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Board to develop local arts, culture

Durham is taking steps to reboot its cultural image.

The Durham Cultural Advisory Board was created by the City Council at its Jan. 4 meeting. Beginning next month, it will advise the city administration on public art and ways to use arts and culture to support economic development in Durham.

This new board is a successor of the Durham Cultural Master Plan Advisory Board, an initiative created in 2005 that was jointly appointed by the Durham County Board of Commissioners and the Durham City Council. Last year, the county decided to end its support for the DCMPAB, and Durham city officials chose to transition the program into the DCAB, which will administer the remaining funds from the DCMPAB. The DCMPAB was created only to advise on implementing the Durham Cultural Master Plan, which the city released in 2004 to outline goals that the community should fulfill by 2020.

“I think [DCAB] is a more focused board, because we’ll be more focused on the city,” Beverly Meek, a board member and Duke’s arts outreach and communications assistant, said of the transition.

The goals of the Master Plan include building on Durham’s existing cultural assets, improving arts and cultural education and using arts and culture to increase communication among people of diverse backgrounds. The plan notes that arts and culture is a significant business sector that could build on tourism and the quality of life in Durham. In 2004, the Master Plan estimated that Durham’s cultural organizations and artists add about $103 million annually to the city’s economic activity.

“There was a general awareness that one of our competitive advantages in Durham was the diversity of our arts and cultural offerings, and we wanted to make sure we were nurturing that,” DCAB chair Josh Parker said.

There are 12 DCAB board members—business leaders and people affiliated with arts and cultural organizations, universities and local government—appointed by City Council for two-year terms, as well as three student members appointed by the board itself, although none are Duke students.

“This is one of the places that I think our youth can get involved,” Meek said.

The DCMPAB funded a number of pilot projects, partnerships with local arts agencies and the expansion of several festivals in Durham, including the Bull Durham Blues Festival, the Bimbe Festival and the Festival Latino. The DCAB hopes to continue these ongoing works and carry out the goals of the Master Plan, Parker said.

“The Cultural Master Plan has given a hand to a lot of significant initiatives in Durham,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations and a DCAB member. “Everything happening in Durham in some way has a small connection to what the Cultural Master Plan does.”

Parker pointed to the economic impact of the Durham Peforming Arts Center, which earned a profit of more than $1 million in its first season.

“The better those organizations do, the more people come to downtown. The more people come to downtown, the more people want to eat in restaurants or live downtown, and then the more restaurants there are, the more people come,” he said. “It all kind of feeds off each other.”

In going forward, the board would like to continue to develop its university relations committee, which aims to use arts and culture to engage students at North Carolina Central University, Durham Technical Community College and Duke in their community, Parker said. One of the initial outcomes of this committee was The Hub in the Bryan Center, which allows students to buy reduced price tickets for many Durham events.

“We had a meeting with [Provost Peter Lange], and he said that Durham has some of the most amazing restaurants in the country. If you look at award winners and features in magazines, we’re very highly regarded in terms of our culinary scene,” Parker said. “I just don’t think Duke students are aware of the diversity or quality of food in Durham, which is directly related to culture. He’s pushing us to find a way that we can better engage students in the restaurant scene.”

Schoenfeld said he would also like to create a deeper connection between Duke and the community in the area of arts and culture.

“Duke students benefit by having this very rich and cultural environment. The more vibrant the arts and culture sector is in Durham, the more opportunities there are for internships, to gain experiences and for performances,” Schoenfeld said. “Anything that enhances cultural life of the community enhances student life as well.”

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