The Carrack: Looking back at year one

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The Carrack Modern Art: Looking back at year one
by:Cady Childs

I walk up to the Carrack Gallery on a Friday in downtown Durham at high noon, to be greeted by Jon Wendelbo, sitting on the church pew-like bench outside with a tiny, fluffy white dog attached to the leash in his hand. He smiles when he recognizes my face. We sit and small talk about their smashing birthday party until a bright-eyed woman walks up the street, commanding the space as she moves. Laura Ritchie is one of those people you are intensely aware of when they are around you, their presence and energy almost palpable. We head upstairs, where Sarah Goetz is already above, putting the final touches on her installation, ‘just between us’. As we open the door, I see the most beautiful, dream-like mobile hanging from ceiling to floor, dappling shadows over Sarah as she walks around the space, making sure everything is as it should be, and telling her story in this comfortable welcoming environment.

Ritchie and Wendelbo’s personalities are part of what brings this air of openness to the Carrack. Their zero-commission policy sets the stage for frequently changing shows and encourages work in a multitude of mediums. The responsibility can put a lot of pressure on the artist to stage and carry out their exhibition in as little as three days, but it allows the creator to take full control of the space, breaking it down and building it back up in the way that best serves them.

“Every artist has surprised me in some way,” Ritchie said of the past year. “That’s the beauty of having this open-ended space where the artist has complete freedom.”

Many of the installations have taken advantage of the no-rules environment by building multi-form installations combining music, art, film, performance, and more. Last September, Louis Franco’s installation involved spoken word performance during the reception. Aimari and Alex Young’s ‘SOLA’ installation this March; combining dance, body art, display, sculpture, and music was on a level the likes of which Durham really hadn’t seen before.

“They (Aimari and Alex} completely took over, and created this place that didn’t have a linear narrative, and no boundaries,” Ritchie said. “They completely changed the space, and in hand, what they created was changed by each visitor.”

After many doubted and spoke skeptically about their business model and the prospect of letting outsiders have complete control of the space, it is the validation that gives the two founders the most joy. Looking back on a year of trusting a Durham community that has not only confirmed their faith, but also given back time and time again, nourishes their spirits.

“Creative energy just feeds more creative energy,” Ritchie said, telling the story of how multiple musicians simply walked up to the Carrack on the eve of their birthday celebration, offering to play their instruments for the event.

The Community Art Show, held during the last weekend in April, ended up exhibiting thirty-one local artists. There was an almost bohemian theme to the reception, as artists brought their own mediums to the event.

“One person brought some wine, and another brought some canvas and started painting, and then this whole thing just sort of kicked off,” Wendelbo said of the night.

Clearly, our Durham community has been building this sort of energy for some time, as the response generated by The Carrack Modern Art demonstrates. Having a space where creativity is welcomed and a vital part of the institution is something we need and value.

“Each show has gotten bigger and bolder as they’ve seen examples of the shows before them,“ Ritchie said of the building cloud of no-holds-barred artistic stimulation surrounding #111 West Parrish Street, “It’s been incredible to watch what happens when you just trust someone.”

The quickly changing schedule of artists exhibiting at the Carrack has lead to involve heavy hours on Wendelbo and Ritchie’s part, but as the artist’s take on the set-up and take down responsibilities, their shorter shows only concern the two in the sense that some artists may be better served in a longer format.

“The three day shows work well for pop-up art intention, like the community show, but there are some artists that I think would be better served by a long period of time.” Ritchie explained. Even the Durham community sometimes struggles to keep up with the whirlwind of exhibits.

While, the word is that they may slow down the pace for 2013, giving the artist’s more time to show and the community more time to absorb and appreciate, the Carrack is not changing its basic model. It will continue giving artists a chance to have access and control like never before and continue giving the arts community opportunities to see the innovation and feel the creative pulse.

“It’s like a mirror,” Wendelbo said. “We are reflecting the energy of the artist on the community, and the community’s energy is reflected back to the artist, and so on.”

In true collaborator fashion, Ritchie is already following his thought process along the way, and finishes his thought for him.

“We’re just holding the mirror.”

For more information on the Carrack, it’s past shows, how to donate, and more, visit their website at

Cady Childs is renown for her rapier wit and sharp eye for fashion. As our Creative Director, Childs pulled off great event after great project, from our own Fashion Drive-Bys which Childs styled to reFASHIONED Durham where she crafted a line of clothes, her endeavors have been par excellence. She has covered everyone from LiLa to the Carrack to Runaway Clothes for the Clarion Content.

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