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Durham mural honors civil rights

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Nestled between the Durham Arts Council and an empty storefront office sits an equally empty wall.

Within the month, however, the 2,400 square feet of egg-shell-colored cinderblock will become the canvas for Durham's first official public art project: The Durham Civil Rights History Mural.

As a part of its Cultural Master Plan, the city granted $20,000 to the project in December 2012. After what lead muralist Brenda Miller Holmes described as a "really really long journey," painting is soon to begin.

The city recently approved the design for the mural, which will depict scenes of Durham's involvement in the civil rights movement, such as the Royal Ice Cream Sit-in. Miller Holmes said she hopes to have scaffolding up in the next two weeks and plans to start working shortly thereafter.

The 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act is July 2.

Though Miller Holmes has been a muralist for 12 years and has more than 20 projects to show for it, she won't be painting this one alone.

Miller Holmes has been working with a team of 30 community members, ranging in age from 15 to 65, since the design process began in the beginning of 2013, and her team will help paint the mural as well.

"I wanted this project to be intergenerational because this isn't my story to tell," Miller Holmes said. "I'm a muralist, but I'm not a historian, so I wanted the community's input."

The mural project will include an interactive website and a documentary about the creation and impact of the public art piece, according to the project's Multimedia Director Rodrigo Dorfman.

The way Dorfman sees it, the project contains two phases: "the creation of the mural and the impact it has on people."

Dorfman started filming his documentary about a year ago and said he plans to continue following the characters for a year after the mural's completion to see how it has affected them.

Despite the initial grant Miller Holmes and her team received from the city, they have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise an additional $10,000 to complete the project.

The original plan was to paint the mural on an 800-square-foot wall, but when the building that wall is a part of changed hands, the project changed to its current location, on Morris Street, and subsequently tripled in size.

"Getting a wall that was three times bigger was great, but it also meant everything else, including costs, tripled as well," Miller Holmes said.

The Indiegogo campaign closes on June 18 and is still $6,000 short of its goal. Of the money raised through this campaign, $7,000 will go to painting supplies, and $3,000 will go toward the making of the documentary.

"This project is important because art creates a space, free of politics and self reservation, where people can talk about what they might not have otherwise," Dorfman said. "This is a space where people can talk about the past."

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