The MATTIE Arts Center got its start by a grassroots effort to save the Historic Courthouse.
2003- The historic Hyde County Courthouse, which conducted its first court session on Nov. 5, 1838, was vacated by the Hyde County government in the flooding aftermath of Hurricane Isabel. The building lays dormant, forlorn, and under threat of demolition. The Old Courthouse needed a friend.
2008- The Swan Quarter Service group endorses a committee to save the courthouse. They would eventually be known as the Friends of Hyde County’s Historic Courthouse.
2010- The Friends attain 501 C (3) status and begin their attempts to gain control of the courthouse and save it from inevitable demolition.
2011-The MATTIE Arts program was conceived by Friends board member Mack McLawhorn not only as a way to utilize and sustain the historic building but also as part of the economic development of Hyde County. Envisioned is that the arts center will expand throughout and beyond the village of Swan Quarter with resident art studios and additional teaching studios as other artists relocate temporarily or permanently to teach, learn, and work. The idea developed in Oct. 2011 during McLawhorn’s week long stay with close family friend, Jerry Jackson, deputy director of Penland School of Crafts.
2012-Mack’s wife, Judy, also a Friends board member, accepted the task at hand (though skeptical of the outcome) and followed the proposal up with an 8 month feasibility study assisted by a core group of artists. During those 8 months, from Jan. 2012 through July, local artists were identified (to much surprise, upwards to 40 artists were located in the recesses of this sprawling rural county) and weighed in, followed by a polling of mainland county residents to determine community support and interest. On March 17, 2012, 40 local and area artists attended an art forum as part of the study and collaborated on the idea. (See photos below)
With positive results, 2 pilot art programs, held at the Hyde Co. Sr. Citizens Center, were offered which resulted in 22 student enrollments. The Beaufort County Arts Council chipped in with a small grassroots grant to assist in the development of the program. Shortly after, the Friends board of directors put the proposal to a vote and decided to make the arts program pivotal to sustaining the old courthouse, the name MATTIE was selected (an acronym for Mattamuskeet Artisans, Teaching, Training, Instructing, and Educating) to invoke a sense of community for all the villages in Hyde County, and the Friends went in hot pursuit of a lease from the county for the newly refurbished first floor of the building.
On Oct. 1, the Friends secured a one year lease for the space and swiftly went into action to furnish it accordingly. Two weeks later, On Oct. 13, the first art class was conducted in the center and on Oct. 27, in the semblance of a grand opening, MATTIE opened its doors to the public for the first time. 5 artists in motion wielded their craft and the sales gallery opened for the first time. In spite of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, approximately 300 people visited the arts center that day, and folks signed up for classes and to be included on MATTIE’s email data base. Sales flourished and excitement was in the air that this idea might actually work!
2013-Since that time-one year ago-MATTIE has arranged and facilitated more than 40 art classes and workshops in 12 different media and has had a total of over 240 student enrollments. This has translated to more than $10,000.00 in income for local and area art instructors, and through the MATTIE Art Gallery, which provides a centralize location for local artists to offer their work for sale, art sales payable to artists in excess of $2,000.00.
In June of this year, the Friends succeeded in re-negotiating their lease from 1 year to 5 years which was critical to their long term planning. Friends fund raising efforts have resulted in defraying some start up costs including the purchase of tables, chairs, signage, and a much needed utility sink, and citizens and local business have assisted with special projects such as the 12 new murals of local artwork on the outside of the building. Board members dug into their own pocket to purchase and install not only 4 of the murals but also the plants now in the flower beds next to the building. Thousands of volunteer hours have been spent bringing and keeping the program alive. Volunteers include the Friends board of directors, (including Judy McLawhorn, the administrator of the arts center), and numerous citizens, artists and non-artists alike, who have helped “man the store”, clean up and repair the building exterior, install fixtures, murals, plants, signs, a yard hydrant, grounds maintenance, etc.
Again, this year, MATTIE will benefit, albeit modestly, from the support of the NC Arts Council through their grass roots grants administered by the Beaufort County Arts Council. Unfortunately, the available funds will dwindle to zero in the upcoming year. Numerous citizens and businesses throughout Hyde County have come to the aid to help sustain the program, assist with special projects, and start a student financial aid fund. Tideland Electric Membership Co-op has sponsored numerous advertisements for MATTIE in the Eastern Living magazine and the Hyde County ChamberGram. The Beaufort Hyde News, The Coastland Times, and the SwanQuarterly publication have been consistent in their coverage since the program’s conception and continue to publicize the MATTIE class calendars, special events, and press releases as does the Hyde County Government through their website. Finally, the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce selected the organization for their 2013 Tourist Award.