Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DA+AH: A Guide to the Durham Art Scene

All photos courtesy of Lindsay Gordon
After such a wonderful reception to the first Art Scene Guide, let's do some more exploring, shall we? This week we will go to Durham, North Carolina with Lindsay Gordon the Artist Services Manager at the Durham Arts Council. I had the pleasure of getting to know Lindsay in our undergraduate art history program. The art world can be a tough place to have a career and Lindsay navigates it with a poised sense of humor and hard work that has and will lead her to much success. To follow her adventures check out her blog, The Dilettantista.

Now more on Durham! Thanks so much, Lindsay!

Jamie Hurst: Tell me about yourself and your role in the art scene of Durham.
Lindsay Gordon: I moved to the Triangle Area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, which sort of make a triangle on the map and which also encompass a science-tech area called the Research Triangle) in 2007 after graduating from the University of Florida with degrees in Art History and English.  I'd lived in Florida my entire life, so this is the farthest north I've ever gone living-wise.  I came up here for graduate school, and spent two years getting my Master's in Art History at UNC.  I thought I'd get my PhD, but department politics and some soul-searching convinced me to stop after my Master's.  I've had museum internships at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida, the North Carolina Museum of Art here in Raleigh, and a quick and fun summer at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.  I was lucky enough to get my Master's in 2009, during the peak of the recession, so I spent a little over two-years doing high-end retail and being funemployed and job searching and more-or-less questioning my self-worth and life decisions.  I'd decided to stay in North Carolina for personal reasons (aka I met a boy, and yes we are still together today and live in domestic bliss with our two black cats, so it was a good risk in my opinion), but also because I was witnessing the city of Durham, where my high-end retail job was, commence a period of cultural and downtown growth that is still going strong today.  I wanted to be a part of that, and after quitting my high-end retail job I really focused my job search on Durham as much as I could. 

The summer of 2011 I was doing part time personal assistant work for a fantastic local artist, Beverly McIver, who had just secured New York City gallery representation at Betty Cunningham and who was also anticipating the release of an HBO documentary called Raising Renee, which chronicled her relationship with her older, developmentally disabled sister.  Beverly was a great resource in terms of her openness with her own story, but also because of her connections to the local artistic community.  That summer I'd put in an application to the Durham Arts Council (DAC, www.durhamarts.org), a non-profit arts organization in downtown Durham, and for my work with Beverly I was corresponding with a woman at the DAC who would be doing the hiring for this position.  So basically anytime I e-mailed her for Beverly I'd mention that I was still interested in the DAC job.  I guess my persistence (maybe obnoxiousness?) paid off, because I was called in for an interview and started work at the DAC as their Artist Services Manager this past December. 

My supervisor and I comprise the Department of Art Services, and we provide grants, resources, and programming for the artists (visual and other) of Durham County and the surrounding communities.  We have a number of internal grants that we give to both individual artists and arts organizations.  We produce several arts festivals a year, including a Spring Art Walk and CenterFest, our major outdoor arts fair that will be happening mid-September (www.centerfest.durhamarts.org).  I run the Arts Council's exhibition program, making sure that our three galleries are stocked with rotating array of exhibits.  I also serve as the general artistic liaison to the community, which is great because I'm an extrovert and a talker who loves meeting people.

The Arts Council has been around for 58 years and has been crucial to the revitalization of downtown Durham--which has been getting a lot of notice in periodicals like The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Southern Living.  The DAC moved to downtown Durham before there was really anything there, and slowly businesses such as boutiques and high-end, locally-sourced restaurants followed suit.  Along with providing services to the artistic community, the DAC also has a school and a camp that serve students of all ages, and features classes such as pottery, dance, music lessons, printmaking, and drawing.  We have parents who participated in Arts Council programs as children bringing their own children to camp, so I love that the Arts Council has had such deep and long-lasting impact on the Durham community. 

JH: Describe the art scene of Durham. What is the history? The vibe? Is it known for anything like abstract expressionist or performance art movement, etc? Is it underground or mainstream? Large scale or intimate?
LG: Durham is a town characterized by an entrepreneurial, can-do spirit.  Dozens of refugees from large urban areas like Brooklyn or D.C. come down here to open businesses: home-made peanut butter jarred in someone's house, an ice cream truck with the best ice cream you have ever had, a small storefront selling fantastic meats and cheeses, a mom-and-pop bike store.  We even have coffee sold out of a bike cart.  You name it, it is probably here.  That same whimsical, do-it-yourself spirit infuses our arts scene.  We have a good mix of old-school institutions, such as my organization and academic museums such as Duke University's Nasher Museum (http://www.nasher.duke.edu/).  But we also have a ton of great, scrappy, galleries started by some artists with a dream and a Kickstarter account (Durham loves crowd funding). 

The Carrack (http://thecarrack.org/) is a small gallery located upstairs from a bakery (that makes the best peanut butter and chocolate croissants, featuring some of that home-made peanut butter I mentioned above), and it features week-long rotating exhibits by local artists.  Shows include installations, sculpture exhibits, 2-d art exhibits, and even a few performance art pieces.  The Carrack doesn't take commissions from sales and is totally funded by donations from the community.  Mercury Studio is a new venue that has opened around the corner from the Carrack.  Mercury Studio's (http://mercurystudiodurham.com/)  emphasis is co-working, and artists can rent communal studio space.  The Durham Arts Place is a group of studios owned by a local art lawyer, who rents the studios to artists.  The Arts Place also has gallery space, and I'm currently co-curating a show of LGBTQ art work by North Carolina artists that will show in that space during the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and NC Pride (http://durhamartsplacelgbtq.wordpress.com/).  Golden Belt studios (http://goldenbeltarts.com/artists_studios.shtml) is a fantastic venue in an rehabilitated tobacco warehouse (a common theme in Durham's urban renewal).  Golden Belt is a series of artist studios that artists can rent, and the artists in Golden Belt represent a range of Durham styles. 

We're also starting to embrace the pop-up store and gallery movement.  I recently attended an art opening in a newly-renovated studio apartment that was about to go on the market, and one of our local music clubs holds bi-monthly downtown markets where artists and crafters can sell their goods. That same club recently held Durham's first fashion show.   We're a good mix of mainstream (the Nasher, the Arts Council, parts of Golden Belt), and underground/pop-up.  We're also big on collaboration.  The next show I'm opening at the Arts Council features works made by designers to advertise performances organized by The Art of Cool Project (http://theartofcoolproject.com/), a group that brings jazz performances to gallery venues in Durham and Raleigh.  The Art of Cool Project is celebrating its one-year anniversary this year, and it represents a fantastic bringing together of performance and visual arts.  Durham isn't a place where people wait for something to happen, we make it happen, and luckily the people who are involved in downtown are incredibly excited about making Durham a culturally relevant and exciting place to be. 

JH: Are there regularly scheduled art shows like, biennials, open air fairs, or First Fridays (something a visitor especially should not miss)?
LG: Third Fridays are our Gallery Nights--when the art venues around town stay open late [read more about Third Fridays on The Dilettantista here, here, here, and here].  I typically start my Third Fridays at the Arts Council (if we have a reception) or somewhere else in central downtown.  During the July Third Friday I attended the soft opening of Durham's new History Hub, organized by the Museum of Durham History (http://museumofdurhamhistory.org/).  I then visited a pop-up exhibition held in a renovated studio apartment, featuring drawings by an artist friend of mine who had recently completed a residency in South Africa.  I almost always end up down at Golden Belt and visit with a few artists there--it is fantastic to see what the artists have been working on, and there is usually a new exhibit in Golden Belt's gallery space, Room 100 (http://goldenbeltarts.com/artists_nonProfit.shtml).  Also on the Golden Belt campus are The Scrap Exchange (http://www.scrapexchange.org/), Durham's creative re-use crafting facility, and Liberty Arts (http://liberty-arts.org/), a metal-working studio.  Scrap and Liberty Arts almost always have fantastic Third Friday events--new exhibits and craft-making at the Scrap, live glass blowing or metal working at Liberty.  Golden Belt is where you will see the largest congregation of people, and there are always a handful of Durham's amazing food trucks on site to keep you fed--I usually grab some food truck food, if I haven't already eaten at one of downtown's great locavore restaurants.  I almost always see a bazillion people I know at Golden Belt. 

I help organize several large events at the Arts Council.  The Durham Art Walk is our spring art fair, and it is a very casual event where artists who are just getting their start can display and sell their works at venues throughout town.  CenterFest is our September festival, and it is Durham's largest outdoor arts festival.  This is a more traditional festival, with 10 x 10 outdoor artist booths, live performances, fair food, and a kid's zone.  This year we're moving CenterFest back into central downtown after an 8 year sojourn in another location.  Durhamites are pretty enthused about this movie, and so far it has been a lot of work, but a lot of fun, figuring out the logistics of moving this festival into central downtown.  CenterFest historically draws 25,000+ people.   

JH: What are the must-see museums, galleries, and hot-spots?
JG: I pretty much hit all of them above: The Durham Arts Council, Golden Belt Studios, The Cordoba Center for the Arts (home of The Scrap Exchange and Liberty Arts), The Carrack, and Mercury Studios.  And, of course, the numerous pop-ups that come and go like tears in rain.  There's probably a new studio or gallery opening next month--that's the way things work here. 

I also want to emphasize that Durham is just one part of the Triangle--there are plenty of great galleries in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and the smaller towns that comprise the Triangle, such as Hillsborough and Pittsboro.  I'm just sticking to Durham for now because Chapel Hill and definitely Raleigh warrant their own entries--Raleigh especially has a booming and unique downtown arts scene, anchored by the West Martin corridor which contains Raleigh's new Contemporary Art Museum (http://camraleigh.org/), Flanders Gallery (http://flandersartgallery.com/), and the Visual Art Exchange (http://visualartexchange.org/). 

JH: Who are the locally celebrated artists, past and present?
LG: Beverly McIver, who I mentioned above, is the big local celebrity.  She does wonderful paintings of herself and her family on big canvases with vivid, bold colors.  I'm also a big fan of the work of Heather Gordon.  She does these wonderful, intellectual, conceptual paintings based on very technical things such as schematics, maps, and origami.  She also does fun things where she converts language or audio sound into binary code, and uses that code to map out an image.  Check out her work here:  http://www.heather-gordon.com/.  I'm also digging the work of Luis Franco, who goes by FRANCO in his artist guise (he also has a day job as a graphic designer at SAS).  His work is very fun and colorful, with some playful twists in the imagery (http://www.francoproject.com/). 
JH: Is there anyone doing interesting work in the community that should be highlighted? For example, is anyone touching the community through art education or is a curator or gallery owner creating innovative or notable shows?
LG: The Durham Storefront Project (http://durhamstorefrontproject.org/), organized by Jessica Moore, Chris Chinchar, and Reene Cagnina Haynes, brings amazing installation art into empty storefronts in downtown Durham.  Durham still has a lot of underutilized spaces, and until they're developed they are prime real estate for unusual art projects--and luckily the ladies of the Storefront Project realized this.  The Storefront Project has collaborated with numerous artists to make installations involving a city made out of books, a strange, cob-webby fairy room, giant QR codes, and photographs of families who were impacted by North Carolina atrocious Amendment 1.  It is a great project that brings art out of the galleries and onto the streets, and I'm excited to see what they put together in the future. 

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