Durham Arts Initiative Looks To Connect Downtown

Jul 6, 2015

'Pursuit of Happiness' is a sculpture in downtown Durham near the Marriott City Center and the Carolina Theatre.
Credit Leoneda Inge

Durham community leaders, artists and residents are working to make sure downtown remains people-friendly as it grows.

After a year of getting to know Durhamites, award-winning Landscape Architect and Environmental Artist Mikyoung Kim presented an art infused vision plan for downtown Durham.  Kim’s job was to connect the corridor between the Old Durham Bulls Ballpark and the new one.

“I think that it’s important for growing cities like Durham to cultivate its identity, because I think if it just develops and explodes and grows, it could lose that very quickly," said Kim.

Kim says she sees a Durham that includes lighting, pop-up parks, local and national art.  Another suggestion she made during her presentation was to create a Main Street Back Porch.

“It brings Main Street further towards the American Tobacco District, but it also enlivens that back area.  Could be parking sometimes, outdoor seating and on the weekends close off and becomes a county fair," said Kim, who uses Austin and Portland as examples of cities Durham should look to.

The Durham Arts Council spearheaded the SmART Initiative planning process.  New public art and infrastructure could cost $10 million over the next 10 years.  Funds for projects will likely come from the public sector, private institutions, and state and and federal grants.

Durham is one of five North Carolina communities awarded a grant to come up with ways to stimulate the local economy through art while also making downtown more pedestrian friendly.

Sherry DeVries is the Executive Director of the Durham Arts Council.  She says the scale of downtown is growing and changing fast.

“It is really a perfect time to be doing this type of planning to really change the pedestrian environment and make it a much more art infused, exciting and dynamic experience for both residents and visitors that come to Durham," said DeVries.

Tom Dawson is a Landscape Architect and Urban Designer with the Durham City-County Planning Department.  He says Kim's proposals are not far from what is being considered in their new Downtown Open Space Plan.

"We had identified that corridor early on," Dawson said, referring to the one mile stretch from the new Durham Ballpark on Blackwell Street to Corcoran and then to Foster Street, where the old ballpark sits.

"We will benefit from expert, outside advice to look at that corridor holistically and how it ties into open spaces and street-scapes," said Dawson. "I'm extremely excited about her (Kim's) approach.  It's almost she set a new set of rules to an old game."