Durham, North Carolina: A 21st Century Case Study on Gentrification, Artists, and the Creative Economy

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Artist communities both generate, and coalesce around, sites of cultural significance and aesthetic intrigue. In doing so, artists and artist-run spaces impact the cultural and socioeconomic value of place. The connection between urban transformation and artist communities is not a new concept but, as American cities adapt to post-industrial economies, economic development strategies increasingly leverage artists’ cultural capital to regenerate disinvested urban areas. Over the last decade, Durham, North Carolina was ranked as the top creative class metro in the country, exceeded national medians in arts economic impact studies, and scored in the highest percentile for arts vibrancy. Durham’s new creative economy has led to a rapid period of real estate development that now threatens to fragment and erase its local arts ecosystem. In spite of its top performance in national metrics, almost half of Durham’s independent arts venues have closed or relocated outside of the downtown core. This project investigates the history of Durham’s transformation, considers its influences, and measures its impacts on artist communities and artist-run spaces during the time period of Durham’s Cultural Master Plan, 2004-2019. Complementing current academic theories and original research with a decade of experience with Durham’s artist-run spaces, the author concludes with a series of observations and recommendations for the city’s cultural workers and policymakers.





Ritchie, Laura Jane (2020). Durham, North Carolina: A 21st Century Case Study on Gentrification, Artists, and the Creative Economy. Capstone project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22010.

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.