Pedestrian-Friendly Art Projects Coming to Downtown Durham | News

Pedestrian-Friendly Art Projects Coming to Downtown Durham

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Last week, the Durham Arts Council was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The cash, which will arrive in the fall (along with another $100,000 in state and local matching funds), is headed for a parking deck on the northwest corner of Ramseur and Corcoran. It’s not going to cure downtown’s current parking woes, but it will almost certainly improve downtown’s aesthetic profile. We called up Durham Arts Council executive director Sherry DeVries on Friday for a little more info.

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So, this grant is connected to a larger plan for downtown Durham?

Yes, the SmART Initiative, which is actually a state program. Durham is one of five cities that’s a pilot project for the program. The idea is to create arts-driven economic-development projects that will drive tourism and create connectivity in urban spaces. In Durham, the initial focus is on connectivity between three main cultural hubs downtown: American Tobacco/DPAC; City Center; and the Durham Central Park area.

The goal is to encourage more pedestrian foot traffic between these areas so people don’t feel bound to, or stuck in, just one of them. There’s lots of people moving around downtown, but downtown doesn’t have very good wayfinding or lighting. Unless you know downtown, it can be hard to find your way from area to area. So we’re not maximizing visitorship and business activity.

What are the actual ways this grant will go about changing that?

The first priority is working on what we call the “back-porch zone.” This is the area where, if you are at DPAC looking north, you’re looking at the backs of a bunch of buildings—a big, long wall of buildings that are blank, not particularly well lit, not much signage. And they’re on the other side of the railroad tracks, which can seem daunting. So, to address that area, we’ll be installing an art wrap on the parking deck at Corcoran and Ramseur. It’ll be lit up at night and create a lot of color and interest at that intersection.

Isn’t there already some art on that garage?

Yes, the current art has been up there for several years. We’ll be using that existing infrastructure and expanding it on the south and east sides of the deck. (See illustrations.)
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Then what?

The second part of the project will be the installation of “ground-plane” art, which is a surface treatment that, either through painting or patterns in the pavement, produces repeating designs on the ground. The way it’s been conceived here, the design will be repeated at the railroad crossing to create a livelier intersection.

What’s the time frame?

We get the money this August, and it’s a two-year program, so we’ll have these two projects, and hopefully more, completed by July 2018. And we’ll be issuing an RFP [request for proposals] on these, both at the local and national level. We’ll continue doing a lot of community engagement on all this moving forward.


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