Arts Council serves the community through the arts

By Chelsetia Davis
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Although the Durham Arts Council is not located in Northeast Central Durham, its wide range of programs and opportunities to educate, promote and inspire the community through art have likely touched all Durham residents.

Durham Arts Council Executive Director, Sherry DeVries, is proud of the collaborations and work the Council has done for Durham. (Staff photo by Chelsetia Davis)

Located at 120 Morris Street, in downtown Durham, DAC provides classes that specialize in dance, music, painting and other visual arts for any resident who wants to explore their artistic side. Although course costs vary, scholarships help make classes accessible to all.

The organization also hosts more than 5,000 events per year making it a powerful force behind the art scene in Durham.

Inside the DAC

“We raised money in the ’80s to turn the building into a professional quality arts center,” says executive director Sherry DeVries.

Before changing its name to Durham Arts Council, it was established in 1954 as Allied Arts. In 1977 DAC moved in to the former City Hall and eventually became a well-known place for artists to flourish.

The 52,000 square feet art center features an exhibit space, theater and classrooms where programs and courses are held.

Students can learn ballet, modern dance, music, drawing, painting and clay. Classes are offered for children, teens and adults and last up to 10 weeks.

Essentially, the DAC can be imagined as one big school committed to the development of the arts.

Their current exhibit is partnered with Printmakers of North Carolina, displaying colorful and artistic screen printings from various regional artists.

“Every six weeks, a new exhibit is featured with a showcase of 300 regional and national artists,” says DeVries.

The exhibit opening is one way to help artists gain recognition while promoting Durham Arts Council for its diverse social structure.

In the Community

One of the well-known events sponsored by DAC is the Durham Art Walk held twice a year. This spring it will be on April 28 and 29.

“About 200 artists are placed at different business sites so the artist can sell their work,” says DeVries. The event is free for everyone.

As part of its commitment to promoting arts, the DAC provides grants to artists as well as art organizations.

In order to be considered, artists must fill out an application by March 1each year.

“Art programs can ask for space grants in the building as well as cash grants,” says DeVries. “The proposal that is presented to the judges depends on the amount of the grant organizations will receive.”

Each year the Durham Arts Council has supported 30 arts organizations and has distributed one million dollars in funds to local artist and organizations.

Walltown Children’s Theatre was one out of many recipients this year. The cash grant award helped with the operation of the institution.

Durham Arts Council also works with schools to provide an artistic structure for classrooms. In 2011, DAC provided 153 art residency programs to 11,136 students throughout Durham County Schools.

The Creative Arts in the Public/Private Schools (CAPS) program places about 40 to 50 artists in schools to teach and instruct programs that are beneficial to the development of students.

Eastway Elementary School in NECD is one of many that have participated in this program which help children learn through dance, music and theatre arts.

“Our program’s biggest aim is to use the arts to integrate and teach core curriculums such as math and language arts,” says, CAPS manager Shana Adams. “This program is a great opportunity and not all students get to experience that.”

One of the notable programs at Eastway Elementary featured the well-known dance group, The African American Dance Ensemble. They appeared at the school in Feb 2011, where their program featured dramatic story-telling through dance and African drums.

“The artist gives children the opportunity to experience something new,” says Adams. “We have a wealth of talented people from all over the world.”

The Durham Arts Council has proved to be a significant part of Durham’s cultural heritage.

“You can say we are the pioneers of art when it comes to downtown Durham,” says DeVries.

The DAC is currently holding registration for its Spring 2012 classes, Spring 2012 Intersession Camps, and Summer 2012 camps.