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.”

Biddle Foundation grants celebrate 60 years of impact

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

DURHAM, N.C. — On September 14, 1956, when Mary Duke Biddle established her philanthropic foundation, inspiring the foundation’s mission were lessons she had learned growing up in a family that believed in supporting causes and communities it cared about.

So she decided her new philanthropy would focus on making modest gifts that could multiply over time, providing access to education, enriching lives and communities through music and the arts, lifting up impoverished people through churches and congregations, and providing critical aid to communities.

In its first 60 years, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation has awarded nearly $43 million to those causes in North Carolina, where Mrs. Biddle was born and raised, and in New York City, where she lived for 20 years as an adult before returning to Durham.

Now, to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Foundation has awarded five special grants totaling $125,000 to support efforts in North Carolina and New York City to boost the arts and arts education, to use orchestral training to equip more underserved kids to thrive, and to prepare more at-risk kids to succeed in school and life.

“The philanthropic legacy of Mary Duke Biddle continues to advance the arts and improve the lives of youth, particularly those who are less advantaged, in the communities she loved,” says Mimi O’Brien, executive director of the Foundation.

Making an impact

The five special grants — $25,000 each to the Durham Arts Council, Kidznotes and StudentU, all in Durham; the Asheville Art Museum; and UpBeat NYC in the South Bronx — are designed to have a bigger impact on individual organizations and the people they serve. These awards are made in addition to the Foundation’s regular annual giving, including approximately 40 grants of $5,000 each in response to requests from nonprofits in North Carolina and New York City.

“Arts and youth education remain critical, ongoing needs in our community,” O’Brien says. “These special grants represent an investment to help innovative nonprofits make an even bigger difference expanding the impact of the arts and creating opportunities for young people to succeed.”

With the help of the five grants:

* Durham Arts Council will develop an online arts directory and continue to invest in

career development for emerging artists, underscoring Durham’s growing reputation as a hub for the arts.

* Kidznotes will use orchestral training to equip more underserved students to succeed in school and life, continue its expansion into economically-distressed Southeast Raleigh, and consider expanding to other parts of the Triangle region.

* StudentU will prepare more kids in Durham to graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate, and then find ways to help their peers succeed in school and life.

* The Asheville Art Museum will provide access to arts education and activities to more underserved children in Asheville, Buncombe County and three rural counties in Western North Carolina.

* UpBeat NYC will provide free music training and orchestral instruction to more at- risk children in the South Bronx, along with hope for the future and a better chance to succeed in school and life.

Philanthropic legacy

Mary Duke Biddle, the daughter of Benjamin Newton Duke and granddaughter of Washington Duke, attended public schools in Durham, and in 1907 graduated from Trinity College, now Duke University.

Her father and uncle, James B. Duke, using wealth generated from tobacco, textile and electric power industries they developed in North Carolina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gave generously to their community and became known for their philanthropy. Both were benefactors of Durham’s Trinity College, and in 1924, through the newly chartered Duke Endowment, the college was named Duke University in honor of their father.

In establishing her own Foundation, Mary Duke Biddle designated that half the grant funding would go to Duke University, with the rest going to non-profit organizations that support a variety of causes in North Carolina and New York.

Mary Duke Biddle died in 1960 at age 73. For many years, the Foundation was led by her daughter, the late Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, and her husband, the late James H. Semans, M.D.

“The Biddle Foundation continues its legacy of making the communities we serve Jbetter places to live and work,” says Jon Zeljo, chair of the Foundation’s board of trustees and great-grandson of Mary Duke Biddle. “We invest in programs that expand opportunities for everyone, connect and inspire diverse populations, and give people in need tools and hope for the future.”

Model for future funding

Including grants to organizations such as Duke University that it has funded for many years through long-standing relationships, the Foundation typically makes nearly $1 million in grants a year.

With an endowment of about $30 million, the Foundation continues to focus its funding on the arts and youth education, particularly in collaborative efforts that serve less advantaged populations.

The Foundation is using its 60th anniversary to examine how its grantmaking practices and programs can be more impactful to the organizations and causes it supports.

In addition to support for Duke and to grants it makes in response to applications, organizations the Foundation funds through long-standing relationships include, among others, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; Durham Arts Council; American Dance Festival; Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle; and Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.