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Durham celebrates DPAC opening

The Pitchforks, the Blue Devil mascot and President Richard Brodhead gathered to celebrate the debut of Duke's $7.5-million investment in downtown Durham Monday evening.

The Durham Performing Arts Center commemorated its official grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house that attracted city residents to the state-of-the art venue. The project was led by the City and Downtown Durham, Inc. It was also supported by a large financial contribution from Duke.

The 2,800-seat venue cost $46.8 million to build. It was the result of nearly 10 years of planning, said Democratic state Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham.

"It will be a unique jewel for Durham," he said. "A venue that is not like anything from Washington to Atlanta.... We in Durham have a cultural amenity, a facility that all of us can be proud of."

The theater, which is the largest of its kind in the Carolinas, opened with a concert by blues legend B.B. King Sunday night.

"It's a great day for Durham. We have a theater that can now draw top cultural events," Brodhead said, noting the renewal of the American Tobacco Historic District across the street. "It's part of a whole fabric of revitalization."

DPAC is part of the city's plan for downtown that already includes the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and West Village.

"In Durham we believe that arts are vital to our quality of life," said Mayor Bill Bell. He added that the project was a result of strong public and private partnerships.

Bell was joined by Brodhead, several City Council members and the mascots for Duke and North Carolina Central University as he cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Festivities also included the dedication of a light sculpture entitled "Sleep No More," by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa-whose sculpture "Tattoo" was featured on the West Campus Plaza in 2007.

The sculpture is a vertical beam of light that shines directly into the sky outside the theater. It was donated to the city by Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns local news outlet WRAL. It will be illuminated every time the new theater hosts an event.

"I believe that what goes on in this building is so important that we should turn this light on every time it's running," said CBC President Jim Goodmon, who presented the light's power switch to Bell. "The arts are so important to the community."

After the official programming ended, guests headed inside to explore the new building and view the expansive theater. Residents mixed with Durham leaders over appetizers and drinks.

Performances by the Durham Children's Choir, the Pitchforks and the John Brown Quintet provided the entertainment. Brown is an assistant professor of Music and Director of the Jazz Program.

"This is just another venue that will encourage people to think of Durham," said Raleigh resident Jerry Blood. He added that he was more impressed by DPAC than Raleigh's Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, but he wants to see a better lineup before he considers buying season tickets.

"I'd love to see more Broadway, particularly some first-run kind of things, not things that are 30 years old," he said.

DPAC's upcoming shows include comedian Robin Williams, singer John Legend and the musical Rent.

Duke University Union announced a partnership with DPAC Monday that will allow students to buy tickets to some of the venue's shows at discounted prices. DUU-subsidized tickets will be introduced in January for the opening of Rent.

"Duke students haven't really had this kind of exposure to large shows," said DUU president Chamindra Goonewardene, a senior. "Now with the 2,800-person theater, that gives us a whole new range of options just five minutes away."

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