Howard takes on Laura Richie

Friend, artist, community activist, and occasional guest columnist for the Clarion Content, Catherine Howard, has undertaken to pen a series of articles about how the visual arts have impacted communities in North Carolina on her 13/13/13 Sketchbook site. Howard is both a leader on the ground in bringing the arts to communities worldwide and also a coalition builder who helped get the ball rolling for the Durham Storefront Project.

The Clarion Content was delighted that Ms. Howard selected our publisher, Aaron Mandel, to be the subject of her first profile. A far more deserving figure in the Durham arts scene is the subject of her second piece of the series, which Ms. Howard has generously agreed to co-publish on the Clarion Content.

The Creative Leaders of Durham Series: Laura Ritchie of The Carrack Modern Art

by: Catherine Howard

Laura Ritchie, a vital and vibrant cog in the Durham art community, is the co-founder/director of The Carrack Modern Art. A graduate of UNC Chapel-Hill, she teamed up with John Wendelbo in 2011 to pursue a vision of a gallery that served the artists and community rather than commercial purposes.

The Carrack has been empowering local Durham-based artists for over a year. Answering artists’ cries for space rather than paid memberships or partial commissions, The Carrack rotates exhibitions with artists in all media every 10 days in their zero-commission art space. With this innovative model, The Carrack has received an upswell of support for its mission to forge productive cultural and socio-economic ties within the Durham community.

Laura and I sat down to catch up (The Carrack exhibited my Veil Tease series last year) and chat about the ways she has witnessed the arts become an integral component of Durham’s economic revitalization.


Laura Richie, the curator and co-owner of The Carrack

CJH: So! How have you seen how Durham’s art scene has shifted since The Carrack started and now?

LR: I can only speak about Durham from my experiences over the past two years, which may be a narrow viewpoint, but in terms of downtown, specifically, things have changed quite substantially in the past two years.

Mostly, people are thinking about “art spaces” differently.

The Carrack is a gallery – a traditional space with a non-traditional model. Then there’s the [Durham] Storefront Project – non-traditional spaces with a non-traditional model. Then there’s dtownMARKET – non-traditional space, non-traditional work, and a non-traditional model.

People are also thinking about “art” in a different way.

There are performances like Stacey Kirby’s VALIDnation, and then you have music performances, poetry readings… the concept of “art” seems to be broadening. It seems to be very malleable in this present moment. There’s a whole different crowd of people – age, race, socioeconomic background – that traditionally participate in and enjoy each of these different art forms. Here in downtown Durham, art brings all these circles together in the same place.


from the exhibition “A sense of place” by Michelle Gonzalez-Green


from a “VALIDnation” performance by Stacey Kirby

CJH: It sounds to me like “art” is reflective of the community.

LR: And vice versa. The Carrack was built in response a demand we recognized from this community’s artists. “Free space? YES! Gimmespacegimmespacegimmespace!”

I don’t think that artists in this community feel pressured to make work solely for a traditionally commercial market, and that is a great thing. This idea of “community” is at the forefront of everyone’s process. Everyone is so proud of being from Durham, to be a part of Durham’s narrative, and that shows up in their work.


Holly Johnson, from Happymess Art Studio, hosts an art event at The Carrack for Durham kids

CJH: Do you feel like the art community is reaching out actively into the wider community in Durham?

LR: I don’t think there is a clear boundary of where the “art” community ends and the “broader” community begins because everyone seems to be thinking of “art” as the term for the culture of Durham. “Art” and “culture” are synonymous here.

I do think enrichment is a goal – that all the artists want to better Durham as a whole.

CJH: I think that the biggest difference I have seen between Durham and a lot of other “art cities” is that Durham’s art scene does not seem to be commercially driven.

LR: There is both physical and intellectual space here, and all the networks have not already been established. In some ways, there have been too many new businesses and new projects, but that’s a great problem to have – too many people that have the ambition to create something that they haven’t seen in this community before. The Carrack couldn’t have existed in any other time or place in the way that it does.

We are making the formula, the history NOW for how the art community works here [in Durham].

The community is willing to financially support all these independent art projects and new businesses, and by doing that locally, those artists are producing work within the community, which then brings interest, visitors, and money back to Durham. It’s a cycle of the community investing in itself via the arts.


Photo credit Scenes from my Lunch Hour

CJH: Thanks so much to Laura for her insights into the role the arts can play as an investment in community. 

Just a reminder that The Carrack Modern Art is located at #111 West Parrish Street in the heart of Downtown Durham. Stop by regularly and keep an eye on their calendar! You can also “Like” them on Facebook to get updates there. Also, please consider supporting The Carrack efforts by becoming a Sustainer.

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