Home-grown big events

May. 03, 2014 @ 06:38 PM

Durham, as you no doubt have noticed, is getting to be busier and busier on the weekends.

A few weeks ago, it was the Art Walk. Last weekend, we were awash in possibilities – the Art of the Cool Festival and Earth Day, to name just a couple.

This weekend, the first Bull City Sculpture show opens, and it is a wonderful addition to the landscape – physical and cultural.

And as staff writers Cliff Bellamy and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan laid out in Friday’s Entertainment and More section, we’re entering a spring-summer season of concerts – many free – that will offer something for just about every taste. The season kicked off Saturday with the Southern Durham Blues and Heritage Festival at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center.

What is notable about many of these events is that they grew from unique Durham roots, or are tied to and draw energy from distinctive Durham traits.

In talking about Saturday’s blues heritage festival, for example, Terri Robbins, an organizer, talked about those connections. “This is one of the places where the blues began,” she said. “We have deep roots and they are sort of being forgotten.”

Remembering those deep roots is worth celebrating.

So, too, is the local energy and enthusiasm for Durham that has led the Art of the Cool festival and the sculpture show.  Neither springs from some corporate or institutional quest to launch a major event. Each springs from essentially grass-roots imagination and determination.

The jazz festival grew out of the Art of the Cool Project, started by Cicely Mitchell and trumpet player Al Strong in 2011 to promote and present jazz. The festival pulled in an eclectic mix of local and national artists that fit nicely “in Durham, which is known for its diversity…,” observed Shelly Weitz, director of corporate marketing for ReverbNation.

The sculpture show was the brainchild of Jackie McLeod, Michael Waller and other members of the Liberty Arts cooperative. The result is 12 large pieces of sculpture selected to be shown downtown for the next six months.

Both the festival and the show seem to fit with the admonitions of Reyn Bowman, the retired founding director of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, who reminds us often about the importance of a sense of place and honoring our distinctive events.

“Adaptive reuse of historic buildings is no guarantee of sense of place if they are populated with formula restaurants, formula retail and formula festivals and events,” Bowman wrote on his blog last month. “Things such as indigenous festivals and indigenous restaurants and truly locally owned, independent businesses are the crucial software that prevents historic preservation from becoming just another Disneyland, a simulation of sense of place.”

Durham faces a growing challenge to keep it sense of place as our success brings a wealth of new opportunities, some of which could undermine the very bases of that success. But with our recent home-grown events and a busy summer ahead, it’s clear lots of folks eager to meet the challenge.