Can you believe that, not long ago, the Triangle had two alt-weeklies? I hardly can, and I wrote for both of them.

After warming up in Chapel Hill music zines (shout-out to Sup), I embarked on this wonderful, ridiculous, precarious path of writing about art for a living at Raleigh’s The Spectator in the early aughts. I got the gig by arguing with the music editor about his At the Drive-In review. I cut out my newsprint clips and pressed them in a photo binder. We carried News of the Weird and Onion Head Monster. 

It was a simpler time.

Only when the INDY bought and absorbed The Spectator in the mid-2000s did I move to these pages, freelancing for nearly a decade before joining the editorial staff five years ago. I had no idea what was coming. You read local media, so you know what’s become of regional arts coverage. Almost all of the dailies’ longtime critics are in the wind (some kind of Rubicon was crossed when News & Observer vet David Menconi had his first INDY byline this year), and a few glossy mags aren’t making up the difference. Blogs are valiantly filling gaps, but they often lack centralized audiences, resources, and time-tested protocols. 

For sustained critical attention to local artistic practice; for intimate profiles of people from the stage to the admin office; for informed analysis of the radical ideas, relevant controversies, and hidden connections that flourish here; for a consistent perspective on life as it’s lived, week by week—well, we’d rather not be the only game in town, but we are. And that means we take our mission to document, appraise, understand, and nourish the arts here more seriously than ever.  

Arts journalism is sometimes thought of as a parasite, but let’s be real: In the commercial sphere, the relationship is symbiotic. Artists and journalists work long days and then spend nights and weekends in galleries, theaters, and clubs. (I don’t think our longtime theater critic, Byron Woods, has had a weekend off in eons.) All of them need to be paid, because their work is essential to both our quality of life and areas of social justice where art always takes the lead.

The Triangle isn’t a place where artistic production just rolls along on a juggernaut apparatus. Local artists without academic support are seeking revolutionary ways to survive on the labor of enriching our cultural landscape with a certain atmosphere of vitality you probably couldn’t imagine living without, even if you don’t regularly partake. 

As they seek new, more egalitarian financial models, we have to do the same thing. Publisher Susan Harper and editor Jeffrey Billman have already detailed the collapse of print advertising across the industry, and while other papers have folded or vanished behind paywalls, it’s crucial that we keep the INDY free. 

If it isn’t free for those who can’t afford it, it isn’t the INDY

The Triangle will probably never have two weeklies again, but, for five years and counting, I’ve been working as hard as I can to make sure it has one. I love free weeklies. Picking one up is the first thing I do when I visit a city (if one still exists there). To me, they’re one of those rare, magical institutions, with no profit-driven reason to exist,  lit by the stubborn little flame left of the belief that knowledge is a public right—like, I can have this lifeline into a community’s arts scene, for free, every week

That is just wild, and we should never take it for granted. 

I’ve been covering the arts here for twenty years because I believe they have a transformative, life-saving power, and I’ve been doing it at the INDY because I believe there’s nowhere else that treats them that way. If you’re able, help us help artists thrive by joining the INDY Press Club today at—or by mailing your contribution to PO Box 1772, Durham, NC, 27702—so we can keep it free for everyone else. 

Keep it free. Keep it INDY.

Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at

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