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Countdown to 23 HOURS

A Raleigh artist turns a group art exhibit into a multimedia community event

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Maybe you haven't heard about the resurgence of Raleigh--the music and art scene comeback kid. If you haven't, you will.

From Aug. 8 through Sept. 14 at Raleigh's Bickett Gallery, a vast array of local musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers are coming together for an event called 23 HOURS. Their goal is to blast the praises of the state's capital out into the streets, informing anyone who hasn't already heard that Raleigh's arts scene is not just alive, it's livid. 23 HOURS is a unique event in the city's arts history. Over the course of the month at the gallery, loads of new art and performances will take place, all to commemorate the history of the city's little-known arts scene, and to celebrate its current united state of strength. Raleigh merchandise company Tannis Root/KungFu will provide a visual timeline of the 30-year history of the city's music scene, using poster art to depict the growth of the rich local rock, punk and hip-hop worlds. Locally made short films will be shown on several nights, but the meat of the event is in the art. As many as 70 local artists will exhibit new work at Bickett and dozens of local bands will be stopping by the brand new stage behind the gallery, built especially for the event. "People need to be aware of what's going on in Raleigh and how much talent is here, artistically and musically," says Molly Miller, owner of the Bickett Gallery. "That's the goal of this celebration: [to] look at this richness that's right here."

And it's not just a representative selection. "It's hard to express to people how huge this thing has gotten," says Spencer Brantley, the young Raleigh artist who organized the event. "Basically every artist in Raleigh that has any kind of relationship to music is going to be there. Most of the bands from Raleigh are going to be there. The ones that aren't are either on tour, or are busy recording."

It all began as a minor idea of Brantley's. Talking with Cheetie Kumar, a friend in The Cherry Valence band, Brantley proposed that he follow the band on tour and document its life off-stage. Fumar responded, "What, the other 23 hours?" Brantley began the project first as an exhibition for his own photographs and the work of a few artist friends. Then a few bands signed on, then a few more artists, and suddenly it was no longer just about Brantley and company. "It grew into this celebration of community, really," he says. "As soon as other people started showing interest, it starting changing and evolving and it still is. Until opening day we won't know what it exactly is, except a celebration of our artists and musicians. It just became this massive, massive show."

The community atmosphere proved addictive. "I approached Caitlin Cary and asked her if she'd be interested in playing, and she said 'totally,'" Brantley says. Soon after, Cary had to cancel due to conflicting local shows. "But then she said, 'But tell me what you need, can I put up some posters around town?' Everyone has been like that, there's this super community vibe."

For the last two decades Chapel Hill has historically drawn praise for its artistic community and its nationally renowned music scene. "I love Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill's great, but Raleigh's always been in its shadow when it comes to music," Brantley says. "But now for the first time since maybe the '70s or '80s, Raleigh's starting to showcase some really great bands. I look at Raleigh like the next Austin, not in a cheesy way but as a really cool, vibrant music community." On the national stage, performers like Cary, Ryan Adams and Tift Merritt are making major waves. Locally, new Raleigh labels like Pidgeon English (many of whose bands are participating in 23 HOURS are giving area acts the platform they've needed. Bands like Utah! and the Apple Juice Orchestra are also starting to make a scene of it.

That's exactly why Miller is so excited that the event will take place in her gallery. After opening the metropolitan-hip warehouse gallery and wine bar in the spring of 2002, notices for Raleigh's art scene began to circle. As a result, several new galleries have opened recently. Miller represented a Raleigh artist who was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters--and she was the only gallery there outside of New York. Bickett has already been mentioned multiple times in Manhattan-based Art Business News. It's been coined the gallery that brings New York to the Five Points (Raleigh's, that is).

"I wanted to focus more on having the kind of gallery that Raleigh didn't have," she says. "I think no two galleries are alike, and there's a niche and space for everyone. But I wanted to have a fine contemporary art gallery incorporating all the other legs of the arts."

She's got that with 23 HOURS, and the city's arts community may have finally gotten the recognition that it's so long deserved--from itself. "I think Raleigh has a lot to offer," Miller says. "It's starting to revitalize. It's slow but it's really happening."

23 HOURS runs Aug. 8-Sept. 14, and the cost is free (donations will go to the Contemporary Art Museum of North Carolina). For more information, visit www.23hours.org. EndBlock

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