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Express yourself on Durham's arts future

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With Durham experiencing an explosion of music, visual arts and theater activity, planning the future of its cultural programs and resources will be no easy task. It will require numerous debates, tedious meetings and a web of cultural providers, all working together to capture the full force of the community's artistic potential.

But the people of Durham will have to decide what they want it all to add up to.

Durhamites will begin to have their say on the county's cultural future at the first meeting to discuss the Durham Cultural Master Plan, a comprehensive outline of Durham's various ethnic communities' and citizens' desires for the implementation of diverse cultures in future programs. The meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, at Durham's Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., is one of many initiatives in the process of creating the plan, which has been in the making since 1998.

"Durham has such a diverse community with many extraordinary resources," says Margaret DeMott, director of artist services at the Durham Arts Council. "This is an exciting time for us to get in the same room, sharing different goals, perceptions and needs. One of the most exciting things is the potential for partnership, finding others who share your ideas and helping to push them forward."

The plan will include a mix of quantitative research, community engagement, and strategic financial planning, says Marc Goldring of national planning firm Wolf, Keens & Company, the consultants hired to guide the process.

"They [Wolf, Keens & Company] will get a crash course in Durham," DeMott says. "They are going to talk to a lot of people, through both individual and group interviews, and find out the hot issues for Durham and what is important for Durham in terms of representing culture."

Wolf, Keens & Company has written master plans for Fairfax County, Va., Birmingham, Ala., and Philadelphia, Pa., although Birmingham's project is the only one directly comparable to Durham.

"We just finished the cultural plan in Birmingham in March," Goldring says. "When we started out, there were a bunch of issues to be resolved in the area. There was lots of concern about being inclusive of all ethnicities represented in the area in the various programs to be created.

In other cities that completed master plans, Goldring says, public funding for the arts went up because there was a sense of where each program fit into the big picture. Programs also benefited from better publicity--which translated into higher attendance. That was particularly true among smaller institutions, such as churches, that started drawing crowds beyond their own memberships. Many of those were people who hadn't been drawn to arts programs before.

"There's more interest from folks originally not interested in arts, that weren't aware of the variety," Goldring says.

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