What do you get when you couple a scientist and an artist via match.com?
You get the secret to merging passion and business. And we get the Art of Cool Project (AoCP), a volunteer-run arts advocacy and presenting organization with a promising buzz.
The right brain and left brain work in concert as co-founders Cicely Mitchell, a biostatistician, and trumpeter Al Strong invent alternatives for presenting live music. Together they formed a nonprofit and pulled together a united front dedicated to promoting jazz. They’ve built a network of partnerships with organizations such as Hayti Heritage Center, Labourlove Art Gallery, Flanders Gallery, WNCU and ReverbNation.
The Project is drawing attention to up-and-coming jazz-style artists while raising awareness of the local scene. The nonprofit presents a unique program of concerts inside art galleries. Known as the After Hours Concert Series, events run in tandem with first and third Friday Art Walk in Raleigh and Durham respectively.
Mitchell says, “It’s a collaboration between the jazz and art communities to bring both creative mediums to supporters in an intimate setting.” With tickets starting at $10 you don’t need to empty your wallet to see high-quality talent.
The upcoming 2012-13 eclectic series of artists was selected by a committee that included some of Durham’s most famous musicians and innovative arts administrators.
The jazz programs initially caught my attention. However it was the hipster marketing that blew me away. Project enthusiasts seemingly tap into everything the digital world has to offer.
I knew I had to meet the person behind The Brand.
Last winter, Cicely Mitchell and I got together for lunch at a Durham burger joint. She graciously tolerated my trip down memory lane; I reminisced about my years as director of marketing and entertainment for the Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo, N.Y. Named after the planet in Kurt Vonnegut novels, the “Tralf” had a rich history as a popular jazz club. It was re-located to the city’s Theater District as part of a downtown revitalization initiative.
Originally ensconced in jazz, my programming niche expanded to R&B, blues, comedy, folk, world music and (on rare occasion) indie rock. The 400-seat venue drew crowds in excess of 100,000 people a year.
The Tralf was my first full-time job in showbiz; I got to meet Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Buddy Rich, Buddy Guy and Stanley Clarke. I got to work with Nina Simone, Etta James, B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown, Michael and Randy Brecker, Nancy Wilson, Ramsey Lewis, Warren Zevon, Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Sonny Rollins, Phyllis Hyman, the O’Jays, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Franks, Regina Belle, Chuck Mangione and Tower of Power -- all before my 29th birthday.
After lunch, Mitchell explained the due-diligence that led to a marketing plan. She studied the results of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of arts participation. She found a world of potential buried in statistical data. Examining charts and graphs she saw ripe opportunity.
I sat in awe of her keen ability to connect the dots between statistics and audience development.
Her sheer gusto drives the organization forward. In fact, hers was the sole nonprofit chosen for the Durham Chamber of Commerce Start-up Stampede, an all-expenses-paid business incubator. The program provided business mentorship and professional assistance.
AoCP is celebrating its one-year anniversary with a benefit concert Thursday night and an ongoing art exhibit “FRANCO and Frank Present: The Art of Cool Project” featuring posters by Luis Franco, and digital images by Frank Myers, all created to promote concerts. The exhibit, which opened earlier this month, runs through Sept. 7 in the Durham Arts Council Galleries on Morris Street downtown.
Fund-raising events and donations fuel the AoCP engine, maintain its creative hub and facilitate the development of a strategic plan to launch a brand new music festival in Durham.
Before meeting her horn-playing boyfriend, Mitchell listened to neo soul and old-school hip hop. An outstanding musician and professor, Strong regularly played around town. A short year ago he said, “Durham is brimming with local, vibrant and surprisingly under-appreciated talent.”
Today, Mitchell loves jazz. Strong and many more musicians enjoy a thriving audience.
At the intersection of art and analytics, there’s a sweet spot known as Art of Cool.
Contact Connie campanaro at firstname.lastname@example.org.