The Year in Arts & Culture: Refreshers and Updates on the Most Important Stories of a Volatile 2017 | The Year in Arts | Indy Week
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The Year in Arts & Culture: Refreshers and Updates on the Most Important Stories of a Volatile 2017 

click to enlarge The dining room at The Lakewood

Photo by Alex Boerner

The dining room at The Lakewood

Ihis year, the nation seemed to shatter and swarm into new configurations on a daily basis. The Triangle's arts and culture world was no exception. In January, the INDY started the year with quite a bang when Scott Crawford, the chef-owner of Raleigh restaurant Crawford and Son, refused to sell our restaurant critic, Emma Laperruque, a plate of food, personally coming to her table to throw her out. Apparently, Crawford was mad about two prior articles, one in which Laperruque wondered if Standard Foods, his former restaurant, was better off without him, and another Standard Foods piece in which she mentioned, by way of conjuring ambiance, that the bartender wore an Apple watch. (We're still baffled as to why that was so offensive.)

The fallout? The INDY never reviewed Crawford and Son, the Triangle was divided on whether Crawford was courageous or cowardly, and Andrea Weigl, the News & Observer's former food editor, followed her pro-Crawford report on the contretemps with multiple even more pro-Crawford pieces (though her own paper's editorial board took the INDY's side).

But January wasn't all free-speech suppression: there was good news, too. Raleigh's Community Music School, which shut down late last year because of financial troubles, announced it would reopen after donors came through, ensuring that kids who can't afford music lessons got to play on. And when Durham's Horse & Buggy Press, Dave Wofford's long-running letterpress shop and gallery, got priced out of the 401 Arts complex on Foster Street, it didn't hang up its saddle. Instead, Wofford found a new spot on Broad Street and reopened in short order, making downtown's loss Watts-Hillandale's gain.

In FEBRUARY, Chapel Hill lost an institution when Chapel Hill Comics closed because of downtown development pressures and some poor business decisions by a new owner. (Luckily, the Ultimate Comics empire is going strong, turning its NC Comicon biannual.) Carolina Performing Arts scored a major coup for the Triangle's national stature when it booked Glass at 80, a sprawling tribute to composer Philip Glass that otherwise was seen only in larger cities. Durham musician and author John Darnielle released Universal Harvester, a follow-up to Wolf in White Van, which was recently picked to become a film as part of Sundance's Screenwriters Lab program.

In the food world, numerous Triangle restaurants joined the "A Day Without Immigrants" campaign, a work stoppage to highlight immigrants' contributions to the local economy. Restaurants that did the right thing and closed included Cocoa Cinnamon, Dain's Place, Don Becerra, Elmo's Diner, Geer Street Garden, Centro, Gallo Pelón, Garland, and Merritt's Grill.

MARCH and APRIL were blessedly calm for a change, other than Durham craft retailer The Makery and coworking space Mercury Studios joining forces as the Mothership and new restaurant Viceroy coming to Main Street in Durham.

. Then, all hell broke loose in MAY. Some of it was good—Raleigh Provisions brought a small grocery store to downtown Raleigh; Alley Twenty Six added a full kitchen to its fancy cocktail menu; and Walltown Children's Theatre, which is emerging as a vital Durham venue, inherited some assets from the dearly departed Common Ground Theatre—but more of it was not. Baba Chuck Davis, the legendary founder of Durham's African-American Dance Ensemble, passed away. Several months later, Michelle Gibson was announced as his replacement as artistic director, though our attempts to reach her for an interview have yet to bear fruit.

In the music world, queer punk band PWR BTTM was dropped from both Hopscotch and a Pinhook bill after sexual assault allegations against band member Ben Hopkins came out (but good for our local presenters for doing the right thing). And we reported on our concerns about the uneven allocation of city resources between Durham's jazz-focused Art of Cool Festival and the tech-focused Moogfest, not to mention some of the appropriative branding of the latter. (We raised an eyebrow at such an expensive, elite festival having something called a "Protest Stage.") Moogfest's heart seems to be in the right place, if only its head can follow—it recently caused another stir by announcing its first wave of 2018 programming as a female, trans, and nonbinary bill without telling the artists they were being marketed this way, drawing a sharp rebuke from Caroline Polachek, who tweeted, "Furious to be (without approval) on an all-female & non-gender-binary announcement list for @Moogfest. Gender is not a genre. I don't need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator. Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys."

click to enlarge The INDY's homage to The Handmaid's Tale in Durham - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • The INDY's homage to The Handmaid's Tale in Durham

On a lighter note, if you missed it, one of our favorite INDY reads this year came when music editor Allison Hussey dug up the tale of a little-remembered The Handmaid's Tale movie filmed in Durham in 1989, which had a script by Harold freaking Pinter and sparked controversy by staging the hanging scene at Duke Chapel—without telling anyone at Duke Chapel.

In JUNE, Raleigh's Sonorous Road Theatre moved into a new home in the Royal Bakery Building on Hillsborough Street, avoiding a closure (after N.C. State bought its former spot on Oberlin Road) that would have deprived us of a recent four-star production of The Gift of the Magi and our itinerant theater artists of a crucial performance space. And Quarter Horse opened to make sure Durham wasn't left out of the barcade trend that brought the Baxter to Chapel Hill and Boxcar to Raleigh.

JULY was a mix of ups and downs—the North Carolina Museum of Art reopened its renovated African art galleries, giving them new prominence, while longtime Chapel Hill indie bookstore The Bookshop closed its doors—but the month was dominated by the furor around DSI Comedy Theater, whose owner, Zach Ward, was the target of multiple allegations of harassment, sexual misconduct, and unfair work practices, leading to the theater's abrupt closure in AUGUST. It was a disgraceful warm-up for the #MeToo movement that was about to engulf the country. (Prominent Raleigh concert promoter Craig Reed was also effectively put out of business by a swell of social-media-borne accusations of misogyny.)

The hits kept coming throughout the hottest month. We praised the opening of Brewery Bhavana in Raleigh but got a lot more attention for our review of The Lakewood, the new high-end restaurant in the Lakewood neighborhood from Scratch chef-owner Phoebe Lawless. INDY food editor Victoria Bouloubasis took a community-journalism tack, bringing Mexican immigrants who had lived in the neighborhood for twenty years to find out what they thought of the atmosphere and the fare. The review was more balanced than the response, which was split between extremes—anxious progressives who felt unfairly called out on one side, activists and Latinx people who felt seen and heard at last on the other. These anxieties on both sides were understandable, at a time when Lakewood is rapidly changing. Following the Scrap Exchange's move there, Cocoa Cinnamon also opened a Lakewood location in August, and a second Scratch location came in the fall.

More Durham development woes came to a boil in August as Golden Belt jazz club The Shed abruptly shuttered, effectively run out by developer LRC Properties. The venerable Manbites Dog Theater announced it would close after the 2017–18 season and rebrand as an artist-support enterprise. Shortly before this issue went to press, Manbites announced the sale of its building at 703 Foster Street to Modern Energy, an energy asset management firm, for $1.1 million.

Another conflict brewing since July came to a head in August. With the blessing of the City of Durham, the Afro-Brazilian drum ensemble Batalá Durham had been practicing in Durham Central Park for more than a year, until an anonymous resident of the Liberty Warehouse Apartments started complaining about the noise to the police department. Police officers began showing up at rehearsals, threatening to shut them down and issue citations for violating noise ordinances. But after the INDY reported on the conflict, other Liberty residents offered their support for Batalá, noting that they wouldn't live downtown if they weren't prepared for the trappings of city life. Batalá Durham received a permit from the Durham City Council, and the group continued to deliver its powerful percussion without further issues.

Quick bits: N.C. State finally opened its renovated Gregg Museum of Art & Design to acclaim, Proxemic Media started a new Third Friday dance series at Durham's Empower Dance Studio (which played a part in studio owner Nicole Oxendine's Indies Arts Award this month), and the INDY published an epic profile of visionary puppeteer Jeghetto, who also shared an Indies Arts Award with other staff at the Afrofuturist youth center Blackspace.

After such a chaotic August, we all settled down to lick our wounds for a bit in SEPTEMBER before OCTOBER brought a mixed bounty. The good: Culture Mill's Articulating Value symposium ignited a conversation about white privilege in the Triangle arts scene that is still reverberating; Raleigh restaurant Joule became the winning St. Roch under Ashley Christensen protégé Sunny Gerhart; and Duke Performances earned national notices for its Thelonious Monk festival, which was also an auspicious official debut for Durham venue The Fruit.

The bad: Neptunes Parlour booked a show by Biff Rose, a comedy musician whose website is a stew of alt-righty racism and anti-Semitism, though at least the INDY's reporting got the show cancelled. Unfortunately, a Charlie Daniels show with the race-baiting title "Carolina Uprising" at Koka Booth Amphitheatre went on, though at least the INDY's reporting made some people leery of it.

NOVEMBER brought the sad news that Chapel Hill institution the Chelsea, one of the area's last old-school art cinemas, would close at the end of the year unless it found a buyer (no updates yet; we'll keep you posted). But the bigger news was an arrival, not a departure. The INDY's investigation into the culture of toxic masculinity, racial bias, and unaccountability that pervade the PIT, the New York-based improv theater that bought DSI Comedy's Franklin Street space, garnered widespread support and gratitude from the comedy community and some pushback from people who didn't get what the big deal was about a few rape jokes and a nonexistent sexual harassment policy.

The Triangle ended the year on a high note in DECEMBER when a bumper crop of local artists, including Sylvan Esso, Rapsody, and Iron & Wine, pulled down Grammy nominations. We hope that, in next year's wrap-up, we'll have more good news along these lines to report. But let's be real—the purging process that began this year is not stopping any time soon, and we're not going to stop following it until it's done.

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Deborah, I have go agree with your statement on those posted from last year. there were several other shows and …

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Did your theater critics go to Playmakers this past year? it is hard to tell from this list. Ray Dooley's …

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Deborah, I have go agree with your statement on those posted from last year. there were several other shows and …

by lovearts on The Year in Triangle Theater 2012 (The Year in Arts)

Did your theater critics go to Playmakers this past year? it is hard to tell from this list. Ray Dooley's …

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The May constitutional amendment was not MERELY against same-sex marriages [and please don't call it "gay marriage", Byron]; it was …

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