Independent artists’ remarks to Durham City Council VI, November 7, 2019.

Above: Durham artist Jessica Flemming addressing City Council. Photo by Ashley Melzer.

Posted below are the comments made by local independent artists to Durham City Council on November 7th, 2019, on the crisis of arts funding in the city. Thank you to Jessica Flemming, Holland Gallagher, and Dawn Reno Langley for sharing their comments. You can listen to the audio here, starting at Item #29. See previous speakers’ comments here (August 22)here (September 5)here (September 19), and here (October 10), and here (October 24). 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.

Jessica Flemming

Good Afternoon, My name is Jessica Flemming. I am a performing artist with over 20 years of experience. I have been working professionally as a theatre artist, technician, and educator for over 10 years and I’ve been living and working in North Carolina for over 7. Thank you all for your continued concern and attention to the needs of the artistic community in Durham. While I do not live within the city limits, the bulk of my non-creative career as well as almost all of my creative projects have been based in Durham. I have continued to pursue opportunities in Durham over Raleigh because of the culture and quality of the art that has been created here.

I was raised in a city with the exact opposite problems that Durham is currently facing. Flint, Michigan was a shrinking city with little hope and even less opportunity. Despite that, I grew up with access to art because of local, independent artists who believed in the importance of expression and community. And that might be why I fell in love with Durham in the first place. The artists I’ve met here have much of the same desire and determination as the people who inspired me to pursue the arts as a young person.

Throughout my creative career, I have worked alongside people with steadfast determination to create art and music and stories. And my life has been made richer because of these people and the work they create. I’ve seen the impact of truthful and meaningful art in a community. I’ve also seen artist’s sacrifice and struggle: The balancing act of art with 40+ hour work weeks, family, and other responsibilities; Choosing between gainful employment opportunities and the creative work that gives you purpose for little and inconsistent pay ( A cross roads I found myself at 3 years ago); The constant hunt for money, resources, and space with no sustainable solutions.

The work that my fellow independent artists have been doing is essential and we are very much looking forward to partnering with the Cultural Advisory Board. The possibility of city subsidized funding would be an immeasurable boon. The access to art, music, and storytelling can be life changing and life saving. There is so much talent, drive, and heart in this city. Making the investment and commitment to the people who are here would speak volumes. The opportunities and impact of sustainable art funding will pay dividends in the short and long term.

Growth and change in this city is inevitable. Innovation and development in Durham shouldn’t be limited to tech companies and other well funded institutions. Having a strong foundation of art and culture is only going to make this city stronger. Investing in Durham artists is a direct investment into Durham itself. Thank you.

Holland Gallagher

Hello City Council. I’m Holland Gallagher, a working filmmaker here in Durham. I spent my adolescence in Durham and moved back to the city as an adult after graduating from UNC, working with the creative team at Runaway downtown and writing and directing films. Most recently, I’ve directed documentaries for the NC Arts Council on Durham rap group Little Brother and premiered my scripted series Hype at the Carolina Theatre.

Hype is a show about the shifting culture of our city; how the influx of startups and wealth has impacted the independent arts scene, and that’s what I’m here to speak about today. The changes in Durham have been sweeping and front facing over the last decade, and I think one of the selling points that the city has made in its pitch to newcomers is on the strength of the independent arts scene. This grant proposal ensures that that arts scene is supported and sustained.

Within the arts, I can speak specifically to film. Though the state of North Carolina has film tax credits that incentivize productions to shoot in our state, the floor to qualify is in the millions-of-dollars range. The credits are set up to court Hollywood, not to develop independent films done by creators within the state. The cost of cultivating emerging filmmaking talent in our city, of which there is plenty thanks to our great state universities, cannot fall solely on the filmmaker if we want to build infrastructure that lasts.

Durham artists and citizens carry a deep pride for our city, which echoes in our work. That sense of pride fueled Hype, which was to be a show like Atlanta or Portlandia that was place-specific, independent, while telling a Durham story. We crowdsourced just ten thousand dollars from the community and, using Durham actors and crew and locations, we created
twenty-minute episodes of a story that was by and for Durham. Between the cast, crew, extras, premiere attendees, and contributors to the soundtrack, that investment in the project reached hundreds of Durhamites, and thousands more have since streamed the show online. Everyone involved came together to make a web series about Durham not because it was profitable, or the best career play for everyone, but because of our collective love for the city and a desire to tell our own stories with our own voices.

However, particularly in recent years, I’ve seen many of my collaborators leave Durham for places where there is a more established industry. Grant programs like the one we are proposing, one that is comparable to our neighbors in proportional money given to directly to artists, affords an opportunity for the filmmakers and the storytellers of Durham to do their work
and tell our stories. It affords the time to build networks and grow infrastructure, the connective tissue of an arts scene. It affords relief from the immediate financial pressures that lead to artists fleeing to more developed arts-industry cities or quitting the arts altogether.

Without an investment in our own arts culture, I fear that Durham in its rapid growth, runs the risk of becoming the type of mid-sized city indistinguishable from its peer cities across America.

The arts are a city’s handwriting, that unreplicable part of its culture. We are working with the Cultural Advisory Board to refine our grant proposal, and I hope the council considers the value of our city’s artists and the great benefit that direct grants would afford them.

Dawn Reno Langley

Good afternoon. First of all, I want to thank the members of the council and Mayor Schewel for your consideration and for listening to us speak to you today about a $1.2 million direct granting program for the arts.

I’m DRL, and I write. I’m also president of Rewired Creatives, Inc., a member of the Carolina Theater Board of Trustees, a teacher who runs workshops for writers in the Triangle area, a member of the North Carolina Writers Network, and a reviewer for Triangle Arts and Entertainment. I’ve written since I was able to put a sentence together, have 32 books out (with more in the works), and have written hundreds of articles, essays, poems, and reviews. In addition, I have taught at the high school and college level in the Triangle and currently teach an online class at the MFA level. I am a Fulbright scholar, a TedX speaker, and a PhD evaluator for several universities in Pakistan. I’ve straddled the creative communities here in Durham, becoming a rehabber/house designer responsible for bringing some of our buildings back to life, while writing, editing, and teaching to make ends meet.

When I moved to Durham in 2005, this city was locked down at night. Many of the downtown shops were shuttered or, worse, had plywood over their windows. It wasn’t a place where I wanted to live, but my husband had a job at Duke, so we made it work. I became involved with the writing community and connected with some local artists, and within a few years, I realized this city was coming alive, largely because of the creative individuals who live here and have invested their time and energy in the arts.

Everything that my fellow creatives do takes time and energy. Our output generates a lot of capital for the Durham area. Yet the artists, musicians, dancers, writers and other creatives usually make less than the federal poverty level of $12,490 a year/for one person. However, the cost of living in the Durham area is approximately $13,200 (and I’ve just accounted for average rent and utilities).

I’m one of the more successful writers, yet my income last year was below $13,000, though I work 60 hours a week. It’s a struggle, but we create every day because, here in Durham, we can see what the arts has made.

A $1.2 million direct granting program would not only help grow the current Arts community, thus creating a stronger creative economy in Durham, but it will also sustain the other businesses that ride on the coattails of the arts.

As former governor Jim Hunt said when I first heard him speak about the creative economy, “Creativity fuels innovation, and it’s what all states should strive to instill in the next generations.” Let’s do that for Durham. Let’s make sure the creatives who are here now are shown they’re appreciated and that they’re given the support they need to help the next generations of artists.

Thank you for your consideration.

 


One Comment on “Independent artists’ remarks to Durham City Council VI, November 7, 2019.”

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