Public forum develops plan for future art and cultural development in Durham

Published November 28, 2023 at 2:06pm

Candidates at public forum listen to Laura Ritchie deliver a closing message. She spoke about the importance of arts for the people of Durham. From left to right: Carl Rist, Javiera Caballero, Khaliah Karim, Leonardo Williams, Mike Woodard, Monique Holsey-Hyman, Nate Baker.

Durham community members gathered at NorthStar Church of the Arts on November 1 for the city’s first political forum on city government support for city arts and culture. 

The event was hosted by Durham Arts and Culture Advocates and moderated by Monica Barnes, the community affairs and programming director of ABC11. 

According to the organizers, this discussion was intended to help shape the Cultural Roadmap. The roadmap is a new plan for the future of arts and culture in Durham, which is being written by local creative community partners and AMS Planning and Research. 

Both E’Vonne Coleman, chair of the Durham Cultural Advisory Board, and Laura Ritchie, a Durham arts organizer, called on the leaders at the forum to support the artistic community. 

“We think it’s time for you guys to deliver,” Coleman said directly to the candidates. 

Durham arts organizer Laura Ritchie followed suit in her closing statement. 

“I hope that this is one of many opportunities to have open dialogue and build some trust and accountability with our elected officials about the future of our arts and culture sector,” Ritchie said. 

Forum participants encouraged engagement in the arts, hoping to combat increasing youth crime rates

Khaliah Karim, a community organizer, encouraged actively engaging youth in the arts and other cultural activities. 

“Music and arts can be revolutionary,” Karim said, adding that she believes the arts can give young people a way to express themselves and find community. 

Monique Holsey-Hyman, current City Council member and assistant professor at North Carolina Central University, wants to advocate for more money to effectively support youth. 

Nate Baker, a former urban planner elected to the City Council at the beginning of this month, said that the local government’s job is to give people access to public art. 

“We could do a better job of saying we have a right to art,” Baker said, “We have a right to culture.” 

Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) said he plans on making programs, such as Creative Arts in Public and Private Schools, more available to students with fewer resources. 

“Let’s concentrate on putting it in places like Lakeview, which is our alternative education programs,” Woodard said, “Let’s put it in the schools that are mostly Black and brown kids.” 

Leonardo Williams, a small business owner and mayor-elect, wants to reduce crime rates by changing cultural expectations to focus on the arts. 

“Youth engagement by way of the arts can be a legitimate policy,” Williams said. 

Williams also wants to further develop Durham’s private philanthropic side and provide more arts funding. He plans on meeting with Research Triangle Park CEOs to establish a fund where they can invest back into the city. 

Woodard additionally supports reimplementing the Penny for the Arts program in order to increase funding for the arts. 

Penny for the Arts would allocate one cent based on property tax, raising approximately $3.4 million according to 2020 property tax rates. 

The 1994 Durham City Council approved the program, but there has been little effort to fully implement the program.

“I think it’s a smart investment and the return on that investment would be absolutely huge,” Woodard said. 

While he is unsure if the city could implement the program quickly based on the budget and other pressing needs like paying city workers, he considers it an aspirational goal. 

“I would like to set a timeline working with the council of how we think we could get there within a couple years,” Woodard said. 

“When I think about art funding, I think about our youth and I think about how we can actually activate and engage them in a way that’s actually sustainable,” Karim said, “Art could be a way of focusing on the root causes of the problems we see in Durham.” 

Karim prioritizes accessibility and transparency in these processes by maintaining communication with community members about the city government’s actions. 

Javiera Caballero, a current City Council member, sits on the Cultural Roadmap planning group. She supports providing direct funding and access to housing and studio space for artists to develop their work. She wants to include artists in the push for workforce housing in Durham. 

She hopes to use part of the space created in the 505 West Chapel Hill Street project to create affordable housing as a place for artists to work. 

“We have to create a world where art can also pay your bills,” Caballero said.

Callabero believes that housing is becoming difficult to find for many people, including artists; so, she said the first priority for City Council should be affordable housing. 

Dr. Holsey-Hyman supports artist housing as well. 

“A lot of times, people are choosing between what they really love and survival,” Holsey-Hyman said. She wants to think outside the box to fix that, including providing sustainable living spaces for artists. 

Both Leonardo Williams and Carl Rist, recently elected to City Council, want to use the arts as a tool to expand the economy. 

“Artists are also business people,” Rist said.

 He added that arts support healthy economic growth, especially in a city like Durham. 

“There are folks that do legitimate performing, painting, visual or performance arts,”  Williams said, “They should be considered a small business owner and that’s how we should treat them because they contribute to the economy just as much as we do.” 

Six of seven forum participants strongly support creating an Office of Arts and Culture for Durham. 

“I think this is a great idea to finally, finally, finally after all these years give Arts and Culture a permanent home in city government,” Woodard said. 

Karim agreed with Woodard and hopes to use the research from the Cultural Roadmap to form the department in a way that is sustainable for both artists and community members. 

“I think we need such an office,” Rist said, “It’s a way to focus the efforts of the city on the arts.” 

Williams said that he is still wrestling with whether he supports this idea because he is concerned about bureaucracy interfering with the initiative. 

“At the end of the day, cities make sure your water comes out and your trash is picked up. It’s brick and mortar,” Williams said, but added later, “Sometimes it’s best that the government creates the capacity for you to be able to do what you need to do.”

While Caballero supports the office, she wants it to be jointly funded between city and county. She also wants transparency from the department.  

“You can have a plan, but if you don’t have the dollars allocated or where you’re going to get the dollars allocated, it’s just going to sit on a shelf,” she said. 

Dr. Holsey-Hyman reminded the audience to think outside the box to create more innovative, effective solutions for these issues. 

“After the election, some things are lost,” she said, “I’m asking you to hold the next City Council accountable to make sure these things are really implemented.” 

If you are interested in helping shape the future of Durham’s arts and culture, you can take the Cultural Roadmap’s community survey to provide your feedback. 

Edited By: Kristen Snyder and Valerie Jackson