Durham News: Community

Sowing a more fertile Durham arts scene

Jessica Moore works with Durham photographer Allie Mullin on their Durham Storefront project. Moore, 33, started an arts group in Durham, The Open Art Society, which promotes bringing together artists and community.
Jessica Moore works with Durham photographer Allie Mullin on their Durham Storefront project. Moore, 33, started an arts group in Durham, The Open Art Society, which promotes bringing together artists and community. hlynch@newsobserver.com

In community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers sell shares in their products and about once a week deliver a box of produce to their clients.

In late 2013, Durham resident Jessica Moore founded a CSA. But in her case, the “A” does not stand for agriculture. It stands for art ( buylocalart.com).

“Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis started doing this about five years ago,” Moore said. “I used the kit they put together to create the program here in the Triangle.”

A jury chose seven artists, and each artist created 50 pieces of art – with each shareholder getting one piece from each artist.

“The idea is that you are getting the artwork, but you also know that you directly supported each artist in making new work,” Moore said, “and the artists know how much they are getting in advance.”

The seven artists are Matt Ziler, Warren Hicks, Tamara Galiano Bagnell, Gracelee Lawrence, JR Butler, Kimberly Pierce Cartwright and Heather Gordon.

Gordon said that the CSA gave her an amazing opportunity.

“I had been looking for a good excuse to express my screen printing muscles that I had not used in years,” she said.

She took a workshop at Supergraphic, and after much experimentation and a lot of input from screen print specialist Raj Bunnag, hse had 50 pieces she was thrilled to share.

“Some artists were a little wary of applying to the CSA, but I said, ‘It is Jessica Moore, just follow her,”’ Gordon said. “There are not many people I feel this way about. Jessica has really super good ideas that she puts into action.”

Storefront Project

One of these super ideas is the Durham Storefront Project, which Moore started In 2011, along with several volunteers after she moved to Durham from Chicago.

“When I moved to Durham, there were quite a few empty spaces, so we started the Storefront Project,” she explained. This adventure gives artists unusual places to show work, highlights buildings that might otherwise be overlooked, and brings art to passersby. The project recently received a grant from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation to continue expanding in Durham.

Mercury Studio and The Carrack Modern Art are key partners with Moore on the Storefront Project. When people started to reach out to her on how to do this in their communities, Moore started the Open Art Society ( openartsociety.org) to facilitate these requests.

“I am not an artist but have always wanted to support artists, to find new ways for artists to engage in the community,” Moore said. “There is just so much energy and creativity in the Triangle.”

Last spring, when the beautiful, old home at 402 W. Lavender Ave. in Moore’s Northgate Park neighborhood was slated to be torn down, she contacted Durham’s Department of Parks and Recreation suggesting that community members could be a part of the process.

Rosetta Radtke, senior parks planner, said, “Jessica’s idea for the community to participate in and respond to the deconstruction of the Lavender Avenue House by making new works of art was a wonderful accompaniment to the house’s transition to new open space for the neighborhood.”

Artists Gregg Kemp and Lee Moore Crawford were integral to the final days of the structure’s history. Kemp created pinhole photos of the house, which Moore shared with Radtke so they may be incorporated into signs created for the site. On the side of the house, Crawford drew a mural that included a Carolina wren and a bluebird, birds she saw on the Ellerbee Creek trail near the house.

Crawford savored creating art in an unexpected place and literally drawing attention to the house, which was the first home of the Museum of Life and Science. “It really helped highlight this piece of history before it was gone,” she said. (Read about the Lavender house history at OpenDurham.org.)

“The family that used to live in the house – they were caretakers of the park – reached out to us and gave us some old family photos,” Moore said.

Recently, Moore moved to South Carolina. Gordon is glad that she returns monthly to continue her work on the Durham art scene.

“There is this core of arts administration people in Durham, and Jessica is among them, that are making the grounds fertile for us by giving us good spaces and opportunities and pushing us,” Gordon said. “This is just a great town to be in right now.”

Deborah Meyer writes monthly about the arts in Durham. Contact her at writetoeloise@gmail.com