On a recent afternoon, artist Brenda Miller Holmes and several participants in the city’s YouthWork Internship Program set up a tent at the corner of Raynor Street and Miami Boulevard with a sign – “We Want Your Ideas: Community Mural.”
On a table near the Stop-One Food Mart, fliers asked, “What comes to mind then you think of this neighborhood?” and “What is your vision for this neighborhood?”
“We want to try to talk to as many people as possible,” Miller Holmes told the interns.
Cailee Parker gave a flier to Dinaria Baldwin and Tyrone A. Small II. Baldwin said she would like to see the mural honor important historical figures who contributed to Durham. Small said the mural also should honor musicians and other artists from Durham.
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Parker later saw his uncle, Kevin Bowlin, drive up to the store. They hugged, and Parker handed his uncle a flier.
At first, Bowlin asked his nephew what he would like to put on the mural. “It’s not about what I want to put on there,” Parker replied. “It’s about what you want to put on there.”
Durham residents will be seeing more art going up in places around town because the city is expanding its public art program.
Miller Holmes and the interns — Parker, Gregory Cross, Timya Kerr, Elise Watkins and Nyla Hoskins – will put art on three utility boxes this summer – on Miami Boulevard, in Walltown and near North Carolina Central University. The boxes tower above the interns, and many adults.
The utility box project is part of about seven ongoing or planned public art projects. Among them will be a 3-D mural by Frank Kreacic in the alcove across from City Hall, art for the Black Wall Street Gardens on Mangum and Main streets, and neighborhood murals.
The first step in the neighborhood art projects is to ask residents what kind of art they want. At NCCU, “we put a flier in everybody’s mailbox in that neighborhood,” Miller Holmes said. “We’ve been calling and emailing churches and community centers.”
Artists Julia Gartrell and Julienne Alexander recently finished the mural on the bathroom and storage facility in Southern Boundaries Park on Third Fork Road. Before they began their work, they placed chalk next to wall and asked park visitors to write down their ideas (Alexander called it a “call to chalk”).
The artists received a wide range of ideas, and decided to incorporate those ideas using silhouette figures. They set up two photo shoots, which included neighborhood residents, projected the images on the walls of the facility, and painted them, Gartrell said.
“This project is one of the most accessible I have ever participated in,” she said. “We feel like we got a [cross section] of Durham’s population.”
Public Art Fund
The Durham City Council increased this fiscal year’s allocation to the Public Art Fund, from $20,000 to $75,000.
From 2012 to 2017, the city put $70,000 into the fund, said Brian Smith, senior economic development coordinator with the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. With the increase in funding, the Public Art Fund has $145,000 for fiscal 2018, he said.
“The projects we’re doing now are some of the first that came from the city’s public art fund,” Smith said.
A committee of the Durham Cultural Advisory Board advises the city on public art. The Durham Civil Rights History Mural Project (which Miller Holmes led), now on permanent view next to the Durham Arts Council, was the first public art project, paid for by $20,000 from the hotel occupancy tax.
A percent-for-art program, which the city enacted in 2011, funds public art. Up to 1 percent of the city’s capital improvements program for public infrastructure goes toward art. Private developers also may contribute in exchange for certain variances in plans.
Engaging residents is crucial to the project, and is in keeping with the Durham Cultural Master Plan, which calls for “[using] arts and culture as a way to increase understanding and communication among people of diverse backgrounds.”
“People are just appreciative that they’ve been asked, that their voice matters in the art,” said Smith. “Engagement is really important for us, particularly art that is in the neighborhoods.”
Smith sees publicly funded art as an economic development tool, a way to give Durham a sense of place, a way to address Durham’s problems, and as a way to bring people together.
Art “opens people’s minds and gives them the opportunity to see themselves differently,” he said.
Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744
Public Art projects
Other projects that are in the works or planned:
▪ Public art for the Black Wall Street Gardens on Mangum and Main streets.
▪ A project for the Chapel Hill Street underpass, an entry into downtown Durham.
▪ A neighborhood mural program.
▪ The City Hall Alcove project.
▪ Signal box art in Wellons Village, Walltown and near North Carolina Central University.
▪ A sculpture at the Durham Innovation District (developer funded).