Independent artists’ remarks to Durham City Council VII, November 21, 2019.Posted: November 22, 2019
Above: Durham artist Emmett Holladay Anderson addressing City Council.
Posted below are the comments made by local independent artists to Durham City Council on November 21st, 2019, on the crisis of arts funding in the city. Thank you to Ranganathan Rajaram and Emmett Holladay Anderson for sharing their comments. You can listen to the audio here, starting at Item #22. See previous speakers’ comments here (August 22), here (September 5), here (September 19), here (October 10), here (October 24), and here (November 7).
My name is Ranganathan Rajaram. I’m a DJ and Event Promoter – I’ve been based in Durham since 2013. My event resume includes DISHOOM at Motorco and Super Secret Dance Party at Arcana, 2 successful party concepts I’ve created and run for the past 6 and 4 years respectively.
Over time, my work has shifted towards high budget private events, which while more lucrative, have taken me away from community/nightlife events, which is why I got into DJing in the first place.
This led to the creation of DISHOOM, an open format international dance party. Rooted in Bollywood/Bhangra music, we combine a plethora of musical genres throughout the night, culminating in a high energy experience complete with live drums, dance lessons, and retro visuals on the big screen!
This involves quite a bit production. One event employs 15-20 people and has expenses in the neighborhood of $3k. The parties, while always well attended (200-400), don’t always turn a profit, and are usually break evens or slight losses. It’s increasingly difficult to cover all expenses out of pocket while running a business and supporting a family.
Recently I’ve been approached by a national organization that is interested in sponsoring the event. This sponsorship allows us to both increase artist pay and make admission free to the public.
Prior to this opportunity, it was my plan to end or downsize the party. Without this investment the event would be over as we know it.
However, I got lucky here. I was approached out of the blue – an extremely rare occurrence, which I am thankful for. It makes me realize that there is a lack of similar opportunity for artists in our city.
To be honest, I originally was skeptical of this proposal, and wasn’t planning on attending today. I’ve seen the benefit that this type of program would have on our community and must voice my full support.
The proposal for a direct artists fund would go a long way towards ensuring Durham specific events, which employ our artists and are for the people, are not lost as our city grows.
Thank you for your time.
Hello everyone. Thank you for giving me the time to speak today. I’m here to encourage you to allocate funds toward Durham’s independent artists.
I have been making theater in Durham since 2003, when my youth theater company rehearsed in what is now The Parlour. Since that time, I have come and gone from Durham a few times, forever drawn back to this vibrant city. I see so much potential: spaces that could make amazing blackbox theaters, people walking downtown on a Friday night who would go see independent theater, creatives moving here who I would love to collaborate with. The reality, however, is that until there is more funding directed toward independent creative endeavors, I simply cannot afford to live or make art in this city.
From 2006 to 2016 I was a member of a theater ensemble called The Delta Boys. As a group of energized young people with a relative amount of privilege, we were able to make theater without paying ourselves for that entire decade. We relied on the generosity of landowners to gift us rehearsal and performance spaces. In 2016, we produced a sold out 3 week run of ORLANDO at Manbites Dog Theater. We had no outside funding. We bought costumes, props, and paid designers from our own pocket. This was one of the most successful shows that Manbites Dog saw in its 30 year history. I don’t share this to pat myself on the back, but to express that even with full houses of paying audience members, we needed support. Our budget was minimal. We had a small cast and an even smaller crew. For the 3 months of labor that went into this show, we paid ourselves $1,000 each. And in terms of indie theater, this was a big paycheck. And only because of the privilege we were all coming from were we able to do this. Imagine how many talented artists in this city could never possibly afford to invest so much time into something with so little financial payback.
I love making art on a shoestring. I don’t think that art needs to be expensive to be moving. When I talk about money I’m talking about paying for artists’ time, rehearsal space, performance space, and essential technical elements. What would be a relatively small amount of money to Durham could be a game changer for an artist making a life in this city.
Several things have shifted for me lately. I turned 30. I started valuing the 20 years of training and experience I’ve put into my craft. I stopped saying yes to unpaid gigs. And I stopped asking other theater artists to work with me without pay. This has essentially put my work on hold.
With support from the city, I would be able to produce theater here again. Art has the unique power to bring community into conversation with itself. It allows us to dream bigger, to be the most compassionate versions of ourselves, and to do the necessary work of imagining new futures. Broadway tours at DPAC won’t do this, but I could give you a list of 50 local artists who will. By investing in independent artists, you would be investing in the continued deepening of these conversations and the resiliency of Durham’s vibrant ecosystem. Thank you.
Hello Council Members and city staff. It’s nice to be back and see all your faces! I’m here to provide an update on the status of our proposal on behalf of independent artists.
At the request of the Mayor, we’ve begun meetings with the Cultural Advisory Board, the CAB, whom he has charged with providing an evaluation of our proposal in time for the upcoming budget cycle. Yesterday, the chair of the CAB graciously permitted my colleague Marshall Botvinick and I to attend their annual retreat. We had lots of productive and clarifying conversations with city staff and board members. In light of the Mayor’s charge, the chair of the CAB has committed their next two meetings—in December and January—specifically to discussing and evaluating our proposal. Of course, our hope is that the CAB will choose to recommend it. The next steps are: (1) that the CAB members will send us questions and concerns about the proposal; (2) we will answer them and try to clarify them in a revised proposal, and (3) we will send it back to them by December 15th, in time for their meeting on December 18th. And we will go from there.
Meanwhile, there are two Work Sessions left in the calendar year. There may be more than three artists at each of them, since everyone is now rushing to have their say, but the formal speaker series that began in August will end on December 19th, as planned. We thank you, as always, for your attention.