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Cecy’s Art Hall seeks to establish permanent place for art in Durham’s Central Park

Cecy's Art Hall will be located in the now-closed Cole's Transmission Shop, next to Durham Central Park.
Cecy's Art Hall will be located in the now-closed Cole's Transmission Shop, next to Durham Central Park.

With almost 10 percent of its undergraduate population hailing from New York, Duke’s student body may have a different idea of what constitutes “Central Park” than local Durhamites. Located just off Main Street and next to the YMCA, Durham Central Park features a playground and hosts the renowned farmers' and art market that also bring food trucks, music and crafts to town. 

Cecilia “Cecy” Henaine de Davis, owner of the Beadazzled by Cecilia jewelry design brand and founder of the weekly Art Market at Vega Metals, now has a new vision: to complement the regular market with a permanent art hall. The potential art hall would offer a wide array of artist studios and classes, a gallery and a place for community gatherings and events. It would be located in the building that used to house the now closed Cole’s Transmission Shop on the corner of Hunt Street and Foster Street.

“My hope is that I can inspire somebody to get out of their skin and to try different things — opportunity doesn’t really come as often,” she said.

Although Henaine de Davis has already leased the space, substantial expenses still need to be covered, for which she has started a crowdfunding campaign on iFundWomen, a website dedicated to female-led enterprises across the country. The current funding goal sits at $35,000, of which $3,735 have been donated with a little less than three weeks remaining. Plans to use the money, which can be found on the website, are ample: a new garage door, various fixtures, bathroom facilities and some exterior reparations all depend on donors’ support. Those unable to make a financial contribution, however, are still invited to participate by supplying “elbow grease,” and helping clean the space with power washers and industrial vacuum cleaners.  

Established in 2008, the Art Market at Vega Metals has long been a staple in the Triangle’s creative scene. Its relatively low fees make it very accessible to smaller vendors, among whom many have gone on to build successful careers after their first exhibitions at the Art Market. Henaine de Davis, who moved to Durham with her child in 1999, came up with the idea after working with women in domestic violence recovery. Many of her clients there could not attend information sessions because of their abusive spouses, so she went on to found a jewelry-making group that would combine creative work with counseling.  

“It allowed women to talk, network and build a skill that could allow them to become financially independent," she wrote in the crowdfunding campaign's description. "Through that, I learned the power of unlocking your inner creativity."

In 2008, she approached the owners of Vega Metals, an award-winning metal forge that has been  influential in the Durham art community since its foundation in 1987, about a regular art market. Through their help, the market expanded onto the street and has since blossomed into a major component of the Triangle’s arts scene.

“I’m not only sharing my story of domestic violence during my childhood, but also something about being a woman and an entrepreneur," she said. "You will find a lot of obstacles — people often don’t take you seriously because you’re a woman. But in spite of all the obstacles, you should just do it."

The proposed hall would complement the larger Nasher Museum of Art at Duke and North Carolina Central University’s art museum along with the many smaller galleries that Durham has to offer. One of the project’s central ideas is its focus on community and local artists. This seems especially vital given Durham’s rapidly changing structure, which has often been described as gentrification. Soaring rent prices, massive construction plans and the displacement of poorer residents or people of color are all tell-tale signs of such a process, which is said to have affected larger cities many years ago, making them unaffordable for low-income households. Since many of those who are forced to leave the once-deserted downtown areas are artists, Cecy’s vision would help preserve a space for the arts in such an unwelcoming environment. 

“The support from the community has been wonderful," Henaine de Davis said. "People would like for us to continue to be here because there are a lot of changes so now, given the rapidly changing district. You often don’t see much of the ‘old Durham’ anymore. I want to conserve this little place and make it Durham."

Although there remains a lot of work to be done, some activities have already started at Cecy’s: a free Zumba class, a community paint day or a public Tai Chi session during the art and food truck market last week. Similar events are sure to come once the space gets closer to its final form. Helping fund the project comes with specific premiums, such as a 25 percent coupon for the holder’s first purchase at Cecy’s for donations of $50 or a free Durham-themed watercolor painting by Asheville-based artist Adrienne Oates.      

Heinane de Davis is planning a soft opening for Cecy's March 1 and 2, which will feature a two-day special exhibit of works by local artist Mable C. Bullock. Funding for the art hall will be accepted until March 9, and Henaine de Davis expects the hall to be fully operational by mid-March. 

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