By Outer Banks Voice on June 27, 2022
Ami Hill is a Kill Devil Hills art entrepreneur who operates under the name of Muse Originals Bus #252 and Muse Markets. She recently was named Business Supporter of the Year by the Dare County Arts Council.
“It brought me to tears,” says Hill about receiving the award.
Recently Hill has generated attention for her challenge to a Kill Devil Hills ordinance that requires “itinerant vendors” to donate 100% of their profits to charity in exchange for the right to sell during the tourism season. This followed her unsuccessful request to receive a variance from the town that would have allowed her to host a regular gathering of local artists at the Outer Banks Brewing Station this summer. On June 7, she filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ordinance.
But Hill’s work with the arts community well predates her legal battle with Kill Devil Hills. She sponsors art shows and organizes winter art markets with all donations going into the Dare County Arts Council’s general fund. She also promotes the work of roughly 30 artists with her Muse Originals Bus #252 and 200 artists on a rotating list with her Muse Markets.
Named after the local area code, the coral and white school bus (turned art gallery) travels the county where the bus and artists in tents set up in large parking lots of businesses. Restaurants have welcomed her presence. Hill characterizes it as a win-win situation as the art market not only supports artists but helps entertain guests waiting to be seated at the eatery.
Bus #252 and the art markets helped Hill and other artists survive as she was forced to shut down her bricks-and-mortar art gallery, Muse Originals, in 2020 due to Covid-19. Hill had to find a way to pay the bills. She currently puts on 75 to 80 markets a year from April to December.
It is not easy to get a space in local art markets according to Buffy Turner, an Outer Banks artist who moved here in 2018 from Hampton Roads. Turner was raised by artist parents who made their living at art markets. Upon arriving on the Outer Banks, the experienced vendor ran into some roadblocks.
“I just tried to get into all of them and just was turned away,” she told the Voice. “It was just a lot of closed doors.” After spending decades as an art vendor, Turner, who creates mixed media recycled art from beach finds, was ready to quit art.
Then in 2020, she saw a Facebook post for Hill’s art markets. She sent her a message. Turner was welcomed into the fold. She takes part in the Muse Markets and helps Hill organize them. “Now I am able to work and keep the lights on with my art, which I was able to do.” “It’s all because of Ami and that bus and her willingness to give people a chance,” said Turner.
Artist and Kill Devil Hills gallery owner, Julie Moye, who operates KDH Cooperative Art Gallery, is a fan of Hill. “She’s awesome, and she’s actually sold some of my personal work on her bus,” Moye noted. “I don’t feel a competitiveness with her in any way because we are helping support artists to support themselves. It helps all of us survive.” Moye has even invited Hill to set up in her art gallery parking lot.
Putting her business on wheels suits Hill. Having worked in the world of big business and full of ideas, she wanted to offer other artists a creative alternative. Having fun was also on her mind, and as a parent of four, she was tired of working the wearying hours she did at her Muse Originals Gallery.
Family tragedy also played a role in Hill’s desire to lead a self-made life. Her grandmother and mother both died from lung cancer within two years. Hill was their caretaker. Her mother was only 55.
“That amount of loss in those two years was the catalyst for me deciding that I was going to live a life I loved for as long as I had left,” recounted Hill. “The ignition to my smoldering entrepreneurial spirit.”
Hill gets a lot out of helping the Muse Market vendors. “I’ve watched them all grow from not knowing what to do to learning from everyone around them,” she said. “They grow with me.”
To that end, Hill pointed to her current litigation against Kill Devil Hills. “It’s not just about my market,” she asserted. “Other businesses out there want to have art in their backyards, too. I just want a sensible regulation of what they call itinerant venders.”
“The world is hard enough without creativity, without people doing what they love and sharing themselves with each other,” she added.