Independent artists’ remarks to Durham City Council III, September 19, 2019.


Photo credit: Ashley Melzer.

Posted below are the comments made by local independent artists to Durham City Council on September 19th, 2019, on the crisis of arts funding in the city. You can listen to the audio here (begin at Item #23). Thank you to Justin Cook and Omari Akil for sharing their text below. See speakers from September 5th here (begin at Item #32) and August 22nd here. If you are an independent artist in Durham and would like to speak to the Council on this matter, please get in touch at monica at monicabyrne dot org.

Justin Cook

Good afternoon Council, I’m Justin Cook, an independent photographer here in Durham. 

I want to thank you all for the ways the city has supported the very arts community that helped spur Durham’s recent renaissance.

With its skyrocketing cost of living and vanishing art venues, Durham has become a difficult place to work and live as an artist.

So, I’d like for the city to reimagine its support a little bit — to consider directly funding and subsidizing local artists and local indie arts spaces.

My own photographic life can testify to the artists’ struggle in Durham.

I’ve been a working photographer for almost 15 years and I make 100% of my income from my camera through editorial and commercial work. 

It’s been a career of feast or famine, of floating debt so I can survive until the next check comes.

What really sustains me — my “art” — are self-funded photographic essays about issues in Durham and around North Carolina.

But these projects require funding that is becoming harder to find. Grants are a great way to offset costs, but I have grown tired of competing with national and international photographers for grants that have steep entrance fees, or grants that try to grab the rights to my work.

More funding should be available, in abundance, right here in Durham.

In Durham, we have incredible creative talent, and models for the future of art spaces.

The Carrack, which is closing this weekend, wasn’t simply an art space, it was a clear manifestation of Durham’s best values. And with a lean $80,000 annual operating budget it was a space the city could have helped. 

Can you imagine a Durham where The Carrack wasn’t an experiment, or the exception? Imagine a Durham where it is the standard. Don’t you want to be a part of building that culture?

So instead of subsidizing artists who don’t live here by spending $100,000 on parking garage art, $200,000 on police murals, and instead of giving $700,000 annually to an out-dated institution like the Durham Arts Council, I ask that you consider allocating funds for:

a) A year-long Durham Artists Fellowship, with a priority on artists from marginalized communities, that pays a handful of artists a living wage salary so they can focus on making art, especially art that challenges Durham to better live up to its ideals.

b) And/or consider splitting some of that money into many $10,000 and $15,000 artists grants, available only to folks living and working in Durham. 

c) And subsidizing our indie art spaces so they can continue to drive the arts culture of Durham.

Durham is one of eight North Carolina SmART Communities, that according to its website, “demonstrat[es] how the arts transform downtowns and build sustainable economic development.” But how is that development actually sustainable if artists can’t afford to live and work here? 

When it is time to draft the next budget, please remember that the arts do not exist apart from Durham’s economy as simply an engine for driving cash into the pockets of businesses, or to increase the city’s tax base. The arts are an economy — our economy.

Durhams artists have done all we can to build the arts community and economy to what it is now.

So the challenge is yours to work with us to not just maintain our arts culture, but to help  it thrive and evolve so that Durham can become a model for the rest of the country.

Thanks for listening.

Omari Akil

Good afternoon and thank you Council Members for hearing my statement today. I’m Omari Akil Dennis and I’m an independent board game and card game designer. I moved to Durham in 2008 and at that time I could feel at it’s core, that Durham and the people of Durham had an artistic and creative flair that made me happy to call this city home.

But 11 years later, I’m afraid for the trajectory of the arts here. What I see in Durham mostly is a community of artists who support each other fervently. Sadly, this loving sentiment, speaks more to the dire situation we all find ourselves. Our support of each other has become mandatory. We share stories of the challenges we face in a system that isn’t designed to work for us. We help each other find the part time work that we need to cover basic living costs. We buy each others creations, sometimes at lower rates, because buying beautiful art can be outside of our normal budget. We collaborate with each other for low or no compensation because we often can’t afford to do otherwise. We should be able to support one another out of love and inspiration, instead of out of hardship and necessity.

We need your assistance to try to break this cycle. We need you to be a more significant part of this creative economy. The artists and creators of Durham deserve support from our government and frankly recognition for making it one of the most desirable places to live in the state. I came here today to request changes to how you support artists, by providing more new programs that fund local art and updates to existing programs and grants that are offered.

As a board game designer, I create an experience. (As you can see…) Creating modern games often requires stunning visual art which is not my area of expertise. Stunning art deserves appropriate compensation. What I would love is to be able to apply for funding to work with a local Durham visual artist. This simultaneously allows me to elevate the quality of my creations, puts money in an artist pocket for the brilliant work that they do, and continues to build the relationships between local artists. This is just one of the many ways the city can help. Even though some opportunities like exist I think they need changes to fully fit the needs of myself and the community.

Today I’m asking that you take a serious look at the needs of the artists and creators of Durham. We need your help to move the in the right direction. In the direction that keeps Durham art authentic, life changing, and local.

Thank You.

Wutang McDougal

Good afternoon, Members of City Council. Thank you for your attention. I understand how many issues you have to consider every day and I really appreciate being able to speak here.

My name is Jon Fuller and I’m an art activist. This is my first time addressing the council and I’m here to speak on behalf of other art activists, freelancers and independent artists of Durham. Durham artists and galleries are being pushed out because they cannot afford the cost of working or living here. Spaces such as The Carrack, which has given affordable opportunities to reach audiences many including black, brown, and queer folks. Has had to relocate and now announce that it’s closing its doors.

Instead the growing amount breweries, cocktail bars or co-working spaces “for artists” is actively contributing to the blatant gentrification process. What we need to see more of is affordable housing and independent-safe creative community spaces that are not fixated on profit.

The Durham Police station has 2 murals from a $200,000 budget but the artists who finished it were not from Durham. That amount of money could have been divided into grants to support more artists, spaces and public art—Here in Durham. Personally I don’t know too many folks who would want to “stop in” at the Police Headquarters to see murals.

If you want to see more art in this community, we need ya’ll to invest in the artists who live in it. You have the resources and platform to do that. I’m asking you to move on that today.

~



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