If you're unaware of an underground art scene in Durham, that may actually be a good thing.
For further explanation, look to artists Andrew Barco, 28, and Sabri Reed, 20. The Durham natives know this scene so well, in fact, they're ready to explore a new one; they're leaving for Boston at the end of the summer, gracing Durham with three nights of farewell performances beginning this Thursday as part of Manbites Dog's MUSE Festival. If anyone knows of a hidden scene, it's these two.
But they don't, really. "The neat thing about the Durham art scene," Barco explains, "is that it can be underground and yet not have to have all the poses of the underground scene. We're not trying to be that hip urban underground..."
Reed jumps in: "...anti-Nasher."
Yet, these artists—who brought us last year's Urban Anthropology Project, helped organize the Durham Culture Crawl and founded downtown's Transom Gallery—both grew up in Durham, but only discovered this community as young adults, once they were able to have a hand in creating it.
"As a young, emerging artist, I felt very little resources and infrastructure in place for people like me," Barco remarks on his return to Durham after college. "The only way you could meet an artist is by accident. Banh's on Wednesday night," he jokes, referring to the low-budget Vietnamese eatery on Ninth Street.
Barco felt the need for gallery spaces where artists could not just show their work, but also hold events and gatherings.
"At some point, people just said, 'Why don't you do it yourself?'"
And so he did; in 2003, he moved into a dual studio and gallery space at 305 E. Chapel Hill St., which he soon transformed into the Transom Gallery.
The DIY culture, Barco says, is in part due to the fact that Durham is a transitory city for artists, who stick around for only a few years before heading off.
"And individuals can have a huge effect when there aren't the institutions in place holding things constant," says Barco, while Reed coughs deliberately with a devilish grin on her face, aware that they both will soon be guilty of that same offense.
But both artists assure that their absence and the closing of the Transom Gallery is no cause for despair. Durham is already filling in these gaps. Reed notes that Bull City Headquarters, 305 South, Seesaw Studio and others have been stepping up while the Transom has been phasing itself out. The Golden Belt Project, for example, is a work in progress that aims to provide studio and gathering space for artists in Heritage Square. Barco and Reed nod in agreement that this is "an incredibly exciting" time for the Durham arts community.
For hard evidence, search no further than the ongoing MUSE Festival at Manbites Dog Theater, which began last week. For six weeks, performers and creators will present alternative theater, music, film, poetry and more. Barco and Reed will team up with Jacob Reed, Sabri's older brother, as the LOLO Trio for what they have ambitiously titled Assembly! Rehearsing a Public Ritual for the Founding of the Land of Apocryphy.
"We're recycling artworks that we have done previously about Durham," says Sabri Reed of the interactive performance installation. "Now we're just going over the top by throwing them all in the same room together."
Once again showing us that the Durham art scene isn't "too cool for the general public," the event aims to give power to the audience, elevating them above the single-faceted level of "listener."
"We're not saying 'Don't listen,'" continues Reed. "We're saying 'Please. Act. And listen, and we'll listen and act too and we'll be in this together."
But what about after they leave? Then what will become of the Durham art scene?
Go ahead, make your move.
For more information on Assembly!, visit www.manbitesdogtheater.org.