When Tess Mangum Ocaña left The ArtsCenter last December after a 10-year tenure there, many wondered if she’d land on her feet in a way that allowed her to stay in the Triangle and maintain her stellar track record as a music programmer.

Wonder no more: As Downtown Durham Inc.’s new special events coordinator, Ocaña is already at work planning a summer music series for the CCB Plaza. The series, to begin May 9, will run Thursdays through August from 7–8:30 p.m. and feature “live, free music that reflects Durham’s funky, cool diversity, and all entirely local bands,” Ocaña says.

“[Downtown Durham Inc.] really wants the best stuff. Fortunately there’s not a shortage to choose from … from blues to bluegrass to soul to Cajun,” she says. She’s still working out the booking details and raising funds, but she expects to announce the lineup in late March. In the meantime, anyone who wants to get their name in the hopper, either as a performer or event sponsor, can reach out to Ocaña at

“I’ve been checking out a lot of bands that were not really appropriate or feasible for The ArtsCenter, bands that I really never had an opportunity to book over there. This really does give me an opportunity to shine a spotlight,” Ocaña says.

Although she’s still, in her words, “hustling,” to make up for full-time employment through various part-time contracts, the Downtown Durham, Inc. gig represents a special homecoming for Ocaña.

“I live about two miles from downtown,” she says. “And now, living in Durham, and programming in Durham and for Durham, it’s really fulfilling.”