The weekend before Thanksgiving, the first floor gallery of the Durham Art Council’s building was filled with people gathered to see artists in their temporary studios and purchase their works. All of the artists who participated in the Art-A-Thon event Nov. 17 and 18 were members of the Durham Art Guild, an organization founded in 1948 by a group of artists.
When the group was incorporated in the 1950s, other art groups like Allied Arts, which later became the Durham Arts Council, were also emerging and working in collaboration with each other. The Durham Art Guild has specifically focused on exhibiting visual artists’ works and providing artistic and financial resources for local artists. To do so, the guild has launched several programs, including the Art@Work program, which connects local artists to local businesses to display and sell the artists’ works, and the artist in residence program, which provides free studio spaces and funding for emerging artists.
“Our mission is to enrich and connect our communities by creating opportunities and providing leadership for current and future visual artists and art enthusiasts,” Katie Seiz, executive director of the guild, wrote in an email.
Before becoming a part of the guild seven years ago, Seiz was a part-time artist and volunteer at other local art organizations. Through her work as a member of those organizations, she has supported collaboration between local artists and organizations.
“It wasn't until I did a volunteer internship after undergrad at the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro that I was introduced to behind the scenes community nonprofit arts,” Seiz wrote. “I worked closely with the curator at Green Hill and was exposed to so many high quality artists within the state and the amazing opportunities the organization provided ... I decided I wanted to do more curating and community arts work. It combined my passions of creatively arranging things, working with artists and doing broader good within the community.”
Although the organization has non-artist members who support its programs, a lot of its members are artists coming from different backgrounds and working with a broad range of media. Artists at the Art-A-Thon, who were chosen based on their online proposals and sample images of their works, represented such diversity.
One of the artists, Logan Britt, had professional training in East Carolina University. Britt created drawings and paintings on wearable materials, including clothes, shoes and bags. She said that she started drawing in middle school by copying her favorite cartoon character, Sailor Moon. Although she began her artistic career by producing works to be hung in galleries, she was attracted to more affordable forms of art that people could use in their everyday lives.
“I myself want to wear my art from head to toe, and so I make art that I want to wear, and, hopefully, other people would wear as well,” Britt said.
Meanwhile, Sayaka Tanaka, another artist at the event, recently began to create art. Majoring in Zen Buddhism in college, Tanaka was an international marketer in Japan before following her husband, who works at Duke, to the United States. When she was visiting her parents in Japan, she was introduced to Zentangle — a drawing method that uses geometric shapes to create patterns — through a TV program. Although she had never been trained as an artist, she found Zentangle particularly appealing because there is no one right way of creating patterns.
“You can just draw whatever you feel like, and somehow you can create something amazing,” Tanaka said.
Some artists also created work through unusual processes. Luis Franco, who identified himself as a visual activist, integrated his background in fine and digital arts into producing pop artworks. He would first sketch his subjects with pencil and ink and color the scanned drawing using digital tools. Through his unique work process, he hoped to highlight the value of digital art.
“It is a really interesting art form that I do not think a lot of people know a whole lot about, and if they do know about it, they think of it … (as) a commercial thing,” Franco said. “But I think it can be handled in such a way that it can be appreciated as fine art.”
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Most of the artist who participated in the Art-A-Thon said that the best opportunity that the art guild offers is exposing their artworks to the public.
“The best aspect (of being in the guild) is getting to see people,” member artist Dakota Merritt said. “I can always learn something from their feedback, because they are going to see my work in ways that I would never see it.”
As one of the longest running arts nonprofits groups in Durham, the guild supports numerous local artists. With increasing number of volunteers and supporters of the organization, it continues to expand the range of benefits that it offers to the artists and the Durham community.
“Art and creativity are essential and provide so much tangible and intangible goodness to our quality of life both directly and indirectly as individuals and as a community,” Seiz wrote. “Our community has needed it and wanted it.”