$500,000 for Durham parking deck art; good deal or wasteful spending?

Tuesday, March 22, 2022
$500,000 for Durham parking deck art; good deal or wasteful spending?
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Durham is paying half a million dollars to a Colorado company for an art screen on a downtown parking deck, leading some to wonder why a local artist wasn't chosen and others to say the city has greater needs.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Reggie Chandler is passionate about his art. When a dear friend asked him to paint a mural outside their business he was excited.

"Expression you know. It's freedom," said Chandler.

So it's no surprise that he's disappointed that Durham County Board of Commissioners hired Parasoleil, an art design company out of Colorado to provide an art screen to a parking deck on East Main Street.

Once complete, it will showcase images of various trees artistically designed on each side.

"Durham is an art city. The art culture here is amazing. I think it's important to have that representation to have them be present," Chandler said.

Durham County officials said the community was involved from the beginning since its existing policy requires screens on parking decks.

In September 2020, the County launched a national search for art.

Leaders said 97 submissions were reviewed and ranked by the city, community organizations and the cultural advisory board.

ABC11 obtained a letter dated last month that shows Durham's Public Art Committee supported Parasoleil, after careful review of its plans.

"It's a question of priorities," said Cy Neff, who manages Open Table ministry, an emergency homeless shelter, just steps away from the new parking deck.

He would rather see those dollars toward providing more affordable housing in Durham.

"Durham is only cool now because it's expensive, and the people who have lived here for a long time are no longer able to afford it. And you see in the shelter and everywhere else it is heavily racialized," Neff said. "We are having to turn away more people nightly than we were last year. Even on warm nights, like last night we're still at one-and-a-half times capacity.

Neff told ABC11 that the shelter closes indefinitely next Friday.

ABC11 asked the County whether money designated for capital improvements can be redirected to other needs.

The answer is no. Durham's Public Art policy requires the county manager to use 1% of the capital budget towards art spaces.

"These funds are placed in a special fund. As with many things funded by the County, should a current or future Board of Commissioners determine to do something different with respect to funding Public Art and take appropriate actions to that end, that would be their prerogative," said Dawn Dudley, senior public information specialist for Durham County.

The county is seeking applications for artists to contribute to other county buildings. Here's how to apply.