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Check out Durham's fascinating murals

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Check out Durham's fascinating murals

Take a drive through Durham and you'll surely see the murals on businesses and street corners. Tucked in alleyways and sprawling across swathes of brick, the city is full of colorful artwork painted by local artists. And now, the community is working hard to preserve them.

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke, Preservation Durham, and Artstigators are collaborators in a movement called "Mural Durham." Its goal is to "connect Durham through creativity, one mural at a time." That includes hosting monthly bicycle tours that show off the city's murals and creating a website, MuralDurham.com, with an archived list of each piece along with its history.

Reneé Cagnina Haynes, exhibitions and publications manager at the Nasher Museum, said the movement is helping garner more interest in the murals around town.

"There's just been an increasing sort of momentum and interest," Cagnina Haynes said. "The mural is a very unique type of art in terms of engaging the outside community, with the artist as the director of the composition and the story."

The archive on MuralDurham.com was born from a desire to ensure that the rich histories of the murals are documented and inspire the creation of new works of art. The site currently lists 24 murals in its archive but is constantly updated as more murals appear.

Amy Unell, director of arts engagement and partnerships at Duke University's Office of the Vice Provost, said the website tracks a wide breath of information about each mural.

"Each mural kind of has its own story," Unell said. "The artist, the year it was painted, all of this information is easily available on the website."

For example, Here Comes the Sun by Karen Stern is listed on the website as the oldest mural on display in downtown Durham. It was painted in the mid-1970s and restored in the 90s. One of the most recent additions is the Durham Civil Rights Mural, a momentous piece located near the Arts Council building and painted by Brenda Miller Holmes and a team of volunteers.

Holmes is an experienced muralist and transplant from San Francisco, which has a thriving mural scene. She said murals are unique in the art world for their accessibility and community-centered focus.

"It's art for the people," Holmes said. "You don't pay a fee to go see it, it's not privately owned. It's just for everybody."

Right now, Holmes is working with intern artists from the City of Durham's YouthWorks program to paint murals on boxes around Durham. The team has extensively interviewed the communities near the boxes to create relevant designs for each one.

"We just had to think about, how can we symbolize these stories on a canvas that is large compared to a canvas you would work on in your home, but small compared to a mural canvas?" she said.

Most murals have a backstory. Some, like Holmes' latest project, tell the story of one particular community. Others offer a broader historical or political message. In 2007, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke commissioned artist Brett Cook to work with the community to paint 14 murals, five of which feature Pauli Murray, a Durham human rights activist who fought for gender and racial equality.

The many backstories behind the murals are one reason Ellen Cassilly, a well-known architect in Durham, began volunteering to lead Mural Durham's informative bicycle tours.

"I think when you know the backstory behind some of these murals, they have a lot more meaning," Cassilly said. "Some of the murals are in little out-of-the-way places that I think folks need to know more about, and some of the murals actually have a great message behind them."

The next Mural Durham bike tour is being held this coming Saturday, August 5th. But if you can't make this month's tour, there are tours held every first Saturday of the month from May to November.

It's also easy to create your own tour with the map available on MuralDurham.com. You'll get to see some fantastic art and you just might learn something you never knew about the Bull City.

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