Monday, July 20, 2009

Golden Belt

On Friday night, I made a long overdue trip over to Golden Belt, a development of artist studios, lofts, and other cool performance and retail spaces situated in a renovated tobacco warehouse in downtown Durham (NC). I’d been meaning to go for a while—any place that bills itself as 155,000 square feet of creative energy is something I need to see. Friday night was the one year celebration of the place, which is certainly something to celebrate in these economic times when arts organizations in every corner of the country are having a tough time staying afloat.

Golden Belt ( looked quite prosperous on Friday night. I’d say a couple of thousand people turned out. There were several events: a site-specific dance created by Mark Dendy, a 48 hour art installation entitled “Accidents Advance Most of Our Lives” (I have dibs on this for my next novel title), and even a play. However, to me, the main event was a building full of visual artists’ studios. Certainly, this is not a new idea. Similar places, like the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA have been around for years. Artists receive fairly cheap rent, set up shop in a small studio space, and the public is invited to tour the premises under the influence of cheap wine. It’s a great set-up for artists. Most of the open studios were mobbed on Friday night.

There was some great work on display, but of course my favorite part was lurking around the edges to hear what the artists were saying to their visitors about their work. My favorite moment: a painter stood front of his beautiful but disturbing painting of three nude women, in various forms of bondage, discussing his work with three beautiful (clothed) women with purses. “I was a little less mature as a painter when I did this,” he said, “and I was mostly interested in putting these women in a historical context.” The women nodded knowingly, sipped their wine.
As a writer, I felt a pang of envy watching these sorts of interactions. If you’re a visual artist, you can pontificate at will, and you can receive hundreds of comments on your work in a single evening. People pop into your studio, and immediately react to what’s hanging on the wall. Several artists even had paintings in progress sitting on their easels--one had labeled her work “not finished.”

Of course, you know what I was thinking. How much I would love to slap a few pages up on an easel, and have ten people walk by, absorb them in a glance, and then I could tell what they thought, just from the look on their faces. And I wouldn’t mind a bit if someone wanted to take a few thousand words home for a hundred dollars. Be nice, wouldn’t it?

Lynn York is the author of The Piano Teacher (2004) and The Sweet Life (2007). She lives in Carrboro, NC. Her website is

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