Moogfest and AOC funding, through a different lens

My colleague Lisa Sorg had an article earlier this week on Moogfest and the Art of Cool Festival (AOC) that's generated a lot of dialogue and discussion here in the comments, and elsewhere online.

Much of the discussion comes through a lens of equity -- around race, and around the (real or perceived) difference between a locally-generated festival, and one that's chosen to relocate to the Bull City.

Lenses have a lot of uses. In the real world, they can serve to make things clearer -- or to distort things, like a funhouse mirror -- or, like a magnifying glass to a sun, to concentrate attention on one white-hot corner until it burns.

To my mind, the view through an equity lens on the Moogfest/AOC debate is still a little foggy. After talking to parties on all sides of the issue, while I think the City could (and likely will) do more to support a wide range of events, I'm pretty convinced that this was never a process that expected or sought to create inequity. (And indeed, Moogfest's out-of-cycle request may have led to a level of data-driven scrutiny that will help AOC and other festivals.)

It is, though, a reminder of the importance of contextualizing public decisions broadly, to consider their impact on all stakeholders, most particularly at a time when change has so many in Durham on edge. 

Unfortunately, in our current Best Durham Tradition, sometimes the view through one lens doesn't always give us all the context needed.

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Bigger and better? Expanded CenterFest to feature broader spectrum of attractions, powered by wide-ranging gamut of ambitions

The state’s oldest arts festival will take a hiatus this year in order to reinvent itself. 

The 38th annual CenterFest Arts Festival will be held not in September (as the event Website still erroneously states) but in 2012, officials with the Durham Arts Council and partner organizations announced this morning. 

“We want to reshape it and grow it into something even more exciting that reflects the tremendous creativity going on in Durham today,” Sherry DeVries, the executive director of the council, said at the announcement. 

So what does that mean in practical terms? The expanded event will feature an enlarged name — tentatively, CenterFest: Festival of Arts, Music, Food and Creativity. That reflects what should be a broader palette of attractions. 

“Edible arts” will be among the added features, showcasing the city’s foodie culture as well as local brews and beer gardens and in-state wineries. Organizers also want to add hands-on features such as arts and fine craft demonstrations; more entertainment stages and venues; a Saturday-night “music party”; and “showcases for design, gaming and technology arts.” 

“There’s so many cool, creative things happening in Durham right now,” DeVries said. “We want to incorporate as many of those things as we possibly can in this process.” 

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What would it take to make a revitalized CenterFest great?

Yesterday's announcement that CenterFest would be taking a year off to refocus, regroup and retool its mission seemed to me to be a great step towards making North Carolina's longest-running street arts festival a signature draw for a revitalized downtown Durham.

We may get more details in a press conference today (BCR's Matthew Milliken will have coverage), but what's known from yesterday's press release and media coverage is that CenterFest's pause is intended to allow the festival to be expanded with a goal of making it what organizers at the Durham Arts Council are calling a "national caliber signature event for Durham."

And while a visioning process is needed, a range of possibilities is evident; "edible arts" (presumably focused on Durham's burgeoning and nationally-known food scene), local beers and wines, craft and art demonstrations, and "showcases" for technology, gaming and design are all possible. 

So too could be higher-profile musical performing acts, including the possibility of major artists performing at the event.

It's a welcome change, and one that couldn't come at a better time.

The complaints about CenterFest in recent years have been pointed, focused in part on the banal, hot surface parking lot on Foster St. where the festival has moved in recent years. It provided a much-simpler logistical configuration for the DAC than was seen when the festival filled the inside-the-loop City Center district before, or took to the West Village area for a brief decampment during downtown streetscape work.

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Dogstar Tattoo Co. nearly set to move upstairs at Golden Belt Arts

For 14 years, Dogstar Tattoo Co. has been putting its mark on Durham. By month’s end, it could be ready to move into a new home that may be nearly as permanent as the patterns its artists imprint on clients. 


Dogstar Tattoo moved from its longtime Ninth Street storefront to Golden Belt Arts last fall. But its current lower-level spot on the east side of Golden Belt’s Building 6 is a temporary location. Around month’s end, the shop should move to a suite in the southwest corner of the same building. 

The move will also coincide with an increased emphasis by Dogstar Tattoo Co. on community service, about which more later. 

The new space has about 1,900 square feet and occupies a prominent ground-level location near Main Street. “I really am confident that we’re going to do just fine upstairs,” said Kathryn Moore, owner of Dogstar Tattoo Co. 

Visibility wasn’t an issue on Ninth Street, but Moore had issues with the location. “It was really old, pretty run-down, really energy inefficient,” she said. “I was having to fix everything. And so I’ve moved in with a company that is taking care of all of that and upped the ante where we’ve got an efficient HVAC.” 

Parking is also more convenient at her location, according to Moore, who said she has signed a 10-year lease at Golden Belt. 

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Bands go “undercover” for charity this week at Motorco

Several local bands are the draw for Bull City Undercover, a three-night event at Motorco Music Hall that begins Thursday. They’re the bait, if you will. 


And the switch? That involves the songs those bands will play. The musicians will bypass their original work and exclusively perform tunes by an earlier band that has significantly influenced their work. Think of it as a musical wife swap or Freaky Friday

The cover is $5 per person per night, with doors opening at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit SEEDS and the Central Park School for Children

“It’s a good way for bands to have some fun and raise some money for great causes,” said Chris Tamplin, a partner in Motorco and the venue’s booker. 

The identities of the participating acts aren’t secret; see below for the full lineup. But the bands they’ll be covering are supposed to be kept under wraps until each 30-minute set begins. 

Guitarist Alex Maiolo will be performing Saturday with an unnamed band that got together just for Undercover. He knows from past events that part of the fun is guessing who will be playing what. 

Spectators and musicians “show up, they stand around, they see people milling around in the crowd dressed like they aren’t normally dressed,” he said. “And then you sit there and you look at somebody and you say, ‘Is that guy supposed to be Elvis or Roy Orbison or — I’m not quite sure who he is.’ And then, of course, people get on stage and, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s so and so!’ ” 

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$800,000 and a dream: Wendelbo takes unusual approach to massive sculpture

Editor’s note: This post is the second of two examining John Wendelbo and the Durham Sculpture Project. The first piece provided an overview of the project and the proposed sculpture. This piece explores Wendelbo’s background and the project’s unusual funding approach. 


Ambitious, innovative and risky by its very nature, the Durham Sculpture Project can be summed up in one word: entrepreneurial. This is the type of venture that is mounted not to fill a market need but to create a market. Artist-engineer John Wendelbo, the project’s leader, implicitly acknowledged as much when he said he wants his initiative to spur the creation of additional sculptures in Durham and the Triangle. 

What’s more, the approach Wendelbo is taking to create a 35-foot-high piece of art essentially turns the conventional process on its head. 

Because of the expense involved in building bigger pieces, most large sculptures are commissioned. Few sculptors begin with a concept for an expensive undertaking and then pursue the funding for it, as Wendelbo is doing. 

“I’ve not seen it in the visual arts as much with something with this scale,” said Margaret DeMott, an official with the Durham Arts Council who has discussed the project with Wendelbo. “I’ve seen it more with the performance arts. So it’s interesting.” 

Mark Rossier is deputy director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that helps artists throughout the nation. 

“He’s got a pretty ambitious vision, and he’s worked out the details there, and so there’s no reason for him to not go out and try to raise money to see the thing through,” Rossier said. “People waiting around hoping someone will commission their work — they might wait a while. So as much as possible, we encourage artists to sort of grab the bull by the horns and just do something.” 

The foundation is serving the Durham Sculpture Project as its fiscal agent, a function it performs for hundreds of artistic programs. 

While the foundation supports all manner of artwork, including films and other-large ventures, Rossier said, “I would say a sculpture project of this size is — is unusual... We have a few other public art kind of projects, but — but it’s not the run-of-the-mill project that we do.” 

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$800,000 and a dream: “Dionysos” has grand scope, big ambitions

Editor’s note: This post is the first of two examining John Wendelbo and the Durham Sculpture Project. This piece provides an overview of the project and the proposed sculpture. A second piece, to be posted later today, will look at Wendelbo’s background and the project’s unusual funding approach. 


A Durham resident is scheming to remake the city’s landscape and the region’s sculpture scene. 

John Wendelbo is an engineer by training and artist by vocation. His day job at Carolina Bronze Sculpture of Seagrove involves both of those spheres. Now, he’s trying to combine profession and passion through an independent initiative called the Durham Sculpture Project

Simply put, the project is an effort to raise approximately $800,000 from a variety of sources to fabricate a massive abstract sculpture designed by Wendelbo himself. At a projected 35 feet high, “Dionysos” would dwarf virtually every other piece of artwork in Durham and stand taller than most buildings in the county. 


The French-born artist-engineer believes that his project, which might take four years to complete, can make a big impact on the city and region. 

“If you embark on a really big sculpture,” Wendelbo said, “then you’re genuinely creating new jobs to build the sculpture. Not only new jobs, but you’re creating an infrastructure that enables you to build more sculptures.” 

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Artist's "New Neighbors" East Durham public art project kicks off with Thu. twilight tour

Ye-smith-new-neighbors When Dave Alsobrooks tried to figure out how to balance his passions for marketing and the fine arts, his business partner told him that rather than trying to segment the two parts of his life, he'd do well to find ways to interleave them.

"'You're an artist who does design, I'm a designer who does art,'" Alsobrooks said in recalling the conversation. "I'd always compartmentalized my work in design and fine art, and fine art was always an escape from the other. He helped me understand that letting those overlap would be a good thing."

Which helps explains why Alsobrooks, who with Dan Carlton heads up downtown marketing and brand management firm The Paragraph Project, has made time to be an artist-in-residence at Golden Belt concurrently with his day-job, and why he plans to continue renting a studio there to hone his art.

And in planning the "New Neighbors" project, which opens this Thursday as a public-art installation of sorts in East Durham, Alsobrooks similarly found opportunities to overlap varying interests and passions.

The exhibit is about creating art, but it's also about creating an opportunity to bring both funding and attention to non-profits and causes doing good work in the community. And it's a project that's fundamentally about both preservation and renewal -- highlighting the under-occupied historic homes in East Durham, with a hope of inspiring the people who live in those neighborhoods today as well as those who might move in.

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Durham's Zenph Sound Innovations shares their technology with the Triangle

When talking about his company’s product, Zenph’s Chairman and CTO John Walker speaks with the vigor and excitement of a visionary.  

Walker is almost forced to, confronted with a public that needs to dream big in order to conjure the possibilities allowed by Zenph’s technology. Zenph, a recent transplant from the City of Oaks to Durham's American Tobacco Campus, is one of the most noteworthy arrivals on the local startup scene.

The software and hardware developed by Durham’s Zenph Sound Innovations allows for the digital storage of what Walker refers to as the “artistic DNA” of musicians. 


Instead of just storing the series of notes to be played or a recording of the sounds produced, Zenph is able to store the precise details of every motion that produces a piece of live music.

Walker is quick to point out that the possibilities of this technology are still being uncovered. Take, as an analogy, the written word. Before text was digitized, editing involved re-entering works as a whole on a typewriter.

Once text became digital, things that were never imagined before became possible.  The concept of a 'wiki' (such as Wikipedia) was absolutely unheard of fifteen years ago, but this technology now allows for the rapid dissemination of knowledge in an electronic form, as the basis of everything from encyclopedias to travel guides.

Walker is optimistic that the technology developed by Zenph will open up similar, currently unimaginable possibilities in music. 

Already, Zenph has done what was impossible a decade ago—garnering Grammy nominations, and now, a show opening tomorrow at Raleigh’s Kennedy Theatre features the jazz legend Art Tatum, who died in 1956, on the piano.

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Troika ready to rock Durham as local music festival returns

If it's the fall, it's time for Troika, the homegrown music festival that's returned again to bring a wide range of artists and musicians to the Bull City.

Despite the rain, the kickoff concert was still scheduled to take place tonight at Durham Central Park from 7pm to 9pm, with a range of artists -- including Valient Thorr, Midtown Dickens, Dex Romweber (of Flat Duo Jets renown) and I Was Totally Destroying It -- kicking off the first night's shows.


Shows continue Friday and Saturday night, with bands including Hammer No More the Fingers, Mount Moriah, In The Year of the Pig, and Chatham County Line. And these are just a few of them; altogether, there's almost sixty artists slated to play the festival.

Durham-based Merge Records and 307 Knox Records are among the sponsors of Troika, founded in 2002 to give a local outlet for great music in Durham and the region. Save for a brief experiment in spreading out to the other two corners of our little Triangle, it's been based here in Durham all along.

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