Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill October 13, 2021
SEASON Early voting for Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties begins this week. Will Chapel Hill go pro growth or slow growth? Plus our Orange County endorsements.
October 13, 2021
Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 39
Author and religion scholar Kate Bowler at her Durham office, p. 18 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA
CONTENTS NEWS 6
A Duke physician attests to the crucial role of community health care workers in the halls of Congress. BY ANNE BLYTHE Our endorsements for the Orange County municipal and CHCCS school board elections. BY JANE PORTER
FEATURE 13 Chapel Hill's town council election this year could chart the course for a pro-growth or slow growth future. BY LEIGH TAUSS
ARTS & CULTURE 17
Talking with Bland Simpson about the 50th anniversary of his debut album, his new book, and what he loves about North Carolina. BY HARRIS WHELESS
WE M A DE THIS P U B L I S H E RS Wake County
Kate Bowler's new book, No Cure For Being Human, grapples with faith, a cancer diagnosis, and a culture full of false promises. BY SARAH EDWARDS 19 This year's CLICK! Photography Festival has an apt theme: "persevere." BY RACHEL SIMON
20 Local theater companies take stock of the losses they incured during the pandemic lockdown—and what comes next. BY BYRON WOODS
MaryAnn Kearns Durham/Orange/ Chatham Counties
John Hurld E D I TO RI A L Editor in Chief Jane Porter
C R E AT I V E
Managing Editor Geoff West
Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards
Senior Writer Leigh Tauss
Staff Writers Jasmine Gallup Thomasi McDonald
THE REGULARS 4 Quickbait
Editorial Assistant Lena Geller
Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods
COVER Illustration by Jon Fuller
Contributors Will Atkinson, Madeline Crone, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan
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Making Headway BY JASMINE GALLUP email@example.com
aleigh tourism will take a long time to recover, but it’s on its way back up, according to city officials. Data on the city’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was presented to the city council this fall.
Are people traveling? U.S. airline passengers up
of Americans have plans to travel within the next six months
from July 2020 to 2021
Raleigh tourism expected to recover
Business travel to Raleigh expected to recover
International travel at RDU expected to recover
Hotels by the numbers
8 728 64% 89%
new hotels in Raleigh new rooms
To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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room occupancy demand in Wake County
-$3.1m hospitality tax revenue
from FY 2019-20
OP - E D
Room for (Short-Term) Rent Why not leverage short term rentals to generate tourism and help control gentrification? BY GREGG STEBBEN email@example.com
hen it comes to affordable housing and gentrification in Raleigh, I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. But I would like to suggest that I might be able to help with at least one answer. If you follow the contentious debate about affordable housing in Raleigh at all, you know a common refrain is that there is no single answer, but success will require a combination of many different answers and solutions. Meanwhile, if you recognize my name, it may be because you heard it during Raleigh’s six-year battle over the legalization of short-term rentals via platforms like Airbnb. Or you may have heard my name associated with the “Save Six” movement in Five Points a few years ago which was launched to prevent the destruction of six older homes that provided affordable housing for renters downtown. As far as “Save Six” goes, I helped convince the Hayes Barton Baptist Church, which owns the homes, to tear down as few of the houses as possible for their expansion project and then designate those homes which could be “saved” as affordable workforce housing for local teachers, healthcare workers, and first responders. On the Airbnb front, I was the first person in Raleigh cited for having a short-term rental in my house. Rather than roll over when I got the citation requiring me to pay up to $500 a day for every day I continued to rent out the granny unit in my house, I kept renting the room out and fought City Hall. And finally won. I began renting out the room on Airbnb in October 2014, and over the next five and a half years until the beginning of the COVID lockdown, that room enabled us to earn almost $110,000 in income. I also learned a lot of new lessons about
business, met a lot of great people, and learned to be a great ambassador for the City of Raleigh to the people who stayed at my house. One of the reasons I have always been such an enthusiastic promoter of shortterm rentals in Raleigh is that I have always believed that a platform like Airbnb could be leveraged to provide additional value beyond making money. For instance, I think the Airbnb platform offers great tools that could be used by a city like Raleigh to help address affordable housing. Take my house. Renting one room in my house as a short-term rental paid our entire mortgage every month. For over five years. That’s affordable housing. And it was Airbnb that made it possible for us and lots of other folks throughout Raleigh to create their own affordable housing plans. But what about people who are at risk of losing their homes because of gentrification or for other financial reasons? Could platforms like Airbnb be used to help them turn their existing homes into affordable housing, too? And just to add a curveball: Could Airbnb also be used to help create new tourism and cultural outreach opportunities for the City of Raleigh? If I was in charge, here’s how I would make all of that happen: Over at the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website, there’s a page that lists more than 50 “African-American Heritage Attractions in Raleigh, N.C.” Have you ever heard of these sites? I’ve shown this webpage to lots of people, and their responses are almost always one of complete surprise. Meanwhile, there is little correlation between where those sites are and where most Airbnbs are located in Raleigh.
PHOTO VIA PEXELS
That, to me, means there are two great missed opportunities: • The first opportunity is for the City of Raleigh to promote these Heritage Sites together as a tourism destination that offers great educational opportunities and positive social impact; • The second opportunity is to help at-risk residents and others in Heritage Site neighborhoods to use their homes as short-term rentals. Successfully combining these two efforts will help people stay in their homes, help preserve the historic culture of these neighborhoods, and offer those who stay in a short-term rental in these neighborhoods a unique “visit and live-it” experience. Meanwhile, beyond providing those who offer places in their homes to visitors on Airbnb with income that can dramatically reduce their cost of housing and ensure they can stay in their homes, it will also teach them valuable business skills. In addition, this plan helps the City of Raleigh address one aspect of affordable housing and gentrification, while also bringing more tourist dollars to Raleigh. Success would also help the City of Raleigh continue
to position itself as a city of creative thinking and creative solutions and innovation. Over the years, I’ve shared this idea with lots of people, including former Mayor McFarlane and Councilor Corey Branch, to business people like Larry Larson from Larry’s Coffee. Lots of people said, “Great idea!” but no one raised their hand to help amplify the message. I even tried talking with some of Airbnb’s biggest opponents in Raleigh, former Councilors Stef Mendell and Russ Stephenson, about this while they were still in office. But that was then. Short-term rentals were still technically illegal in Raleigh. At the same time, priorities in the City of Raleigh were very different. Today, shortterm rentals in the City of Raleigh are legal. And when it comes to affordable housing, according to Mayor Baldwin, “Housing affordability was the central issue of my campaign for Mayor last year, as well many of our Council members.” Could short-term rentals play a role in helping to address Raleigh’s gentrification and housing affordability issues? What do you think, Raleigh? Is it worth a try? W INDYweek.com
October 13, 2021
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Elevating Voices A Duke physician testifies about the crucial role community health care workers have played in reaching the Latino community during the pandemic. BY ANNE BLYTHE firstname.lastname@example.org
iviana Martinez-Bianchi, a Duke physician who has elevated Latino voices from humble lunch tables to halls of power throughout the coronavirus pandemic, testified before members of the U.S. Congress in late September about one of the silver linings from the past 18 months. Known as “promotores de salud” in Spanish, and widely deployed throughout Latin America, community health workers are the trained people who go into neighborhoods and workplaces to deliver crucial public health information. They have helped increase vaccination rates, guided parents and children to critical COVID testing, and provided a long-needed bridge from difficult-to-access health care systems to underserved populations. Throughout the pandemic, many Latino organizations deployed teams of these workers to neighborhoods and events where the community health workers understood the culture of those they were trying to help, while also speaking their language. “Community health workers are integral to the successful deployment of health care in the community,” Martinez-Bianchi told a joint meeting of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Education and Labor in late September. Employing community health workers throughout North Carolina has been a long-held goal but was jump-started by the pandemic. The state Department of Health and Human Services started exploring the possibility of a community health worker initiative in October 2014. In 2018, a group of stakeholders who held summits and listening sessions after looking at similar initiatives in other southeastern states issued a report with 6
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recommendations for how to get such a project off the ground. By August 2020, the state announced the selection of seven vendors that would hire and manage more than 250 community health workers to be deployed to 50 counties.
Having an impact Curamericas Global, which has an office in Raleigh, was selected to help launch initiatives in Alamance, Buncombe, Chatham, Craven, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Franklin, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Guilford, Harnett, Henderson, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Surry, Warren, Wake, Wayne, Wilkes and Vance counties. Andrew Herrera, executive director of Curamericas Global, joined a recent Zoom meeting of the Latinx Advocacy Team and Interdisciplinary Network for COVID-19, or LATIN-19, an organization founded by Martinez-Bianchi and several of her fellow Latina health care workers. Herrera’s organization began reaching out to Spanish-speaking families across North Carolina in the early days of the pandemic when it was clear that Hispanic residents were being hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19. Many were on the frontlines, working in food processing plants, grocery stores, the construction industry and other jobs deemed essential that often did not provide opportunities for social distancing or working from home. Though nearly 10 percent of the North Carolina population identifies as Hispanic, they represented 44 percent of the COVID cases in July 2020.
Two rapid response operators from La Semilla hand out bags of personal protective equipment during a COVID-19 vaccine community event in Durham PHOTO BY ANNE BLYTHE
Curamericas initially worked in partnership with the Consulate General of Guatemala in Raleigh to get more than 500 volunteers out to reach 10,000 Latino families by August 2020. Now the organization is working with 19 community-based organizations that already had crucial connections in the 26-county region, as well as paying workers at least $20 per hour, according to the organization’s website. Some of those community-based partners include El Centro Hispano, where Fiorella Horna is the COVID-19 Project leader to 40 community health workers in the Triangle area. She pointed out that by September of this year, Latinos represented 18 percent of the COVID cases, a large drop from the July 2020 peak. “I will send this to my community health workers often, I’ll share the dashboard and say, ‘Hey you guys, this is what we’re impacting. A little bit of what you’re doing is leveling the field,’” Horna said during the LATIN-19 Zoom call.
Find, teach and connect In recognition of the impact that community health workers have had during the pandemic, DHHS announced that North Carolina was recently awarded $9 million, or $3 million for each of the next three years, in federal aid to expand the Community Health Worker Initiative to all 100 counties. Maggie Sauer, director of the DHHS Office of Rural Health, said community health workers can help improve equity in access to care for communities that have faced systemic barriers for decades. Horna and others who have worked with the community health workers during the pandemic explained how these teams connect to someone who might need help overcoming such obstacles. “As part of their work, they know that their role as a community health worker, a trusted community leader, is to find,” Horna said.
“They’ll go into neighborhoods, they’ll go to work sites, they’ll go to shopping centers, laundromats, churches, businesses, wherever you need to find people.” The mission, Horna said, is for them to “find, teach and connect.”
Thinking beyond the pandemic Many are out in red or green T-shirts, approaching people and trying to get them information in bite-size pieces. Their job has evolved. “The first six months of COVID, everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s this virus?” Virus, virus, virus,” Horna said. “Then the next six months, it was ‘Oh my gosh, we have vaccine, what’s this about the vaccine?’ Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine. Now we’re in this mode where we’re like, ‘Let us talk about your health, your mental health, your well-being and what are you doing to stay safe.’ And then we can couch the conversations about the vaccine and testing.” More recently, the community health workers have been getting questions about vaccine boosters, how to find COVID tests as schools reopened and queries about when children younger than 12 will be eligible for a COVID vaccine. “The most important part of our work is community support,” Horna said. “Our community health workers are our eyes and ears in the community, but they are also those providing the support, giving the motivation, checking in on people who are anxious, feeling depressed.” The community health workers can lend a needed ear, then connect people to resources they might not otherwise have known existed. “It’s still there you guys, I know you guys know it, that people are heavy-laden with what’s going on,” Horna said. “So our community health workers are there and they bring them back to those community support entities at El Centro to
do food or housing, or maybe it’s financial assistance or maybe it’s just having someone on the phone to talk to, a lot of that lately, so maybe it’s just somebody on the phone.”
Think outside the box Martinez-Bianchi and others on the weekly LATIN-19 Zoom calls would like to see the community health workers used more, potentially even trained to administer vaccines to the homebound and others who have trouble getting to a health center for care. “My hope is that we can go beyond the pandemic and continue to have community health worker teams sustainably funded, not just during an emergency crisis,” Martinez-Bianchi said. “There are crises happening all of the time. There are multiple epidemics that are happening to our community.” She mentioned the high rate of uninsured people in the Latino community, particularly in Durham and Orange counties, which have many places to get health care such as Lincoln Community Health Center, Duke Health, UNC Health, Piedmont Health and private practices that are not always easy to navigate. “Latinos in the rest of the country are about 26 percent uninsured,” Martinez-Bianchi said, citing an ABC11 report. “When we come to Durham and Orange counties, we are talking about 37 percent of Latinos without insurance. “That really marginalizes our community, so a community health worker program that can work together with Lincoln, with Duke, with other private practices and multiple practices in the area… we really need to think outside of the box about how we provide family health care. …The pandemic has really unveiled so many different problems.” W
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“They’ll go into neighborhoods, they’ll go to work sites, they’ll go to shopping centers, laundromats, churches, businesses, wherever you need to find people.”
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October 13, 2021
Orange County Primary Endorsements BY JANE PORTER email@example.com
ear INDY readers and voters, Welcome to our final slate of endorsements for the 2021 local election cycle. Early voting for Orange, Durham, and Wake counties’ general elections begin this week, and we want to bring you the resources you need to head to the polls well-informed. We’ve already made endorsements for Durham races. We aren’t endorsing in the Wake County municipal races, but we do have candidate questionnaires from candidates running in Wake available on our website, in addition to questionnaires from Durham and Orange candidates. To make our endorsements in Orange County municipal races in Hillsborough, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, plus the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board race, we relied heavily on our own reporting from the past year. We also considered messages from Orange County residents and community members; endorsements from local leaders, advocacy organizations, and PACs; listened to candidate forums; read candidate questionnaires submitted to us and other outlets; and decided, as a staff, who we truly believe will be the best representatives to lead Orange County’s three major municipalities over the course of their two- or fouryear terms. All submitted candidate questionnaires are available on our website, and we’d urge you to read them in addition to these endorsements. We also have information online about early voting and voter registration online. Election Day is November 2. Whether you live in Orange, Durham, or one of the Wake County municipalities holding elections this year, please do your civic duty and cast your ballots. Your local governments need your voice at the polls!
October 13, 2021
HILLSBOROUGH MAYOR (TWO-YEAR TERM)
Jenn Weaver Other candidates: None
Hillsborough mayor Jenn Weaver has accomplished a lot in the past two years, especially around issues of equity, social justice, and environmental sustainability. She also guided the town through the COVID-19 pandemic adeptly. In 2020, Weaver led the passage of a resolution with actionable items for the town to address including joining the Government Alliance on Racial Equity and establishing a community police advisory board. Weaver has championed bringing diverse voices to the table in city government and the town’s advisory boards. In her second term, Weaver says she will focus on developing a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, financing and implementing upgrades and repairs to the town’s water and wastewater systems, and following through on recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Re-Imagining Public Safety, which will come before the board, town manager, and police chief soon. Though she has no opponent, we are happy to endorse Mayor Weaver for another term.
HILLSBOROUGH BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS: TWO OPEN SEATS (Commissioners serve four-year terms)
Robb English and Kathleen Ferguson Other candidates: Anna Linvill A recreation specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill, Commissioner Robb English brings a valuable perspective to the Town of Hillsborough’s work around sustainability and climate action. As a member of several town and county boards, including ones addressing water and sewer, climate action, and parks and recreation, English will be well-positioned to work on the town’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan—designed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, advocate for mixed-use and mixed-income developments and higher density zoning, and address water and sewer infrastructure needs—that the board will likely pass and implement next year. As a 2019 appointee to the board, English has done good work so far; we would like to see him elected for a full term. Since 2013, Commissioner Kathleen Ferguson has championed all that’s great about Hillsborough—its arts, culture, history, community centers, and small, independently owned businesses. Ferguson is also a staunch advocate for affordable housing: she says she wants to see redevelopment coming to downtown Hillsborough include affordable housing units alongside hospitality, retail, and arts-oriented spaces and says she hopes to see a dedicated one
cent of property tax allocated to affordable housing in the town’s budget. Ferguson also has good ideas around community engagement and inclusivity in government. Her suggestions include creating a youth advisory board, exploring offering stipends to the town’s advisory board members to encourage engagement, and exploring participatory budgeting. We endorse Ferguson for another term. Candidate Anna Linvill, who has lived all over the world, has done important work for the Hillsborough Arts Council. She also correctly identifies existing issues that need addressing around the town’s Historic District Commission processes, economic development, and vision for long-term development. (To be fair, the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which will address development, is in the works). But Linvill’s disregard for the town budgeting $40,000 for diversity and equity training is bothersome. Our understanding of Hillsborough’s diversity and equity expenditure is not just to provide training but to educate officials and staff about, and to develop a plan to address, ways to include diverse talent and provide equal opportunities in all facets of government business, volunteerism, and community engagement. To us, this seems like $40,000 well spent.
CARRBORO MAYOR (TWO-YEAR TERM)
The US Environmental Protection Agency is seeking
Other candidates: Michael Benson Damon Seils has served on Carrboro’s town council for eight years, and we are pleased to endorse him for mayor. Seils began his town government service as a member of its planning board, where he advocated for the development of a comprehensive plan. Now, Carrboro is poised to adopt and implement a community-driven plan, Carrboro Connects, which will guide decision-making on sustainability and climate action, growth and development, affordability, and other priorities. Seils also identifies improved transit service as a key priority and, as mayor, would oversee the implementation of Chapel Hill’s Short Range Transit Plan, adding seven-day-aweek bus service throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill for the first time. The town has also made progress on the North-South Bus Rapid Transit project. Seils has been a champion for equity while serving on the council, leading an effort to send town leaders to racial equity workshops and finding funds to pay for continued training. As a core member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), Carrboro played a key role in developing the One Orange Countywide Racial Equity Plan. And Seils, a gay man, has worked with EqualityNC and the Campaign for Southern Equality to help communities across North Carolina to adopt nondiscrimination ordinances following the abolition of HB 2. Seils’s opponent, Michael Benson, a local restaurant owner, did not return a candidate questionnaire. But in an email to the INDY, Benson says he “is against the [Southern Branch/203] library project in its current financial state.” Seils supports the project, as do we. Benson says he supports a light rail project connecting Carrboro to Durham. That sounds great, but we think focusing on Bus Rapid Transit options and building out the town’s greenways are (right now) a bit more feasible.
CARRBORO TOWN COUNCIL: THREE SEATS (Members serve four-year terms)
Danny Nowell, Barbara Foushee Other candidates: Randee HavenO’Donnell, Jacquelyn Gist, Aja Kelleher We’re endorsing two candidates for three seats on the Town Council who we feel will best represent Carrboro’s changing demographics, interests, and needs. We are impressed by the energy that Danny Nowell has brought to his campaign and with the 32-year-old’s dedication to organizing for racial and economic justice. On a council whose youngest members are 48 years old, we think Nowell will bring new ideas and a fresh perspective and hopefully will help move the town forward in some
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areas where it has stalled—namely providing alternate modes of transportation to decrease car dependency, improve transit connectivity, pedestrian routes and bikeways, and move the town toward a sustainable transit system. We also like Nowell’s platforms on participatory budgeting and re-evaluating zoning for more density for small businesses and multifamily housing. Barbara Foushee is an able incumbent and, as the council’s only Black member, an important voice for the town, particularly as Carrboro grapples with the pillars of race and equity for the foundation of its comprehensive plan. Foushee understands the intersectionality of the issues of affordable housing, climate change, and environmental justice, and how to approach these issues through a lens of racial equity. She also has ideas around how to help residents and families most in need, such as raising the minimum wage, investing in education, and increasing the supply and variety of housing. INDYweek.com
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Foushee and Nowell seem to appreciate the need for alternate modes of transportation in Carrboro. This will mean having serious conversations about building out greenways and trails for cyclists and pedestrians. We have endorsed both Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell in the past, and they are both committed Democrats who have served Carrboro admirably for a combined 48 years. But we’ve heard from several residents that their stances, especially on development and building out Carrboro’s greenway system, have become reactionary rather than truly progressive. We feel that one important way to move forward with transit alternatives in Carrboro is to develop the Bolin Creek Greenway. Environmental conservation and protection is important, but to truly address climate change, cities and towns will have to offer residents alternate modes of transportation. Building a paved path along Bolin Creek, which runs through Carrboro and connects to Chapel Hill, would address this. It’s time to have the conversation again and consider action, or Carrboro will continue to lag behind its neighbors to the east in terms of connectivity, genuine livability and equity. While we don’t know enough about the fifth candidate in this race, Aja Kelleher, to endorse her, we’d encourage readers to check out her platform. According to her candidate questionnaire, Kelleher is an engineer and, if elected, would be the first Asian American woman on the council. She has good ideas around sustainability. She opposes the council’s decision to permit the Lloyd Farm development.
CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO CITY SCHOOLS: THREE SEATS (Members serve four-year terms)
George Griffin, Riza Jenkins, Mike Sharp Other candidates: Meredith Pruitt, Tim Sookram, Ryan Jackson There are three open seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education and exactly three school board candidates we are proud to endorse. George Griffin, a lifelong educator with a doctorate in special education, has worked as a special ed teacher, high school principal, N.C. Central University professor, program director, and school evaluator/accreditor. He identifies eliminating the school system’s racial opportunity gap as his top priority and notes that to do so will require “significant systemic changes in practice,” including addressing the de facto segregation that occurs in academically gifted programs and disparate out-of-school suspension rates. Griffin is a proponent of using alternatives to out-of-school suspension, suggests using the Racial Impact Assessment Tool as a starting point to address racial inequities, and lauds the school system’s recent hiring of a chief equity and engagement officer. 10
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Riza Jenkins is a vice president at a clean energy company and has served the CHCCS community in various capacities for nearly a decade, including as a School Improvement Team member and the immediate past president of the CHCCS PTA Council. Jenkins says her priorities include increasing the intentional work around diversity and equity, providing social and emotional support and enrichments to students, and expanding summer learning programs. Like Griffin, Jenkins supports using the Racial Equity Impact Assessment Tool and says CHCCS should review its policies and programs by doing an equity assessment. Mike Sharp, a 4th grade teacher for Durham Public Schools, has taught in CHCCS in the past and has worked as a teacher since 2002. Sharp calls for a commitment to equity and is clear-eyed about how the system has failed to prioritize equity in the past. Sharp also is clear about the system’s staffing issues and has ideas to recruit and retain educators including budgeting for permanent substitute teachers and better defining expectations of teachers around workloads, coverage for other teachers, and break times. Importantly, Sharp makes a point of advocating for disabled students, for whom he says additional staffers are needed, and for LGBTQ students. All three candidates share our reservations about the roles of School Resource Officers, say the state legislature should comply with the state’s constitutional mandate to fund the Leandro plan, and have an accurate understanding of critical race theory. All opposed House Bill 324, a bill vetoed by Governor Cooper that tried to limit the teaching of systemic racism in public schools. The same cannot be said about candidate Ryan Jackson, who said he supported House Bill 324 during a school board candidate forum. Jackson doesn’t have a campaign website, and he didn’t return a candidate questionnaire, so we don’t know what his views are on much else. But supporting House Bill 324 alone is, to us, disqualifying. Meredith Pruitt, a close friend and former colleague of Margaret Spellings (a former UNC System President and George W. Bush’s education secretary who made disparaging comments about LGBTQ “lifestyles”), says the Board of Education should make decisions based on data. While that sounds good if you’re trying to grow your tech startup, it’s not clear what that actually means in practice for a school board member. Pruitt has raised $14,000 in venture capital—er, campaign contributions—the most of any CHCCS school board candidate probably ever. That’s good for Pruitt because she’s going to need every penny running as a Republican in Orange County. Tim Sookram, local dad and Gentle Robot frontman, did not return a questionnaire and doesn’t appear to have a campaign website. We get the impression that Sookram isn't taking his campaign terribly seriously.
CHAPEL HILL MAYOR (TWO-YEAR TERM)
Pam Hemminger Other candidates: Hongbin Gu, Zachary Boyce Pam Hemminger led probably the most successful local COVID-19 response in the state and, her supporters will tell you, she went above and beyond to do it. Hemminger, in partnership with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, made sure students didn’t go hungry, providing more than a million meals and 11,000 free books to local children. The town helped provide more than $2.4 million in housing assistance to Chapel Hill families, and Hemminger and the council successfully balanced safety with the needs of the businesses by facilitating expanded outdoor dining, providing grants, and partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to provide PPE. Hemminger and the council adopted a Climate Action Plan that identifies measures the town can take immediately to start addressing climate change. They also convened task forces on public safety and civil rights. Other achievements include recruiting businesses; creating public sector jobs; purchasing the Legion Road property for a public park; adopting a mobility plan and completing new sections of greenways; awarding $5.2 million to create nearly 300 affordable housing units; regulating short-term rentals and taking steps to revitalize and spur economic development in a languishing downtown. Hemminger is a solid leader who gives space for open discussion and disagreement on council, allows for different perspectives, and works to build consensus without creating rifts. She will be instrumental in guiding the town through the pandemic recovery and rewriting its Land Use Management Ordinance. Hemminger’s primary opponent, Hongbin Gu, has been an important voice on the council, and her work reflects an admirable commitment to environmental consciousness and sustainability. We don’t want to see her leave the council, but we don’t agree with her assessment that Chapel Hill is on the wrong course. On the contrary, Chapel Hill looks to be growing in ways that it has long needed to and embracing the diversity in its residents that it has always said it is committed to. We enthusiastically endorse Hemminger for a third term.
CHAPEL HILL TOWN COUNCIL: FOUR OPEN SEATS (Members serve four-year terms)
Paris Miller-Foushee, Karen Stegman, Camille Berry Other candidates: Robert Beasley, Vimala Rajendran, Adam Searing, Andrew Creech, Jeffrey Hoagland Karen Stegman is described by her colleagues on council and others as the governing body’s “moral conscience,” a mentor to younger, newer council members, and a close partner to others with whom she’s achieved important goals. Stegman, together with departing council member Allen Buansi, created the Criminal Justice Debt Fund, a program that provides financial support to low-income residents mired in the local courts system. She was also one of four council members who championed adoption of the 2020 Community Safety Resolution Together, which banned chokeholds and made other policy changes in Chapel Hill’s police department, and, building on years of advocacy from the Black Lives Matter movement, she helped launch the council’s Re-imagining Community Safety Task Force. A proponent of an affordable housing strategy that has seen more affordable units built recently than ever before, Stegman is mindful of the town’s most vulnerable residents. She and council member Michael Parker brought a petition to the town calling for property tax subsidies for low-income homeowners whose property taxes rose to unaffordable levels in the 2021 revaluation. We are happy to endorse Stegman for another term. We also endorse newcomers Paris Miller-Foushee and Camille Berry. Paris Miller-Foushee, an educator, has been involved in community service for decades, as one of the original organizers of the Orange County Bias-Free Policing Coalition and a member of the town’s Re-imagining Public Safety Task Force. She also serves on the EmPOWERment Inc. board of directors, where she advocates for property ownership and affordable housing for low-income residents. Miller-Foushee understands the town’s need for a unifying vision to guide development and affordable housing. Having grown up in public housing, and now a resident of the historic Northside neighborhood that was recently hit with unsustainable tax rates following revaluation, we think Miller-Foushee will bring a valuable perspective to the council that isn’t currently represented. Camille Berry, a Chapel Hill resident who experienced housing insecurity while raising three children as a single parent, we feel will bring a similarly needed perspective to the town council. Berry has advocated for affordable housing through her work with the Community Home Trust and has volunteered with several local community organizations. Berry advocates for an inclusionary approach to long-term planning, including in redeveloping the Land Use Management Ordinance. She includes as part of her platform proposals to develop a strategy to assist residents of mobile home parks who face displacement and issuing a second affordable housing bond, among other initiatives. We were torn between endorsing candidates Adam Searing and Vimala Rajendran and will ultimately not endorse either. Rajendran, a restaurant owner who has been a strong advocate for communities of color in Chapel Hill, has seen her campaign overshadowed by rape allegations directed against her husband Rush Greenslade. While her spouse’s alleged actions shouldn’t affect Rajendran’s campaign, the situation has unfortunately been distracting. Rajendran’s decision to participate in a video where Greenslade proclaims his innocence of accusations pertaining to the rape of his daughter was not, in our view, a sympathetic one. Rajendran would probably be a good leader on the town council, but we don’t feel it’s responsible to endorse her. Adam Searing, a nonprofit attorney, is also a candidate worth considering. A staunch environmentalist endorsed by the Sierra Club, Searing is clearly committed to sustainability and environmental protection. But we disagree with his opposition to development of the Greene Tract. Stakeholders, including nearby residents and three local governing bodies have worked on a culturally and environmentally sensitive plan that will create more housing, a school, and economic opportunities for longtime residents and their families. There will be acres of green space plus much-needed affordable housing and greenway connectivity that will serve current residents and welcome future generations. As for the other candidates’ campaigns, we don’t have enough information to weigh in. But you should read their candidate questionnaires onour website. W INDYweek.com
October 13, 2021
October 13, 2021
FE AT U RE
Growth on the Ballot Chapel Hill’s election will chart its course for growth—will a pro-development slate usher in a denser, more diverse future? Or will neighborhood activists bent on preserving the town’s character stifle progress? BY LEIGH TAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org
I. Sign of the Times On a quiet Sunday morning in the typically congenial Chapel Hill, a handful of brazen political signs turned heads. They’d appeared mysteriously overnight near the wooded intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard—the planned location for the controversial Aura development the Town Council approved in June. “Stegman voted for AURA,” the sign read in white ink over blue, followed by bold red lettering: “& Betrayed You.” Who, exactly, in the affluent, near uniformly liberal hamlet orbiting UNC-Chapel Hill was “betrayed” by the sprawling mixed-use project—which replaces a former tree farm with 361 apartments and 58 townhomes, including about 50 affordable units—was left up to interpretation. The sign’s author, too, was unknown, but fingers began pointing immediately toward a group of staunch neighborhood protectionists who fought the project tooth and nail. The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town—known commonly as CHALT—was the most obvious culprit, though the group denies any involvement with the signs. The grassroots citizens advocacy group had fervently opposed the
project since day one due to concerns over traffic impact and environmental sustainability. CHALT’s members identify themselves as progressives—environmental stewards protecting the town’s greatest assets from the threat of tacky “luxury” apartments. But supporters of the project say they are progressives, too, and believe staving off development will only further drive up home values, pricing out existing and racially diverse residents. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Chapel Hill who doesn’t see themself as progressive. Although elections are nonpartisan, almost everyone on the ballot is a Democrat. On most social and political issues, the town’s opposing political factions align, but not when it comes to how the town should manage future growth. On one side, you have the pro-growth crowd like council member Karen Stegman, the sign’s unwitting target, who is up for reelection this year. Stegman believes promoting dense development with access to public transit is the progressive way out of the town’s burgeoning affordability crisis, which in turn will help promote more diversity. “Simple supply and demand is making housing that much more expensive, which is a really urgent problem,” Stegman
RENDERING COURTESY OF TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL
tells me. “We need more dense development, and that’s a change for Chapel Hill that not everyone likes, but it’s what we need to do.” Then there’s CHALT, whose members believe growth must be carefully managed and controlled to protect the things that make Chapel Hill a great place to live—its green spaces and neighborhood character. For one reason or another, they’ve opposed nearly every major development that’s come down the pike in recent years. “The detractors say we’re NIMBYs,” the group’s founder, 81-year-old Julie McClintock, says during a phone interview. “The right direction is a sustainable one. What it means is: are we going to want to live here in 20 years? Have we taken down all the trees? Do we have enough parks? If we just add more people then we’re not maintaining what people love about the town.” Currently, the board finds itself split on the most controversial development issues, with Mayor Pam Hemminger sometimes acting as the swing vote. Hemminger describes herself as a middle-of-the-road politician who hopes to cut the difference between neighborhood concerns and the town’s housing shortage. CHALT endorsed Hemminger in the previous two elections. Now, CHALT is backing Hongbin Gu, the town’s first Asian American to serve on the council. Gu is more skeptical of the town’s growth and is known for pushing back against developers. In addition to the mayor’s race, four council seats are up for grabs, thanks to a nearly two-year vacancy left by former council member Rachel Schaevitz. Eight candidates are on the ballot. That means five of the board’s nine seats are wide open next month, making this election the biggest opportunity for a political power grab in recent history. The outcome will likely chart the town’s growth for decades to come. Will the CHALT-backed candidates sweep the board, as they have in other elections, and prioritize preserving the past? Or will a growth-friendly slate seize control and greenlight a future of dense, urban walkability? Voters will answer that question, and in doing so, choose which version of progressivism will guide Chapel Hill’s future. Over the next two years, the council plans to rewrite the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance, a blueprint for the future that determines if regulations restrict growth or loosen existing codes to invite denser development. “The next council will help to really decide how our community grows and what it will look like 25 years from now,” says Tai Huynh, the council’s youngest member. “What does progressivism mean? Is it caring what the buildings in our town look like, or is it caring for the people in those buildings and providing a safe, nurturing place to live and grow and prosper?”
II. Heavy Hand McClintock’s hand in local politics spans five decades. Originally from Philadelphia, McClintock arrived in Chapel Hill in 1970, having moved from South Carolina where her husband served as a military psychiatrist during the Vietnam War. She was instantly enamored with the town’s INDYweek.com
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quaint culture, shaped by UNC-Chapel Hill, and recalls listening with awe as folks like broadcaster Jim Hefner philosophized about the town, its storied history, and exciting future. McClintock served on the town council intermittently between 1985 and 2001. In 2014, she rallied with a group of residents, dissatisfied by what they perceived as a failure by elected officials to take neighborhood concerns seriously. The result was CHALT. “We advocate. We take positions, and they are well-researched,” McClintock says. “We call out elected officials when they don’t follow plans.” CHALT’s goal, according to jargon on its website, is to aid local leadership in managing the town’s growth and creating a sustainable future, including by promoting green infrastructure and a mix of housing choices. That all sounds good on paper. In practice, CHALT has fought vigorously against nearly every major development proposal, most recently Aura. When asked what kind of development CHALT supports, McClintock struggled to name a single project (two hours later, she called me back with one example: Glen Lennox, a mixed-use complex approved by the town in 2014).
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CHALT’s brand of environmentally-minded neighborhood protectionism resonated with voters critical of then-Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and the council. In its first year, the group endorsed Hemminger for mayor, and she claimed victory with a 10-point lead over Kleinschmidt. Two of CHALT’s other picks—Jess Anderson and Nancy Oates—also won election to the council. Through dogged grassroots organizing, CHALT’s momentum and influence continued to grow. While its members did form a political action committee—Chapel Hill Leadership PAC—in 2017, the funds went toward mailers, signage, and operating expenses, rather than directly to candidates. The PAC’s latest report provided to the N.C. State Board of Elections showed the group had less than $1,000 on hand throughout 2021 and has raised less than $300 this election cycle. In August, the PAC was fined $500 by the state for failing to submit its financial report on time. CHALT’s power source isn’t money, but manpower in the form of a stalwart cohort of volunteers dedicated to community outreach and speaking out at council meetings. On certain development issues, CHALT’s was the loudest voice in the room. All four candidates supported by CHALT— Gu, Stegman, Shaevitz, and Allen Buansi—
won seats on the council in 2017. The 2018 closure of the McClatchy-owned hyperlocal newspaper The Chapel Hill News further solidified CHALT’s power. That year, members of the group formed The Local Reporter, an online news publication that’s come under harsh criticism by some for perceived bias against development and questionable fundraising practices, including a failed Kickstarter campaign that offered donors “access” to a reporter for $1,000. According to analysis from The News & Observer, about a quarter of the site’s stories are written by CHALT members. Guest columns pan the Aura development. In the absence of much other local news coverage, CHALT’s voice was now louder than ever. Its website boasts that 80 percent of the candidates CHALT has backed since 2015 have won elections. Voters split the difference in 2019, backing UNC-Chapel Hill student Tai Huynh and development enthusiast Michael Parker in addition to CHALT-supported candidates Anderson and Amy Ryan. That should have given CHALT a majority on the council, but its chosen candidates didn’t always fall in line. Stegman was a vocal supporter of the kinds of development CHALT opposed (this shouldn’t have been a surprise as Stegman has always run
on a pro-growth platform), and Hemminger was drawn toward finding a middle ground on controversial issues. She doesn’t lean into the bully pulpit; she prefers to speak last and build consensus when possible. Quite simply: the votes didn’t always shake out as CHALT wanted. Hemminger, Gu, and Buansi voted against Aura, while CHALT candidates Anderson and Ryan joined Stegman, Parker, and Huynh in support of the project. CHALT withdrew its previous support of Stegman and Hemminger this year. Hemminger, who it had supported in the two previous elections, “has not shown the bold leadership we had hoped to see,” CHALT wrote in its endorsements, while Stegman was panned as “the council member least likely to ask for meaningful concessions from developers.” “CHALT wants to know they are going to have a direct connection to a candidate, and if a candidate seems to have other opinions or seems to be one to work with multiple groups, that’s not what they are looking for,” Hemminger says. “They are looking for someone to represent their interests.” When asked if the group will continue to support Ryan and Anderson in upcoming elections after the Aura vote, McClintock couldn’t say.
“CHALT doesn’t order people around,” McClintock says. “We endorse people we hope will embrace the kinds of things we think are important.” That has been increasingly difficult, especially this year with several relatively inexperienced candidates vying for office. So CHALT was more selective in picking candidates to support, McClintock says. “That’s why we did so few [endorsements],” she says. “We just wanted to feel really solid about the folks we recommended.” Out of the 10 candidates running this election, they only endorsed three—Gu for mayor, and Adam Searing and Vimala Rajendran for council. A full slate of five would give CHALT the best chance of having a majority on the council. But they couldn’t find five candidates to support this election. To gain control of the council, they’d need to win all three seats, including the mayor’s.
III. Gentrification is Here At the turn of the 20th century, approximately half of Chapel Hill’s population was Black, old census rolls reveal. In the 1960s, that number had dropped to 36 percent. By 2020, the African American population made up just under 11 percent of the town. The first drop, according to research done by UNC Ph.D. John “Yonni” Chapman, was likely the result of “emigration in response to the white supremacy campaigns.” A hostile environment fostered by Jim Crow politics and the rise of racist terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan drove long-standing Black populations to flee to safer regions. The second drop, journalist Mike Ogle explained in a recent article, occurred between 1960 and 1980, which “happened to coincide with major civil rights gains and desegregation that transformed society and began to threaten white hegemony.” Once the federal government abolished segregation in 1964, the town began what Ogle describes as a “crawl” toward integration. While rising housing costs and gentrification was a major driver, it wasn’t the only one. As schools integrated, the racial achievement gap swelled. A 2016 study at Stanford University found Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools had the second-highest test score disparity between Black and white students among the several hundred public schools included in the study. In the 1950s, UNC-Chapel Hill was forced to start admitting Black students and was “determined to drag knuckles toward enrolling any significant number,” Ogle writes. The university did let in more
"They think things are going along pretty well and they feel pretty good. Unfortunately, it's becasue they've created this insular community that they are just pricing diversity out." Black students, but the overall student population also tripled in size effectively diluting the percentage of minority students in the student body. Black enrollment at the school has never topped 11 percent and now hovers around 8 percent. “I find it interesting that the Black population and UNC student enrollment percentages have remained so low for decades while Chapel Hill espouses inclusivity,” Ogle told me recently. “Unfortunately, it suggests to me that the low level is perhaps where the town at large is comfortable with it being.” That sentiment rings true for Jaci Field, chair of UNC’s Carolina Black Caucus. “Gentrification is here,” Field wrote in a recent tweet. “Black people don’t feel welcome and are being priced out of living in town. Quit feeling good about the diversity ‘work’ you are doing & pay attention to what’s really happening. “Reading that one book & listening to a podcast is not enough.” Field has worked at the university for more than two decades after earning her undergraduate degree from UNC in 1993. Over the years, she’s seen a lot of well-meaning lip service paid to the problem of diversity, but little progress. Still, affluent white liberals in town are quick to pat themselves on the back. “They think things are going along pretty well and they feel pretty good,” Field says. “Unfortunately, it’s because they’ve created this insular community that they are just pricing diversity out. Where they feel like they’ve done a great job, I don’t think the minority communities feel that way at all.” Diversity can’t exist without affordability, Field says, and a lack of affordable housing options for lower-income residents has been further exaggerated by increased demand. Right now, the typical house in Chapel Hill costs about $487,000, according to Zillow, a nearly $100,000 spike since 2016. That’s $100,000 more than the typical Raleigh home, and $150,000 more than one in Durham. Increased demand is also driving up rental costs: renters now pay an
average of $1,600 a month for an apartment, according to RENTCafe, an increase of 12 percent since 2020. Even workers earning twice the minimum wage—the often touted livable wage of $15 an hour—still can’t afford to rent in Chapel Hill, let alone buy. A recent study commissioned by the town revealed about 90 percent of local jobs are filled by commuters, meaning folks that work in town can’t afford to live there. It’s a problem poised only to worsen without significant investment in new housing, the study helmed by Business Street consultant Rod Stevens revealed. To keep up with the expected growth, Chapel Hill would need to add 485 units a year, a 35 percent increase over its current housing production, Stevens explained at a September council meeting. Since 2010, the town has added about 357 new units a year, but the rate is extremely volatile, Stevens points out. While nearly 800 units were added in 2019, barely any were produced in 2012 or 2015. Failing to increase the housing supply threatens to further drive up costs, potentially to “Palo Alto” levels, Stevens said. He thinks more long-term planning is needed to allow denser projects to gain approval without going through lengthy rezoning processes. “The worst scenario here is you continue to split the baby,” Stevens told the council. “What you're doing right now is you’re planning project by project and hoping each project comes along and makes up for the errors of the past.” Combating Chapel Hill’s lack of diversity and affordability will require thinking about housing in nontraditional ways, Field says. “We don’t want Chapel Hill to lose its charm, but the reality is if we don’t develop it in new and different ways, the trend will continue toward a homogeneous society and area,” Field says. “The town has to figure out who they actually want to be. They either want to stay with this small southern educational charm or they want to continue to be progressive and they want to continue to grow the population of the area.”
“In some ways,” she adds, “they are not going to be able to be both.”
IV. Misfire Twenty-four hours after the signs accusing Stegman of betrayal appeared, it was clear the move had backfired. Hemminger called the attack “a new low” for Chapel Hill politics, and other leaders were quick to condemn it. CHALT denied having anything to do with the signs or any knowledge of who did, but the damage was already done. “Whether or not it was directly a CHALT person who put it there, it’s a result of the permission that CHALT has given to a lot of people in the community to just play dirty politics,” says former Orange County commissioner Mark Marcoplos. “That’s their game. CHALT’s main approach is they spread disinformation; they inspire people to anger while they simultaneously give lip service to general liberal positions.” McClintock believes the backlash against her organization is undeserved. “First of all, there's a First Amendment right to express yourself,” McClintock says when asked about the signs. “There are lots of kooks out there, and we are not responsible, our organization is not responsible, for everyone, clearly. CHALT has a reputation for doing things respectfully.” CHALT’s critics would disagree: they say the group has sown divisiveness in local politics, spreading fear and mistrust in local leaders. And those tactics are alienating some residents, Marcoplos says. While low student voter turnout could give CHALT an edge, Marcoplos is cautiously optimistic anti-growth candidates won’t snag a majority on council this election. “The tide is turning, potentially,” Marcoplos says. “Their act is getting a little tired.” In the days after the signs appeared, Stegman says she received many messages of support from residents disavowing the maneuver. If anything, the backlash may actually boost Stegman’s campaign. “Every election gets a little uglier here,” she says. “Honestly, I think people are really tired of this toxicity." This election will be a litmus test for Chapel Hill voters, and their choices will define which progressive ideology shapes the town’s future. Will residents rally to preserve neighborhood character or embrace new characters in their neighborhoods? “One of the things that make Chapel Hill great is that we’re welcoming and inclusive,” Hemminger says. “To be welcoming and inclusive, you can’t be a NIMBY.” W INDYweek.com
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October 13, 2021
BLAND SIMPSON: SIMPSON
BLAND SIMPSON: NORTH CAROLINA: LAND OF WATER, LAND OF SKY
[UNC Press; October 26 ]
State of Art Talking to Bland Simpson about his new book, the 50th anniversary of Simpson, and what he loves about North Carolina BY HARRIS WHELESS email@example.com
s both a musician and writer, Bland Simpson’s body of work reflects a regionalism particular to North Carolina, rooted in the preservation and documentation of its natural landscapes and oral forms. This summer, Simpson—also the longtime pianist and songwriter for the Red Clay Ramblers—celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of his debut album, Simpson, recorded in May of 1971 (a remastered release of the album is available on Simpson’s Bandcamp; all proceeds to go to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina). At the end of this month, North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky—his latest piece of history, memoir, and nature-traversing nonfiction—will be published by UNC Press. The INDY recently caught up with him to discuss how his work engages with North Carolina in all its many forms. INDY WEEK: Your album, Simpson, from 1971, has been called an early country rock record. How would you describe the album and did you have any particular influences or artistic goals that had an impact on the music? BLAND SIMPSON: Oh, I would describe it that way. That was a subgenre that had just kind of appeared. The Byrds had a lot to do with it with a record called Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and The Band had a tremendous lot to do with it with their first two records, Music from Big Pink and The Band. And I just loved that stuff. That was the pocket into which I felt like I fit. And still do. I’ve been playing with the Red Clay Ramblers for about 35 years.
You’ve written several other books about North Carolina. What did you hope to capture in this one that you perhaps didn’t in your previous work? The whole state. I really wanted to give a personal portrait of the state as I’ve seen it, as best as you can collect and collapse into one book. There’s no way you can get 52,000 square miles into a couple hundred pages or so. But the thing you can catch was, above all else, my love and affection for the state, and a strong preservation and conservation ethic. We have an incredible climate, which is changing as it is everywhere. And what goes with that is the extraordinary overlap. We include the southern boundary of northern flora and fauna. We include the northern boundary of southern flora and fauna. So we are a great overlap of northern and southern species. If you said, “What’s your favorite part of the state?” I would say, “The one I’m in at the moment.” Right now, I’m at my house in Orange County, which I just love to pieces. But if I were down in the Sandhills, I’d say, “Oh, man, you oughta be here, walking around in the longleaf pine.” From the vantage point of 50 years on, what sort of historical impact do you think the album Simpson and that period in music history have had? I would say modest, but I really hoped it would kind of help fit into the context of the history of the Red Clay Ramblers. The Ramblers were formed in 1972. We had some great people playing on that record like Eric Weissberg, and Dave Olney was in the quartet, and Robbie Rothstein, later Rob Stoner, who was the band-
PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA
leader for Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue that was all over the map just a few years later. But a lot of work went into it. And when I realized, “Oh, my, 50 years,” I thought, “I want to put it in context and bring it forward, for whatever it might do.” My son listens to it. He’s listened to it a lot. He’s a musician, and I think he’s picked up a few tricks from it. Over all the years you’ve lived in North Carolina, how have you seen the state change—in terms of its natural landscape, its people, or anything else that shapes its character—and what do you see for the future? The state has certainly grown phenomenally. We were five million people back in the
‘70s, and we are now 10.5 and will be 11.5. We will add a million people in this decade. So I think our population growth has been fairly phenomenal. And that puts both big demands on everything and big opportunities. You know, big demands on how we transport each other, how we school each other, and how we grow what we grow. Could we spend more on environmental protections? Yes. And that’s a serious theme, I think. It’s kind of a subtext, anyway, in this book. And we have to not go overlength, but we have to go to some lengths to keep and protect the natural areas that are really essential—not only to the environmental and ecological health of the province, but the spiritual health within it. W INDYweek.com
October 13, 2021
KATE BOWLER: NO CURE FOR BEING HUMAN (AND OTHER TRUTHS I NEED TO HEAR)
[Penguin Random House; September 28 ]
Gospel Truth Kate Bowler’s second memoir grapples with faith, a cancer diagnosis, and a culture obsessed with the power of positive thinking BY SARAH EDWARDS firstname.lastname@example.org
ehind the gray sofa in Kate Bowler’s office hangs a sign that reads, “You Are My Bucket List.” At first blush, it appears to be your average cheeky Target-esque sign boasting millennial promises about the power of positive thinking. But the framed truism, like much of Kate Bowler’s writing, is a subtle inversion of the do-more messaging that dominates Instagram ads, megachurch pamphlets, and what Bowler jokingly calls the “gospel of Peloton.” It’s the week after her new book, No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear), was released by Penguin Random House, and Bowler is on a tight interview circuit, with features on the Today show and in The Washington Post on her schedule alongside numerous church appearances. Just last week, her book leapt to number four on the Times nonfiction bestseller list. In her Durham office between Zoom appearances, Bowler wipes makeup dust off her desk and makes a self-deprecating joke about the mess, before sitting down to talk about her book. “My crisis for this book was, ‘Are we still allowed to want things, can we still hunger for things? If I’m a good person, if I find the right formula for how to live, will I stop wanting more?’” Bowler says. “Right now, all I want is to raise my kid and to live my life and to not have quite so much pain. But, aren’t I told from a spiritual perspective that I’m supposed to be super excited about heaven?” Bowler’s hunger for more follows a long journey with cancer that, coupled with her decade-plus research on the prosperity gospel, sparked existential questions about what it means to want—and believe you are promised—the so-called good life. Born in Manitoba, Canada, she grew up largely surrounded by a Mennonite community; her interest in the prosperity gospel was sparked when a new congregation appeared in her hometown, helmed by an ostentatious minister who rode a motorcycle across the stage. What was it, she began to wonder, about this “idea that you have to be able to demonstrate in your body and finances and happiness that God loves you and that you have figured out how to solve your life?” In 2005, a Master of Fine Arts in Religion at Yale—and countless Sundays listening to megachurch sermons—later, she moved to Durham and began a PhD in history at Duke. 18
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Kate Bowler in her Durham office
PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA
By this point, she’d gotten married (to her high school sweetheart, a Mennonite), had a baby, and written Blessed, a history of the prosperity gospel. Then, at the age of 35, came the crushing stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis. Her first memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved), picks up where that deep suffering starts, as Bowler navigates potentially numbered days and an experimental immunotherapy treatment. Less than 3 percent of patients successfully respond to that treatment but in the end, Bowler did respond to it; No Cure for Being Human follows her recovery as she wades back into the raw questions her first memoir raised about being alive. “Everybody pretends that you only die once,” she writes in the book. “But that’s not true. You can die to a thousand possible futures in the course of a single, stupid life.” The writer Glennon Doyle calls her a “Christian Joan Didion,” which doesn’t feel quite right—Didion is an awfully high, and awfully frosty, style bar—but Didion would probably share Bowler’s obsessive insight into countercultures. Her unvarnished approach to writing manages to be raw and vulnerable, as well as dry and self-effacing (“It turns out,” she riffs to me, “that cheerfulness, resourcefulness, and the ability to navigate complex institutions are actually just qualities of the middle class and I was like, ‘oh crap, I thought I had a personality, but I’m just middle class.’”). She’s also aware of the pitfalls and clichés (and lists them off: “fake vulnerability, the hot mess”) associated with writing a nonfiction book that might be mistaken for self-help.
But Bowler is at heart an academic, not a life coach, and many of the connections she draws about contemporary life feel resonant, even revelatory. While most people’s idea of the prosperity gospel is served up by slick televangelism preachers like Joel Osteen, Bowler draws fascinating parallels to the fitness empires, self-help industries, and idioms of the gig economy that promise consumers that if we just try harder, wake up earlier, and believe in ourselves just a little bit more, self-actualization is within reach. Cancer, of course, throws a wrench in the belief that anything is in our control, and, for many people, so did the COVID-19 pandemic—which was setting in just as Bowler (immunocomprised from cancer) was writing the book. In one of its best sections, she follows the thread. “At first,” she writes, “the American middle class seemed to experience a surge of collective resolve...sourdough starters and suburban chicken coops and vegetable gardens popped up all over social media to showcase the shocking benefits of modern homesteading. Carpe diem! You got a Peloton!” But then: “No matter how carefully we schedule our days, master our emotions, and try to wring our best life now from our better selves, we cannot master the problem of finitude. We will always want more. We need more.” Hunger, she concludes wisely, is chronic. And whether or not you believe in the afterlife, the life in front of us now is messy and short. Perhaps, Bowler reasons, some freedom can be found in not chasing after perfect solutions to its messiness, or pedaling away every existential ache. W
CLICK! PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh | Through Oct. 31 | ncartmuseum.org/exhibition/persevere
“Blursday” by Catherine Carter PHOTO COURTESY OF CLICK! FESTIVAL
Being Candid This year’s Click! Photography Festival at the North Carolina Museum of Art showcases the work that helped artists navigate a difficult year BY RACHEL SIMON email@example.com
ver the past year and a half, countless North Carolinans have dealt with hardships ranging from illness to financial loss, often fighting their way through one obstacle only to find another waiting around the corner. It’s no wonder, then, that the theme of the new Click! Photography Festival exhibit now open at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) is “persevere.” Featuring 77 images from photographers across the country, the exhibit launched on October 1 and will be on view outside the museum, near the Ellipse along the eastern edge of the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, throughout the month. Persevere is one of several photography events run by the Click! Festival, which is held annually every October. Although the themes differ for each exhibit, Persevere
holds particular meaning, in light of the pandemic, for photographers and viewers alike. “For many artists, the camera served as a tool of therapeutic intervention during the pandemic,” a NCMA press release reads. “Whether via a cell phone, DSLR, or 4X5, a camera helped rebalance and care for their emotional, spiritual, artistic, and mental needs. The process of creating a photographic image soothed our souls. Persevere is a selection of responses to the failures and ruptures in our world, but also how we expressed love, cared for ourselves and each other.” The works featured in the exhibit were selected from over 400 submissions and were chosen by jurors Jennifer Dasal, NCMA’s curator of contemporary art, and de’Angelo Dia, a poet, theologian, and doctoral candidate at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
For photographer Penelope James, whose ethereal, blackand-white self-portraits depict her walking through water and resting in a bed of clouds, the contest was a way to temporarily put aside the claustrophobia of the pandemic. “I couldn’t have the freedom to express myself or do what I wanted, so I just created these imaginative worlds in my living room,” James tells the INDY. Taking the photos, she adds, “became an escape and really helped me persevere through the [pandemic]—just stick it out and keep going, like all of us did.” Photographer Catherine Carter, meanwhile, says she chose to channel the “collective stress” of the last many months into the images she submitted to the festival. Three of the resulting works—striking, eerie photomontages created over the course of 2020 and 2021—are on display outside the museum. “I believe that collecting images from artists/photographers about their response to these last few difficult years is a wonderful way to preserve and appreciate the emotional roller coaster that we have all experienced,” Carter says. Visitors to the exhibit can walk along the photo-lined walls to see the many ways in which other artists chose to tackle the theme. While some of the images powerfully evoke the pain and struggle caused by the pandemic, others showcase optimism for the future and brighter takeaways about increased community support. Persevere is far from the only photography exhibit to use art to showcase the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Last summer, The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan unveiled an outdoor installation displaying photos and stories of New Yorkers’ experiences in quarantine, and this September, the San Francisco Arts Commission and media organization CatchLight debuted an exhibition that highlighted the strength and spirit of the city’s residents. And then online, there’s the Covid Photo Museum, which is described as the “world’s first virtual museum dedicated to the curation of photography captured during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The museum, available to peruse without cost, features images submitted from both professional and amateur photographers across the globe. These have been and continue to be challenging times, but through art, people everywhere are able to share their experiences and bear witness to the pain and resilience of others. While the photo exhibit outside NCMA will be on display through October, there will be an official walk-through of the exhibit on October 10 followed by a slideshow and a keynote presentation by photographer Titus Heagins. Those unable to attend the event or visit NCMA will be able to view a slideshow of the selected images at the Click! Photo Fair on October 17 at the Durham Central Park Pavilion as well as in the windows of Durham’s 21c Museum Hotel until the month’s end. W INDYweek.com
October 13, 2021
STAGE Lauren Brady of Theater Raleigh PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA
Second Acts Post-vaccines, the local theater companies that survived pandemic lockdown take stock of what was lost—and what comes next BY BYRON WOODS firstname.lastname@example.org
s live theater continues its fitful, incremental restart after an all but total absence over the last year and a half, PlayMakers Repertory Company artistic director Vivienne Benesch is uncharacteristically at a loss for words to describe what she’s seeing in regional playhouses. “I don’t know what to call it yet,” she confesses. “I won’t call it a return, and I won’t call it normalcy, because it isn’t. It’s something else, something different now.” After venues across the arts went dark in early March 2020, theater companies faced a stress test unlike any they’d ever encountered. The choices were stark: either enter a total eclipse of unknown duration out of the public eye or attempt to 20
October 13, 2021
transition into impromptu video production companies in order to present their works online. And those decisions had to be made as they contemplated catastrophic losses in conventional revenue streams. North Carolina Theatre’s operating budget nosedived last year from $5 million to $1.2 million; Theatre Raleigh’s plunged by over 60 percent. With no shows on offer, ticket and season subscription sales were disastrous across the board: PlayMakers lost $1.2 million last year, while Justice Theatre Project kept only ten percent of its previous year’s ticketing income. A resulting bloodbath in personnel lead to a 50 percent reduction in full-time staff at NC Theatre,
four senior management positions vacated at Theatre Raleigh, and what Benesch calls “a huge administrative loss” that PlayMakers is only now beginning to come back from. Times being what they are, it’s remarkable that only two of the region’s sixty-three theater companies closed for good during the pandemic lockdown. Ward Theatre Company, a critically noted hothouse of Meisner-trained actors, closed before the non-COVID-related death of founder Wendy Ward in July. The accomplished independent company Bartlett Theatre was “sort of” a casualty of the pandemic, according to artistic director Jonathan Brady. “The pandemic put life in perspective,” said Brady, who has since moved to Connecticut. Under the circumstances, the fact that anything was achieved in 2020 and early 2021 remains an unlikely tribute to human resilience. During all of it, at least a dozen trailblazing local companies produced an unexpectedly diverse range of online programming, from podcasts and talk shows to concerts, staged readings, and full-length plays. The National Women’s Theatre Festival was the region’s outlier among these, taking last and this year’s festivals, including dozens of panels and presentations, and two virtual theatrical productions, totally online. But as the pandemic persisted, the inevitable Zoom fatigue began taking its toll. “People got tired of seeing us try to do virtual performances,” says Tim Locklear, managing artistic director at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. Nor were all attempts at placing live art on video successful: company management at Justice Theatre Project ultimately didn’t like the quality in an expensive filmed version of a Black Nativity production, last December, and have opted to return to live performances this year. Meanwhile, companies occasionally launched live trial balloon productions (literally, in the case of Raleigh Little Theatre’s Balloonacy, which was staged outdoors in November 2020). Burning Coal dared to push the envelope with an indoor October production of A Hundred Words for Snow. Each performance played to a maximum audience of four. With spring’s increasing vaccination rates and falling incidents of infection, more companies planned to return to live productions. After RLT staged an April concert performance of The Last Five Years in Stephen-
“We are literally in rehearsal now, both on stage and off. We’re in rehearsal for who we are becoming.”
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son Amphitheatre, Burning Coal anted up with two indoor second stage productions in June before their Dix Park production of Evita, and Theatre Raleigh produced an opening cabaret at their new venue on Old Wake Forest Road. Then the Delta variant served notice that the pandemic wasn’t behind us. A COVID scare among the crew at Theatre Raleigh forced the company to cancel multiple performances during the first week of Unto the Breeches, its’ first fully staged post-lockdown production. Across the region, companies have had to surf changing—and sometimes conflicting—protocols from municipal and state governments, the CDC, and Actors Equity. Though the Delta variant is now less of a threat, producers and presenters eye the daily headlines uneasily for word of new variants. Under present circumstances, committing to stage a show a month ahead is risky; planning a season through next summer, a potentially costly exercise in faith. It’s not so surprising then that ten of the 61 surviving regional theater companies remain on hiatus: still at varying degrees of visibility on the scene and in social media, but with no announced plans for future production. Bulldog Ensemble Players “will produce something next year,” according to company member Akiva Fox. “We just don’t have the budget levels to take the risks that others can.” Some in that number, including Archipelago Theatre and Hidden Voices, are actively at work on projects in other mediums, but Bare Theatre, which began a company restructuring during the previous year, will likely not return to production until late 2022 or 2023. “We’re trying to figure out what it means to come back,” says David Henderson, co-artistic director of the Honest Pint Theatre. “Every theater in this area, big and small, is wrestling with the question: What does coming back even look like?” At this point, Honest Pint is only scheduling a March 2022 production of the
drama Small Mouth Sounds at Raleigh’s Pure Life Theatre. Shows beyond that depend on the pandemic’s progress. With robust financial assistance from state and federal grant programs including the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and—finally—the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program (see “Waiting Game,” in the June 22 issue of the INDY), economics don’t pose the same existential threat to most companies that they did earlier in the pandemic. North Carolina Theatre will have received some $2.2 million in aid by mid-2022. And at least one company thrived during the lockdown. Revenue at the National Women’s Theatre Festival grew 156% last year, from $55,000 to $156,000, as the company’s reputation rose beyond the local level following collaborations online with prominent playwrights, producers, companies, and actors during the lockdown. “People from across the country wanted to pay for our programs,” says executive director Johannah Maynard Edwards, who notes that the company increased revenues further by implementing a “pay what you can” policy. Funding sources also came to the rescue, she notes. “United Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and Raleigh’s Arts Council worked really, really hard for all of us through the pandemic. I also think we got through by having a great community, and a good mission worthy of support.” Most companies are contemplating what Burning Coal artistic director Jerry Davis calls a “better safe than sorry” model of cautious budgeting and smaller shows. “We’ve learned a lot of things, and we’ll be holding onto those lessons,” says Theater Raleigh artistic director Lauren Kennedy Brady. Benesch believes the surviving companies are doing some soul searching, to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and take better care of each other. “We are literally in rehearsal now, both on stage and off,” she notes. “We’re in rehearsal for who we are becoming.” W
Staff Members of Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books Every week a local book guru answers reader’s questions. Please submit your questions at email@example.com
From Val B. Do you have a book suggestion for my book club? Next month’s theme is a biography or bio-like book on a historical figure that shaped North Carolina. I’d like to recommend a person or title that may not be well known. We don’t want to read about Sir Walter Raleigh. Thanks! First book that comes to mind is the bio of moonshiner Popcorn Sutton (yes, it’s a whiskey book, imagine that.) Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was the most well-known moonshiner and bootlegger in Appalachia. Born in 1946 in Maggie Valley, N.C., Popcorn learned the ‘likker” business from his father. He made and lost fortunes. He died in 2009, and people in the hills still praise his product. This book by Neal Hutcheson gives an up close look into the life and times of Popcorn Sutton. —Bill Keene, Bookseller What a great idea! There are so many good possibilities, but two rise to the top Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia by Thomas Healy, tells the fascinating story of 1960’s Civil Rights activist Floyd McKissick and his plan to build a model community of economic independence for Blacks on a former slave plantation. Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharpe by Anna Hayes covers the surprising personal and professional life of the first female justice on N.C.’s Supreme Court. —Sarah Goddin, Bookseller
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October 13, 2021
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October 13, 2021
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