Wilmington’s ACME Art Studios, which opened with seven artists, is now home to 21

A warehouse building with a dated green Cadillac car hood as the front door overhang in downtown Wilmington is just as intriguing in inside as it is the outside. Known to locals as a landmark in the art community, the warehouse is ACME Art Studios.

More than a gallery, it’s a “consortium” of working artists who have made the building their creative homes. The year 2016 is particularly sweet for the group of artists as it marks the 25th year anniversary.

flyerThe inception of the now 21 working studio spaces and gallery began in the ’90s when seven visionaries gathered to discuss their own creative pursuits. More collaborative projects surfaced, as the initial group of artists shared thoughts and struggles, bonded and recognized the maturity of their productive relationships.

The mix of creatives all desired to reach their highest point: the ACME.

According to one of the founding members, Pam Toll, some time past before the group was known. “The support needed to keep a venture like ours afloat quite simply boils down to an energetic artist community,” she said.

ACME’s history includes years of moving and financial instability, but throughout the ebbs and flows over 25 years, the embodiment of the interdisciplinary group of artists is unremitting. The goal-driven group provides opportunities that nurture to the greater Wilmington arts community, evident in this year’s UNC-Wilmington student show.

[Related: Erika Briggs met her challenge with introspection]

A newer ACME member who joined in 2014, Kristen Crouch recognizes the role of community and the opportunities for collaboration the collective naturally generates. It’s what gives her the most excitement when considering her future as an artist at ACME.

In the intro video on ACME’s website, the statement “working artists” is of high importance. Toll explains the importance of the message as working artists in the video as “the most important aspect of ACME.” Crouch agrees.

“Art is life is work,” she said. “And that can be rearranged in any way. When you’re working, you have a goal in mind. And with a clear goal, you’re creating and living and working with a purpose. And with a purpose, you’re able to reach the world.”

The group is about collaboration. They share resources, bring in artists from other parts of the world and work locally with grade school and college students.

For member Fritzi Huber — a fiber and paper artist — her studio isn’t just ideal for the space but for humor, too. When reflecting on her lingerie quilt called “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” she told the tale of when Toll responded to the new quilt by giving her an old comic eluding to bed manners. Huber then took Toll’s comment and made an accordion booklet to go along with the quilt for an added humorous jolt to the intimacy of the subject.

Stories like this show that ACME is a place to get serious work done, but the human element — the community, the humor, the sharing — is what sparks the creativity. Membership has tripled from the starting point and the value the group adds to the Wilmington community and beyond is clear.

For the silver anniversary the collective will celebrate each other with a soft opening reception for their Spring Show on Friday, April 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. during Fourth Friday. The reception will be hosted by ArtsNow. The work will be on view until May 27.

ACME is defined as the point at which someone or something is best, perfect or most successful. That’s still the quest for the group today, 25 years later and with more to come.

ACME Art Studios Spring Show
ACME Art Studios, 711 N. 5th Ave., Wilmington, NC
Fourth Friday reception: April 22, 6 to 9 p.m., on view until May 27

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