. We tell people to store stuff wherever they can. We just want people to come and contribute and hang out together.

What’s next for the space?

So, we have two 12 by 12 spaces available for rent. And then every third Friday of the month, we do an event here in coordination with the Durham Artwalk. This month, we’ve got a wonderful painter who’s going to hang a show and there’ll be a DJ. Then next month, we’re going to have another one of our painters, who is an old friend of ours, who is going to come hang a show. Every third Friday, from six to nine, we are here talking about art, hanging out. Then come June, we’re going to start doing our third Friday markets again. They are free to set up, you just fill out a form, then you come and keep whatever money you make. We just want to create community around it.