In 1978, Durham was a city of about 100,000 people, known nationally mostly as the place Lucky Strike and Chesterfield cigarettes were manufactured, and the home to a distinguished regional university and a prominent historically black college. Its downtown was sliding with accelerating speed into the desolate place it would be by the late 1980s. The Research Triangle Park, ascending to be one of the premier such parks in the country, tended to be identified more with nearby Raleigh than with Durham.
That year, the American Dance Festival, an established force in the dance world, moved from New London, Connecticut, and opened its first season in Durham.
Today, of course, Durham is a city of more than 250,000 people, basking in a downtown revival, a creative-class boom, a performing arts center that has among the strongest attendance of any such facility, and an RTP that is reinventing itself for the 21st century as it continues to help drive our knowledge-based economy. Duke University, which lured the festival here when some 50 other sites had bid to be its new home, is in the top ranks of universities nationally and internationally acclaimed.
Many developments – and visionary leaders – have driven the city’s transformation from its textile and tobacco manufacturing past as those industries collapsed. ADF was an early catalyst in that transformation, bringing thousands of students, performers and dance enthusiasts to the city over the past four decades. As it opens its 40th season in this city on Saturday, June 3, its role in reinventing this city and its image on national and world stages is worth celebrating.
ADF Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter talked about the evolution of city and festival recently with Duke Today, the university’s daily online newsletter.
“Forty years ago when ADF moved from New London, Conn., to Durham, the festival stimulated a renaissance. North Carolina welcomed us with open arms,” she said. “ADF chose Duke University as the site of its new home over nearly 50 other invitations from all around the country, in part because of North Carolina’s demonstrated enthusiasm for the performing arts. It has been an exhilarating 40 years and we look forward to many more.”
Over the next several weeks, the festival will feature 71 performances by 30 choreographers in 11 different venues. The festival’s spread from the Duke campus and the Durham Performing Arts Center to venues such as Motorco has intensified its visibility and the community’s familiarity with its work.
As this season gets underway, we express our profound appreciation for its 40 years here – and fervent hope we’ll see many decades more.