Durham News

April 28, 2014

Liberty Arts turns Durham into a sculpture gallery

Three years after its roof caved in, literally, Liberty Arts is back on its feet and opening Durham’s first major exhibit of large-scale sculpture in a dozen public places this week.

If you were coming to the Durham County Courthouse Monday morning, you might have noticed something new out front.

Same thing if you were going past the corner of Foster and Corporation streets.

The somethings new are sculptures, and two more big, perhaps perplexing installations are going up today, at American Tobacco and CCB Plaza.

Eight more, across downtown, on Thursday. And on Friday night a party open to all to celebrate and open the six-month Bull City Sculpture Show.

“It’s really kind of a gift to Durham,” said Denise Schreiner, who is on the board of the nonprofit Liberty Arts, which is sponsoring the city’s first-of-its-kind exhibition.

Liberty Arts, created in 2000 as a spinoff of Durham Central Park, had its roof cave in, literally, at the Liberty Warehouse three years ago. Re-established in East Durham, it has organized and found funding to make itself “national players in the arts scene,” said Durham sculptor Michael Waller, whom Schreiner credits with proposing the project.

“We’re turning the city into a gallery,” he said.

For the show, Liberty Arts is bringing in a dozen sculptures from as close as Carrboro and as far as Florida, Maine and Michigan and putting them on display for six months – mostly along the Blackwell-Foster Street corridor from American Tobacco past Durham Central Park.

“We were looking for something that would put our stamp on something big in the city,” Waller said.

Liberty Arts spread word of the show through the international magazine Sculptor, through informal artists’ networks and directly to “all the arts councils we could possibly get hold of,” said Liberty Arts President Jackie MacLeod.

Durham architect Phil Freelon picked the 12 sculptures from the sculptors’ applications, which Liberty Arts encouraged with $2,500 stipends.

Liberty Arts wanted to put “a Durham spin” on typical sculpture-show, which if they have stipends at all, average $1,000, Waller said. Artists in the Durham show are also having their cost to come to Durham covered, plus food and lodging and a reception and public party to honor them and what they do.

“They’re excited about being treated really well,” MacLeod said.

Waller and his wife, sculptor Leah Foushee Waller, created Major, the bronze bull that stands at CCB Plaza. Major was cast in the Hill Pavilion from molds they fashioned in Liberty Arts’s former studio adjoining the pavilion in the Liberty Warehouse.

They developed the idea for a major exhibition to show off the sculptor’s art and promote public art. Others liked the idea and began raising money. They had about $20,000, Waller said, when the Liberty Warehouse roof collapsed in May 2011.

Liberty Arts and the other artists and nonprofits that rented there were forced to pack up and move out in a hurry. At the time, it appeared disastrous; with time, not so bad.

“The phone calls started coming,” MacLeod said. Liberty Arts’ plight, and that of the others displaced, attracted assistance and raised their proiles. In May 2012, when the group reopened with studio space at the Cordoba Center, on Franklin Street beside the Golden Belt complex, 800 people turned up, she said.

“We never had that many people come to anything we did,” MacLeod said. “They knew what we had gone through.”

Setting up the new studio took all the money raised for the sculpture show. Still, when Waller re-raised the idea to the Liberty Arts board, “We all wanted to do this,” she said.

Once an online campaign brought in $25,000, businesses and the city chipped in, raising the total to $65,000, MacLeod said; and Waller said the board and staff and others have put in “tens of thousands of thousands of hours” gratis.

“We’re not making a dime,” he said. “It’s a gift.”

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