building a community



The Art Junction wishes to say a big thanks to the New Haven United Methodist Church for giving us the space we use for the gallery, art classes and studio space and to share it with our local community!  Thanks so much!  We have had over 600 visitors this year!

A Place for Creatives to Come and Perch


by Chris Breslin 3/11/13

Mercury Studio takes the temperature of Durham’s arts scene.

Unless you’re paying attention, you might mistake the “café work area” of Mercury Studio for another coffee shop, only without the periodic clamor of an espresso bean grinder. When I visited the controlled bustle of the workplace (equal emphases on work and space) this fall, I began to see rhythms and relationships that make this “community-minded coworking space” different from the third spaces in abundance here in Durham, North Carolina.

Near me sat an ER doctor at his personal desk diligently writing a novel. A “home-schooled” teen—which, in this case, deserves scare quotes, as the studio becomes equal parts “home” and “school” on any given school day—works slightly less assiduously through a Mark Twain novel. Later in the day, after-hours studio members drifted in (all members have keys and around the clock access) to work on their passions and/or professions, everyone from videographers to pastors and accountants. Everyone who uses Mercury Studio pays to be a member, and prices vary based on need and use, from the periodic café member to the more dedicated desk or studio member. Some members are full-timers hanging their shingle in the company of others. Others bear a litany of “who-also-______” titles: some who-also pursue a passion, some who-also start to work on the next thing to get them out of the job they hate. Whatever the scenario, they’ve been welcomed into a different way to do it at Mercury Studio, which opened in early 2012.

Katie DeConto helped start Mercury in part because of her first job after college, an office gig that made her wonder if “pushing papers is all there is, you might as well get comfortable,” says the 27-year-old New England transplant. But she relished the fact that her job let her build relationships. “I began to realize what a wasted opportunity it would be not to be able to get to know people who are different,” says DeConto.


Meanwhile, Milligan College friend and trained painter Megan Jones contacted Katie with similar thoughts. “Both of us were realizing the value of a community of people who keep you accountable but also respect the work that you’re doing,” says Jones. Connecting professionals, part-time creatives, and professional artists is especially key for Jones. She says, “Bringing actual artists into the picture elevates the view of artists as professionals and not just ‘art as hobby.'” Non-artists and artists need each other, for they each have something unique to offer the other, says Jones. And artists certainly need other dedicated artists to provide the kind of mentorship and companionship specific to their craft. One of Jones’s early major contributions to Mercury was the vision of professional rapport among like and differently skilled creative professionals.

In this pursuit, Mercury has been true to its elemental namesake: acting as a thermometer and indicating the kind of sea change bubbling up from its surroundings. Without restaurants, art galleries, a major indie record label, and other co-working and creative entrepreneurs around it, the studio might seem like an oddball, either unaware in trying economic times, or painfully idealistic about the desire for people to want to be around each other. Instead, Mercury Studio fits in. It makes total sense in the landscape and dynamic of a city named by The Atlantic as the most creative-class rich metro area in the nation.

Located on the edge of a growing and renewing progressive Southern city, Mercury Studio differs from other small business incubators in that it doesn’t merely serve as a space to get off the ground and then leave, but rather a more stable spot in which to create. Rather than viewing Durham, with it’s affordable cost of living and entrepreneurial spirit, as a launching pad to bigger and better things, many of Mercury Studio’s inhabitants are committed to growth and welfare of their fair Bull City. But ask if Mercury Studio is a “Christian business,” and DeConto shifts in her seat. “This place is so saturated with Christianity that almost everyone knows. We’ve tried to build it on community and grace, concern and consideration of everyone around you. There are no crosses anywhere though.

“It’s very natural,” DeConto says, “all of it flowing out of what we want to be as people and what Jesus might do.”

While half of the Studio houses carrels and café tables and the other half gallery and artist studio space, the entirety bears Jones’s aesthetic touch. Almost every detail of the old storefront, from its repurposed doors-make carrels, to its gallery space bearing the art of a renowned concert poster artist, hints at the intersection of creativity and hospitality that DeConto and Jones have fostered.

In his book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield says, “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” Mercury Studio is designed precisely to combat this sort of existence. While many artists know and experience Pressfield’s description, these co-workers feast on something more than either the mere proximity of coffee-shop working or the isolation of secluded studio life. Through “art salons,” workshops, and other events, the artists stared criticism and ridicule in the face. The result is something strange and at times downright trinitarian: finding one’s existence enriched and passions flourishing in mutuality. These salons offer critique and interpretation for finished or unfinished work, and have served to raise the water level for local artists. They represent hospitable safe havens from the harsh world of inattentive and often unfair criticism, instead providing room for contemplation and advice. In the past several months, Mercury Studio has begun monthly “Listening Rooms,” events that invite local musicians not only to perform but to receive questions, offer answers, and provide an interactive glimpse into new and often unfinished material.

While Mercury’s doors have been open for a year, Jones and DeConto are excited to see how every new member will change the identity of their experiment. DeConto says she is continuing to learn “. . . the power of giving a person a space to belong without expectation. I’ve seen that in my home, my community, and in my church. I’ve watched the effect on a person who has not previously been given that, being told that they are allowed and accepted and cared for. To get to watch them blossom and achieve things.”


Changes are also indicators to Jones and DeConto that the mustard seed of an idea they planted in early 2012 is growing into something much bigger: a witness of creativity and hospitality to the city around it, a place for workers, like birds, to come and perch.

Community-based Art for Social Change


By Kathie deNobriga and Mat Schwarzman

Community-based art is creative expression that emerges from communities of people working together to improve their individual and collective circumstances.

Community-based art involves a wide range of social contexts and definitions, and includes an understanding of “communities” that includes not only geographical places, but also groups of people identified with historical or ethnic traditions, or dedicated to a particular belief or spirit. Those who identify themselves as community-based artists are concerned with the ways art can function within many different types of public arenas, including community development, corrections, education, intergenerational communication, aging, the environment, healthcare, technology, politics, disability, conflict resolution, community regeneration, cultural citizenship and more. They are working in all media, in all disciplines, in all locations. They can be found in traditional galleries, theaters, museums and centers of higher learning, as well as hospitals, unions, community centers, prisons, community-based organizing groups, wilderness areas, youth organizations and juvenile halls, and public schools.


They are committed to bringing the arts to bear on the widest possible range of social conditions and challenges facing our communities. This includes, but is not limited to, issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, ableism, and all forms of discrimination that systematically deny individuals’ rights and opportunities because of physical traits, family background or social identity. These efforts seek to create social change at every level of society, from the most “personal” to the most “political.”

At the heart of this social vision is a belief in cultural and creative expression as a means to affecting deep and lasting social change.

Laws may be altered, court decisions may be handed down, officials may be voted in and out of office–but if the majority of the people do not believe in the possibility and the rightness of their/our common cause, nothing authentic or long-lasting will be changed. This is where art, artists and artist educators play an essential role. If we want freedom, we must promote free expression. If we want equity, we must have equal access and support in expressing ourselves. If we want respect and love and beauty among us and all our many communities, we must actively and systematically promote it through our art and through our teaching of others. Teaching, in this sense, becomes a political act, a conscious effort to build a movement of people prepared to facilitate and participate in social change.


Community art is by its nature dialectical. It is an expression of both individual and group identity.

All creative expression, no matter how “original,” is an expression of both individual and group life. In recognizing this, community art distinguishes itself from more conventional Western approaches in both vocabulary and theoretical approach. Instead of being viewed as an isolated individual genius, the artist (or artists) serves as a cultural catalyst, an integral part of a larger process of social intervention and transformation.  Through art, we can challenge many of our society’s deepest-seated assumptions, such as the boundaries between self and other, “artist” and “non-artist,” present and past, male and female, young and old, “normal” and “abnormal.” The community artist builds upon the power of artistic creation and expression to spark new ideas and elicit new actions, both from people who participate in the creative process and those who witness its results.

Art can catalyze critical thinking, inspire individuals to work together, create visions, heal.This energy, in turn, helps catalyze, inspire and heal the community artist who facilities its development.

*This article was written in 1999, as an introduction to the Community Arts Training (CAT) Directory, a list of individuals and organizations offering quality training in the field of community arts.


Denver arts community stirs $1.76 billion in economic activity in 2011


A visitor to the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver spends a Tuesday morning viewing the various works of art. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

Denver arts community stirs $1.76 billion in economic activity in 2011

By Jason Blevins The Denver Post

Calling his city “the cultural capital of the West,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Wednesday heralded the $1.76 billion in economic activity stirred by the metro area’s bustling arts community in 2011.

Citing Denver as a leader among U.S. cities climbing out of the recession, Hancock joined several hundred arts supporters early Wednesday in celebrating the financial contribution art and culture provide metro Denver’s economy.

“The arts are a huge component of Denver’s appeal. We all know a smart city needs a diverse economy in order to thrive and that includes a robust culture sector,” Hancock told the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts gathering at downtown’s Four Seasons hotel. “The arts and culture are playing a strong and significant role in our economy.”

Arts and culture indeed do more than entertain and educate metro Denver’s residents and visitors. The CBCA’s biennial economic impact report shows that the 310 organizations of the 23-year-old Scientific and Cultural Facilities District — which spans seven metro counties — delivered a direct economic impact of $527 million in 2011, a 36 percent increase over the 2009 impact.

With indirect spending and capital expenditures, total economic activity was $1.76 billion, up 18.4 percent from 2009.  “If any one of our businesses during this period of time had held steady, we are celebrating success. Thirty-six percent increase from 2009: It is the largest economic impact ever recorded in the history of the SCFD,” said Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president Kelly Brough. “We have a phrase for that in the business community. When we hear numbers like that we say: ‘Shut the front door.’ ”

More than 2 million visitors from outside Colorado toured Denver’s cultural attractions, including the Clyfford Still Museum. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)


Denver’s transition from a gateway to mountain fun into a bona fide tourist destination has been fueled by the metro area’s “cultural renaissance,” said Visit Denver chief Richard Scharf.

More than 2 million visitors from outside of Colorado toured Denver’s cultural attractions in 2011, generating $378 million in spending. “I have to say they all pay taxes, too, that we don’t have to pay,” said Scharf, adding that all but two of the metro area’s top 10 attractions are SCFD-funded.

“We also believe that the brand of the city is built from the ground up,” Scharf said, noting that the sixth annual Denver Arts Week, which kicks off Friday with 250 discounted or free events by 170 metro arts organizations, is designed to help people in Denver understand the importance of the local arts community.

Since its inception in 1989, the taxpayer-supported SCFD has distributed more than $2 billion to metro arts organizations. Since 2001, the district has distributed $424 million to its 310 member groups, including $41.9 million in 2011. Arts, cultural and scientific groups employed 9,354 workers in 2011 — a 7 percent increase over 2009 — with a payroll of $145 million.

$1.76 BILLION: That’s the economic activity in the Denver area’s arts scene — and arts supporters gathered Wednesday to celebrate the financial contribution from art and culture. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows arts, entertainment and recreation employment in Colorado — including jobs in cultural, sports, gaming and amusement venues — is up 2.9 percent this year over last year, or about 1,300 jobs. That compares with about 1.7 percent growth for the state overall.

Arts and cultural event attendance reached its second highest peak ever in 2011, with 14.6 million visits fueled by more than 400,000 visitors at the Denver Art Museum’s “King Tut” exhibit and more than 50,000 attending the Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

Nearly 9 million of those tickets were free or reduced, revealing the arts community’s dedication to “being available to everyone,” said Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, or

Art by the numbers

$145 million: Total payroll for arts, cultural and scientific groups in metro Denver in 2011 , up from $131 million in 2009.

50,460: Volunteers who worked at arts and cultural institutions across metro Denver in 2011, up from 42,226 in 2009.

1,500: New arts and culture jobs added in metro Denver between 2001 and 2011, paying $66 million in salaries.

$203 million: Capital expenditures in arts from 2001 to 2011. Attendance during the decade was 142 million, corporate sponsorships were $102 million.

Source: 2011 Colorado Business Committee for the Arts economic study

Read more: Denver arts community stirs $1.76 billion in economic activity in 2011 – The Denver Post