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The power of art

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Jaume Plensa. Georges Rousse. Spark Con. Suddenly, art is on the mind of communities across the Triangle.

I caught the bug Saturday night in downtown Raleigh. It started with the image slam at Spark Con, the four-day creative class get-together where a friend was among the more than 80 artists selected to have their work shown on a big screen in Moore Square. Scores of people watched hundreds of images glide before their eyes as they sat out on a cool, late summer night with a DJ mixing music in the background. It was broken up by a break-dance demonstration that made it feel like Washington Square South. Adding to the New York ambience was a tour bus dropping off well-dressed theater-goers who'd been to the opening weekend show of The Lion King.

My friend's husband is in the Durham band The Wigg Report, and they have a guerrilla sensibility about taking music to the streets. So after the image slam, we headed for the sidewalk outside Slim's on Wilmington Street, where Kennebec was playing inside. My friends asked if I wanted to play tambourine, and I said I would.

There was a disconcerting feeling as we started to play (and it had only slightly to do with my struggle to keep the beat). The pressure to conform is pretty overpowering these days, and as we played (Stephen Mullaney on guitar and tiny, battery-powered amp; his wife, Christine Fantini, on tom-tom and snare drum; and Ben Riseling on sax, sometimes on the ground) the simple misdemeanor act of Playing Music on the Street Without a License made me nervous.

Then, an SUV of Raleigh cops pulled up a few feet away--but left us alone. A little later, Slim's manager, Mikey Ross (whom I know and like), closed the club's door and walked up to us. My heart sank. I was ready for the worst.

Instead, Mikey said he closed the door so people on the street could hear us better, and he asked if we'd like to come in and play on the patio when Kennebec was done. We were thrilled. As we played outside, a small crowd gathered and one middle-aged, pony-tailed guy said, "This is great. I've never seen anyone do this in Raleigh before."

We played in front of a box filled with their album, Seltzer, and a sign over it that said, "Free CDs." But people were nervous about taking them. "No, really, they're free. Take one," Ben said over and over.

We've had the gift of great art thrust upon us lately. The Plensa plaza spurred debate, some producive, some less so. Georges Rousse, with the support of hundreds of volunteers, helped us see things in our community we didn't know were there. And Spark Con reminded us what we've got and where it can take us. So c'mon, let's go. Take the CD.

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