At the first Art of Cool Festival four years ago, the northeast corner of the intersection of Durham’s Corcoran and West Main streets was an empty, grassy lot. But when festival attendees meander downtown this weekend, they’ll meet a looming construction project known as One City Center. It’s the most visible marker of the rapidly changing urban environment that the young grassroots festival has contended with.

The festival grew out of the Art of Cool Project, a Durham nonprofit founded by biostatistician Cicely Mitchell and trumpeter Al Strong, which presents and promotes jazz to local audiences as well as helping foster jazz education among young musicians. The April festival has always relied heavily on community support, turning to crowdfunding campaigns to fill in some financial gaps. Last year, the festival clashed with the city of Durham over its funding for the corporate-backed Moogfest; the city seemed to snub the festival grown in its backyard in favor of a big out-of-town business that had a history of hemorrhaging money. But after community outcry, the city came through for Art of Cool. Now the festival is as steady as ever, and its roots, which once seemed tenuous, are taking firm hold.

This year, we catch up with Mitchell about growing into her role as a festival director and preview a new exhibit at the Durham Museum of History about the city’s century-long relationship with jazz. We examine George Clinton’s enduring cult of personality, and, of course, we’ve also picked out a few can’t-miss sets on this year’s schedule.

One City Center is set to open by May 2018, nearly coinciding with Art of Cool’s fifth year. By then, if Mitchell has her way, the festival will be a different sort of monument to Durham. Allison Hussey

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