Arts momentum in Durham grows with arts directory, artist grants

[Note: This was written for The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — An online arts directory and continued investment in career development for emerging artists are the focus of a $25,000 grant to the Durham Arts Council that underscores Durham’s growing reputation as a hub for the arts.

With about two-thirds of the funds, from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham, the Arts Council plans to develop and launch by late next summer an online directory of artists and arts organizations.

The Arts Council will use the remaining funds to support grants it has made each year to local artists since 1984, when it created a grant program for emerging artists that has become a model for counties throughout North Carolina.

“We are working to create opportunity for artists and arts groups to work collaboratively among themselves, to work across sectors, to apply for grants, to be more accessible, and to get the training they need,” says Sherry DeVries, executive director of the Arts Council.

Mimi O’Brien, executive director of the Biddle Foundation, says the Arts Council is “helping to build Durham’s growing brand as a major arts center that attracts and connects artists, arts groups and visitors.”

The arts “inspire, and are helping to transform Durham into a stronger, more vibrant community,” she says.

The Foundation made the grant as part of the celebration of its 60th anniversary.

Arts catalyst

Formed in 1954, the Arts Council operates with an annual budget of $2.7 million, with 31 percent of it through the donation of goods and services, and a staff of 10 people working full-time and two working part-time. It raises about $1.3 million through its annual fund and special projects, with 57 percent of it from local, state and federal government sources.

The Arts Council serves 400,000 visitors and program participants a year, over 1,500 artists, and over 60 arts organizations through arts classes; artist residencies in schools; exhibitions; festivals; grant programs for arts organizations and artists; technical support and training; arts advocacy; creative economy initiatives such as research and development of an arts district; and information services.

Arts directory

Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Durham represent an economic engine: According to the most recent data, from five years ago, the combined economic impact of those organizations totals $125.5 million.

Connecting those organizations with one another, with the artists they depend on, with the public, and with anyone wanting to connect with the arts will be the focus of the new arts business directory that the Arts Council will develop with $17,000 from the Biddle Foundation grant.

Expected to be launched by late summer 2017 with an initial database of 300 artists and 80 arts organizations, the directory will be the only local, non-membership-based, publicly-accessible directory of artists and arts organizations in the Triangle.

The Arts Council has opted to use a database from Artsopolis selected by local arts councils in cities like Charlotte, Memphis, Houston and Fort Lauderdale. It will allow artists and arts groups to create their own profiles and keep them up to date, and for the general public to find them.

The Arts Council plans to promote the directory to the arts community, and provide orientation sessions on how to use it, along with help in uploading profiles. It also plans to promote the directory to the public and to specialized sectors once artists and arts groups have begun to create their profiles.

And the Arts Council will cross-link its directory with durhamculture.com, the arts calendar maintained by the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Emerging artist grants

Every year, based on over 110 applications it receives, the Arts Council awards 15 to 16 grants for mid-career development projects to individual arts in Durham, Chatham, Orange, Granville and Person counties.

Inspired by the late Durham philanthropists James and Mary Semans, founding trustees of the Biddle Foundation and launched in 1984 in partnership with the North Carolina Arts Council and the Foundation, the emerging artists grant program has awarded 500 grants totaling $553,000.

That grant program served as a model for the development of grant programs for local artists by local arts councils throughout the state in partnership with the state Arts Council.

Continuing its long-term support for the Durham emerging artists grant program, the Biddle Foundation this year again is contributing $8,000.

The artist grants represent our “belief and investment in individual artists,” says Margaret DeMott, director of artist services for the Arts Council.

The grants also provide recognition and validation that artists can use to secure other funding, and expand their range of opportunities and their networks of professional connections, she says.

Artists typically use the funds for needs ranging from attending conferences, buying materials and equipment, and conducting research to securing larger studio space, creating new art and increasing their visibility.

Arts capital

Building on its reputation for higher education, medicine and, more recently, food, Durham has long been a magnet for art and artists.

As Durham’s arts community continues to grow, the Arts Council is helping to spearhead initiatives designed to build that community and make it more accessible.

In partnership with Americans for the Arts, for example, it is just beginning a study — conducted every five years — of the local economic impact of the arts.

In cooperation with North Carolina Arts Council and City of Durham, it is working on the creation of an arts-and-entertainment corridor — a $10 million, 10-year initiative known as Durham SmArt — that will run south to north along Blackwell, Corcoran and Foster streets.

To begin to put the project into place, the Durham Arts Council last May was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Arts Council is focusing “on building the reputation and excitement of Durham as an arts and cultural center,” DeVries says. “It’s our desire to create more recognition and more visibility for the arts sector as a whole.”

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