Is Durham’s Art of Cool music festival for sale?

Common performs in 2017 as part of Durham’s The Art of Cool music festival.
Common performs in 2017 as part of Durham’s The Art of Cool music festival. ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Is one of Durham’s signature music festivals about to change hands?

Cicely Mitchell, the president and co-founder of the Art of Cool Festival, declined to comment Friday on speculation that the 5-year-old music festival is up for sale.

“(T)he Art of Cool has no comment at this time,” Mitchell said in an emailed statement. “We are excited about the plans in place for the 2018 5th Anniversary AOC Festival. AOC will release a statement regarding festival details at a later time.”

In a follow-up phone call, Mitchell referred to speculation about the festival as “Twitter rumors” and would neither confirm nor deny them.

Tess Mangum Ocaña, who runs Sonic Pie Productions, a production company that works closely with the Art of Cool, also declined to comment.

But sources close to the local music industry said the festival was for sale.

One connected with the festival said that someone with Art of Cool told them directly there had been negotiations to sell the festival to another party and that it was waiting for paperwork to be signed.

Another source close to the Art of Cool said Mitchell had expressed interest in selling the festival late last year.

The first Art of Cool Festival took place in Durham in 2014, with a lineup topped by longtime James Brown sideman (and Kinston native) Maceo Parker. The festival’s first two years also included outdoor programming, which it abandoned for only indoor venues starting in 2016 because of weather problems.

The festival grew out of the Art of Cool Project, a nonprofit founded by trumpeter Al Strong and Mitchell in 2010. The nonprofit organization was formed to give audiences venues where they could sit and hear jazz and related styles.

Over the years, an array of national and local jazz, R&B, hip-hop and soul acts have played Art of Cool, including Charlotte’s Grammy-winning singer Anthony Hamilton, trumpet player Terence Blanchard and vibraphonist Roy Ayers. Last year featured Kannapolis native George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars along with Common, Rakim and the local Grammy-nominated rapper Rapsody.

Last year, the festival began presenting concerts in Charlotte as well.

A schedule has not yet been released for this year’s fifth Art of Cool, which is scheduled April 27-29.

Art of Cool is part of a local festival landscape that includes Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in Durham. While both festivals receive public support, a lot more of it goes to Moogfest – which received $130,000 from the city and county of Durham in 2016. Art of Cool received $5,000 from the city that year.

David Menconi contributed to this report.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes