Amy Nolan loves Durham. She loves the community feel of the city and the artists who call it home. Most of all, she loves that Durham’s arts scene is growing. Last year, Nolan and her friend Tanya Olson brainstormed over beers about a way to collaborate with other artists in Durham. “Raleigh and Chapel Hill both have these great thriving scenes,” Nolan says. “Durham really needed something like this.”
Nolan and Olson simply wanted to create a vehicle for people to get together and share their art with the public in a very accessible way. Both women have firsthand experience hosting arts events–Olson, who recently took first prize in the Independent‘s annual poetry competition, coordinated Politics of Poetry gatherings, and is a solid supporter of the poetry community; Nolan, a photographer, painter and graphic designer, coordinated the stammer! spoken word and poetry series at Artspace in Raleigh for a year and a half.
They came up with durham3, a series of multimedia events where artists can network and audiences are entertained. The events come in sets of three–three showcases in a span of three months at three different places around the city. The number three also represents Durham’s place in the Triangle, Olson says. “It was our attempt to highlight Durham’s third space qualities in itself and in the Triangle, the idea of being undefined and still in flux. Durham isn’t what it is going to be yet.”
Nolan and Olson are not trying to reinvent Durham–they say it’s fine the way it is. Instead, they aim to make people aware of how many creative people live here. “Other art series had often seemed determined to bring culture to Durham. We believed there was a ton of culture already there, but it just wasn’t in conversation with or aware of itself,” Olson says.
The durham3 blog includes a manifesto that speaks to the city’s undefined nature: “Durham is not simply a professional or factory town, an academic or working class town, a gay or straight town, a conservative or progressive town, a black or white town,” Olson wrote. “It is a place that encompasses both sides of these dichotomies and therefore becomes something beyond those pairings, creating and occupying a new, third space.”
durham3 doesn’t have a permanent venue–so far it has found a home in galleries, clubs and restaurants. This also allows for activities to be held all over town, not just in one place. “No one has said no to us yet,” Nolan says. “People welcomed us everywhere we went.” Part of the purpose of durham3 events is to get artists who might never have met to work together. “You get to come and be around people who are trying to do the same thing you’re doing,” Nolan says. “We want people to form networks and form friendships.” Never limited in scope or artistic vision, organizers welcome all forms of artists to participate. The spring event featured a fabric art show, two dance groups and films. Nolan says the venue was so full that she had a hard time getting through the crowd at Ooh La Latte to announce the performers as they came on stage.
A beginning-of-the-season potluck in June brought artists to Nolan’s home to discuss plans for the next series. Artists navigated plates of Bocca Burgers, hummus and chocolate chip cookies as they talked about the upcoming season.
Poet Paul Aaron identifies with what Olson and Nolan are doing. “This is not the only activity in Durham that unites people, but it is one of the most meaningful,” Aaron says. “Business draws Durham together, but that is rarely intimate.”
MZ Julee, a performance artist living in Raleigh, currently runs stammer!, sort of a Raleigh sister to durham3. MZ Julee enjoys these events because of the respect new artists get when performing at open mic night. “Sometimes the open mics can be difficult,” she says. “It’s nice to have an audience that’s attentive.”
Writer Bill Gural says he appreciates the feedback that durham3 helps generate. Gural is always looking for input from new people, not just his peers. When he performs at group gatherings, he reads his short stories or passages to gauge the reaction.
This exchange between local artists and the public is a big part of what Nolan and Olson were hoping for when they first came up with the idea. durham3 will probably be around for a while, but the goal may already have been reached.
“It’s a matter of we just came along at the right time doing the right thing,” Nolan says.
The next durham3 cycle starts on July 15 during Durham’s Third Friday Culture Crawl. Look for a happening on the green space outside Joe and Jo’s Downtown, 427 W. Main St. You’ll hear the Bull Durham Slam Team, a slam poetry group including Dasan Ahanu, Langston Fuze, Ms. Mona (Monica Daye), The Original Woman (Nitche Ward) and Rhonda Reese. The team recently placed eighth out of 24 teams at the Southern Fried Southeast Regional Poetry Slam and will be part of the Carolina Circuit Tour, along with other teams from North and South Carolina. They’ll be competing in the National Poetry Slam competition this August in Albuquerque, N.M. Visual artist/storyteller/social justice activist Ellen O’Grady and Lucifer Poetics Group member Chris Vitiello will also perform. As night falls, the silver screen will light up with a short film by Bill Weaver and Jason Klarl and a project from the Center for Documentary Studies Audio Documentary Summer Institute.
There will be an open mic, admission is free, and the seats are blankets.
The second and third events are booked for August and September, and a release party for a DVD of short films about the city is planned for November.
Entries for a collection of short films about Durham are currently being accepted. To get involved in durham3, check out durham3.blogspot.com .