INDY Week 6.02.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill June 2, 2021

WAITING GAME To survive, many Triangle arts organizations applied for federal aid. Will they get the help they need? BY BYRON WOODS, P. 15

Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 20

Reflecting on Raleigh's George Floyd protests, one year later, p. 6 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON


A year after the racial justice protests in Raleigh, what's changed? BY LEIGH TAUSS


Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina, cast the controversial third vote to oust Wendell Davis. BY THOMASI MCDONALD


Chapel Hill's town council is addressing affordable housing but the efforts may not be enough. BY SARA PEQUEÑO 13 Orange County officials hope new emergency equipment will save lives. BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN


N.C. residents say Gov. Cooper should pay more attention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN AND CARYL ESPINOZA JAEN


15 To survive, many Triangle arts organizations applied for federal aid. They're still waiting on it. BY BYRON WOODS


Full Frame Documentary Festival is back, virtually. Here's the films to watch out for. BY SARAH EDWARDS AND GLENN MCDONALD 20 Undine is a sophisticated, spooky twist on a European folktale. BY GLENN MCDONALD


Shame Gang reflects on a new name, a new album, and new outlook. BY CHARLES MORSE

THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes

4 Quickbait

5 Op-ed

COVER Photo by Brett Villena


Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald


Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

Interns Caryl Espinoza Jaen, Ellie Heffernan, Rebecca Schneid

Senior Writer Leigh Tauss


June 2, 2021

Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan



Creative Director

Director of Sales John Hurld

Annie Maynard Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns

C I RC U L ATI O N Berry Media Group

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Raleigh: 16 W Martin St,Raleigh, N.C. 27601

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Last week for the web, Sara Pequeño wrote about Southern Alamance County High School’s yearbook’s retrospective on all the things that happened in the last year, including the election, the Black Lives Matter protests, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, and other events.

Raleigh Parents of Southern Alamance High students freaked out on Facebook and even brought the drama to a school board meeting where noted racial profiler Sheriff Terry Johnson told Patsy Simpson, the only Black member of the school board, to “calm down.” Sighhhhhh. But our readers had some supportive words for the students and their yearbook advisor. “This is not surprising at all,” wrote reader PFIZER PRINCESS on Twitter. “This school made me want to work so hard to change the world. You can see how many people were brought up to have the inequality/ignorant mindset. Awesome for students and the advisor for keeping that in there though! Passiveness gets us nowhere!” “Great article! While the predictable Geriatri-Facebook response is frustrating, I also see promising instincts from young people in those production/content decisions,” tweeted reader MATT SMITH. “I think anyone that went to Southern Alamance can say that this is not a surprise. Sad. But not a surprise,” wrote Twitter user T. “For what it’s worth SA used to be called “the confederates” and then later changed to “the Patriots”... and they say racism isn’t a factor.” We give the last word to ERNEST BOWEN, with no further comment: “The stupidity that exists in this state is astounding,”





Orage Quarles III, 70

How do you ensure a funder isn’t influencing coverage?

former publisher of The News & Observer who co-founded the Journalism Funding Project (JFP) in 2019

First and foremost, the funder would not have any say-so in the coverage. They don’t approve a story or any content. The funder understands they’re funding coverage for a specific topic, be it development, health, the environment, and it’s up to that newsroom to make sure that is what they are doing. It is our responsibility to say we gave you dollars for, say, hospital coverage, we want to make sure you’re doing that. But the funder never has any say-so in if they like the coverage, or don’t. We will report coverage back to the funder, give them copies, links to it, but they don’t have any say-so.


What is JFP’s purpose? Our goal is to help newsrooms raise funding to support journalism in their communities. In talking with editors around the country, we knew there were lots of concerns regarding education coverage, environmental coverage; then the [COVID-19] pandemic blew up everything and everyone needed help covering the pandemic. So with those goals in mind, local newsrooms found donors willing to support them but needed a nonprofit. That is where we step in. We are the fiscal agent for [sponsors] to send their funding through and we get it to those newsrooms. Our other goal is to raise funding that we, JFP, can also contribute to newsrooms. So we put out grant requests to places like Google, Facebook, and any foundations out there that want to support local journalism. Any newsroom––not just print, but radio, or TV, or digital––any newsroom that meets our criteria, that has a need in the community, we want to provide funding to them.

How does a newsroom approach JFP? We like to fund projects. We like newsrooms to say ‘Look, this is a critical issue that needs to be covered.’ We know editors are not trained, or many just don’t have any interest in being fundraisers, but we want editors to introduce us to potential funders. If you can make the introduction, because you know your local markets, you know the people who have the influence and ability to write a check, then we make an effort to secure the dollars. You give us the introduction, tell us what the need is; we go out and secure the dollars on your behalf.

How do you see JFP growing? In two ways. Getting as many grants as possible from donors out there and helping to train editors around the country in how to open the door for us to secure grants. And just getting our name out. I know there are enough people out there who want to keep local newsrooms thriving. It is very important, but it costs money to run a newsroom. So our role is to be one of many out there who are supporting journalism in local markets.

Can organizations who want to fund newsrooms approach JFP? I hope so! For me personally, this need is so critical, and I am deeply concerned about the future of our democracy. I just believe without the free press, without folks covering their local markets, our democracy is in trouble. So, for me, a real goal is to secure newsrooms to keep our democracy going. W

June 2, 2021



Cicada Data Highest concentration



ou’ve likely heard about the impending return of the Brood X cicadas, one of 15 broods of periodical cicadas known to emerge from the ground on the same cycle. According to this map from the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina isn’t poised to see very many of these cicadas this summer, unlike our nextdoor neighbor, Tennessee, and some other states north of us and in the northeast. That’s ok, though: there are other broods who will make an appearance in our fair state soon. Here’s what you need to know about these noisy insects.

Lowest concentration


The number of states in which the Brood X cicada will appear

1.5 million

per acre

The estimated density of cicadas when they emerge together; the high density overwhelms the insects’ predators


The number of species of cicada that exist worldwide; not all emerge on periodic cycles

100 decibels

The volume of the sound of cicadas’ mating call in unison, comparable to standing three feet away from a running chainsaw


The number of different broods of cicada that emerge from underground on 17-year cycles


The number of different broods of cicada that emerge from underground on 13-year cycles


The soil temperature at which Brood X cicadas will emerge this summer

Source: 4

June 2, 2021

OP - E D

The Labor Shortage Myth The labor shortage facing our restaurants isn’t an industry problem. It’s a social problem. BY ELIZABETH TURNBULL


urham’s independent restaurants have helped turn our city into one of the most desirable destinations in the Southeast. In truth, the entire Triangle is filled with excellent dining experiences and nationally recognized chefs. Our food and beverage industry has stepped up and taken the lead on important social reforms from living wages to supporting local farms to an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is nothing new; we’ve been doing this work for years. So why can’t we find anyone to come work for us? The issues plaguing the labor shortage in the service industry reach far beyond the boundaries of the Triangle and infiltrate nearly every aspect of our society. The pandemic didn’t break the restaurant industry—it simply exposed our vulnerabilities and pierced us at our weakest points. The hemorrhaging that ensued came from the pervasiveness of low wages, no paid time off, virtually no access to healthcare, and the high cost of childcare layered on top of arduous working conditions, long hours, unpredictable schedules, and often abusive employers. The reward for those who took their chances and joined the service industry anyway was a constant questioning from loved ones and others about when they were going to “get a real job.” The pandemic has forced me to reconcile some hard facts about how society values my industry. My timeline will forever be divided by “before the pandemic” and “after the pandemic.” So many of us want to return to “before.” Looking back, I’m not sure I do. Personally, I believe that if we go back to the way things were before, it will be a step backwards. We must move forward and build back better. Here’s what it’s going to take to save the restaurant industry:

Safety first. We must protect each other from a deadly virus by continuing vaccination campaigns and ensuring that the COVID-19 vaccines are free and accessible to all. Thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, we have already vaccinated 50 percent of adults across the country. We must continue encouraging one another to get vaccinated and speak out against dangerous, false information surrounding vaccines. Dignified pay for dignified work. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a step we must take if we want to provide sustainable employment. Thanks in large part to the current labor shortage, the going rate for a line cook in a Durham restaurant is now $16 to $18 an hour. This is a move in the right direction, but the stakes are too high for it to be left to a capricious labor market. We need our leaders to step in and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Universal preschool. Study after study has shown that the investments made in pre-school age children pay off multifold throughout their lives. The right to a free, public education is perhaps one of the least controversial topics across the American political spectrum. So why can’t we all get on board with free pre-school? President Biden’s American Families Plan will provide universal access to high-quality, free pre-K for three- and four-year-olds. This is a huge step in ensuring that children have a strong start. It will also invest in child care so that low- and middle-income families pay no more than 7 percent

of their income on high-quality child care, which will go a long way in helping working families make ends meet. Investing in health. It doesn’t take a doctor or an economist to figure out that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. But the world of private group insurance is too expensive and inaccessible for most of our nation’s independent restaurants and small businesses. Since President Biden opened a special enrollment period through the ACA, more than one million people have gotten the health coverage they need. But we still need to do more to create a solution that honors every human’s right to health and levels the playing field. Of course, the best healthcare solution, I think we can all agree, is to be healthy. We need better public health policies that help prevent chronic illnesses, give access to proper nutrition, and fight food insecurity. One place to start is by creating policies that protect and strengthen our small, local farms. They are the real breadbasket of our society. The food raised on small, sustainable farms is safer, more nutrient-dense, and fresher than food sourced from industrial farms. Local farms provide a buffer from national food shortages and make a healthier lifestyle more accessible to all members of our community. Paid time off. The benefits of paid leave are widely known and recognized. It’s credited with reducing racial wealth gaps, improving child health, increasing employee retention, and boosting women’s work-

“We cannot afford to simply go back to normal.”

force participation. But among the country’s lowest wage workers, many of whom are in the service industry, 95 percent are without paid family leave and 91 percent without paid medical leave. In other words, those who can least afford unpaid time off are the ones forced to take it. What isn’t reflected in these numbers is that paid leave for an hourly employee costs a restaurant double. The business must pay for that employee as well as the one stepping in to cover their shifts. The American Families Plan will create a national, comprehensive paid family and medical leave program to ensure that workers receive partial wage replacement from the government. That would allow our industry’s workers to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families and then get back to work. It’s easy for all of us to lament the hardships of the restaurant industry and to sing the praises of the hard-working folk cooking our food and pouring our wine. But it’s another thing altogether for us to unite and address these deeply rooted issues head on. In 2020, tens of thousands of restaurants closed their doors forever and hundreds of thousands more are now barely hanging on by a thread. If we learned anything from the shuttered doors and empty tables, it’s that we cannot afford to simply go back to normal. We must do better. I’m thankful for the work that the Biden administration has done, and will continue pushing our elected officials and industry leaders to make meaningful changes, including by passing the American Families Plan. We must come together to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in our country—and when we do, we will also be protecting our most treasured spaces for gathering and breaking bread together.W Elizabeth Turnbull is the owner of COPA in Durham.

June 2, 2021



Raleigh Protestors and Raleigh Police Department officers at the May 30, 2020 protest in Raleigh. PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Progress or Regress? In the year since protests over police brutality ricocheted Raleigh into a chaotic summer of unrest, activists say we’ve only moved backward. BY LEIGH TAUSS


ust after nightfall on May 30 of last year, a brick smashed through a window of the Wake County Sheriff’s department’s headquarters. Seconds later, a canister of expired tear gas exploded, pluming white smoke into the air. Dozens of protesters scattered, running and choking on gas, with tears streaming down their mask-covered faces. Then more bricks, more tear gas, and smashed windows. The CVS pharmacy on Fayetteville Street was looted and set on fire. By night’s end, the sidewalks of downtown Raleigh glistened with broken glass. That afternoon, thousands of peaceful protesters flooded the downtown streets, calling for an end to police brutality after watching George Floyd suffocate to death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s death was the spark, with fodder built from a seemingly endless string of microaggressions 6

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to fatal encounters between Raleigh’s police force and its Black citizens. Floyd’s killer, officer Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of his murder. But the killer of Keith Dutree Collins, a Black man gunned down by a Raleigh police officer in February 2020, was never charged. There was no body-camera video of the officer who fatally shot Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, a man with a history of mental illness, in a parking lot in 2019. There was video of police pulling Braily Andres Batista-Concepcion from his car and beating him bloody, but Wake County’s district attorney declined to have the incident investigated by the state. In the nights that followed May 30, the national guard was called into Raleigh and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin implemented a curfew, turning the city into a kind of desolate warzone. But for weeks protesters defied orders and

continued to march after dark, chanting the names of the dead: Floyd, Collins, Mojarrad. A year later, downtown Raleigh looks different. There are no longer monuments of Confederate soldiers guarding the old Capitol grounds after protesters dethroned them from their pedestals last summer. Downtown storefronts are no longer boarded up with plywood and are reopening as the pandemic recedes into the rearview. Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown is preparing for retirement and a new chief will be chosen soon. There’s a police advisory board, but no one is quite sure what it does. Whether this all spells progress is in the eye of the beholder. “In speaking with George Floyd’s family, they want to see our community unite. And they want to be leaders in getting us there. There is change that is needed, but we won’t get there overnight,” Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told the INDY. “I’m confident, however, that we will use this moment, this opportunity in time, to make impactful changes in our systems to address social justice issues. And in doing so, we must address the issues of poverty, education, and housing.” For activists like Dawn Blagrove, the last year feels more like regress. “In Raleigh I feel like we have been met with a lot of lip service and window dressings, but ultimately what the people of Raleigh are left with is no real change in the status quo of police accountability,” Blagrove says. “I would venture to say we are moving backward.” Case in point: despite the mounting pressure to defund police departments and reappropriate taxpayer dollars toward civil services that can more adequately support the homeless and mentally ill, the council is considering increasing the police budget by $5 million to fund a new patrol unit for the city’s greenways, which citizens reported in a survey felt less safe after two deaths on the trails last year. The new unit could include six officers and a supervisor, increasing the size of the police force. But beyond that budget line item, there have been some changes within the police department. Last year, the police department shuffled funds to create the ACORNS—Addressing Crisis through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service—unit, which will deploy social workers on certain 911 calls involving mental health crises or homeless individuals. Interviews for three social workers’ positions have taken place, according to an RPD spokesperson, and city officials hope to fill the positions soon. The council also created a police advisory board to review policies. While the board lacks “teeth”—the over-

Activist Kerwin Pittman speaking at the May 30, 2020 protest in Raleigh. PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

sight and subpoena powers that activists have been demanding for years—the council requested the legislature consider granting Raleigh’s board the ability to view police records currently protected by state law. That request isn’t likely to go anywhere as long as Republicans maintain control of the General Assembly. The board has also faced internal challenges. After struggling to recruit members for the board, two members abruptly quit this spring, citing poor leadership and a lack of autonomy from council and city staff. The council is slated to consider the budget and new appointments to the police advisory board on Tuesday, as this paper goes to print. Grassroots organization Refund Raleigh planned a protest in Nash Square for Tuesday night in opposition to the budget increase for the police department. Chief Deck-Brown plans to retire from her position with the city at the end of this month. The council hired a search firm to find her replacement and the top three applicants selected to replace her will be vetted at a community forum on June 10, where citizens are invited to ask questions. A new chief will be sworn in by July 1, according to city staff. Councilmember Nicole Stewart is excited about the direction a new chief would take the department. Though she says she sympathizes with the community’s frustration, she says, “if a switch could have been

flipped, it would have been flipped a long time ago, and progress takes time.” “I think the past year we have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and making progress,” Stewart says. “We’re at a point now where we are actively trying to reimagine what policing looks like moving forward.” Vision-boarding the future of Raleigh’s police force while Black residents continue to endure discrimination and over-policing isn’t good enough for many, though, including activist and former mayoral candidate Zainab Baloch. For her, talk is cheap, especially from politicians. “The changes really came from a place of public perception. I feel like we’ve publicly made more commitments, we’ve publicly said more stuff, but I can’t point to anything that has made things better for people of color and stopped the militarization of the police force,” Baloch says. “In my opinion, I believe it’s gotten worse.” Activist Kerwin Pittman says firm policies are the answer. The laws need to protect residents from police, not the other way around, he says. “If we’re looking at one issue instead of looking at the larger issue, which is that there is not an accountability mechanism across the county, we’re going to see more [violent policing incidents] happening,” Pittman says. “It’s going to be legislation, litigation, education, and demonstration.” W

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June 2, 2021



Durham From left: Nida Allam with Turquoise Parker PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

The Durham Committee did not endorse Allam in the primary, but ultimately endorsed her in the general election. Hall says that Allam, after failing to win a Durham Committee endorsement before the primaries, regularly showed up at the group’s meetings and offered “assurances that she would be a voice for its members.”

Disagreements with the board

Swing Voter Whether fairly or not, Durham Commissioner Nida Allam is at the center of the controversial vote to oust the former county manager BY THOMASI MCDONALD


hy did Wendell Davis lose his job as Durham County’s top executive? Was it racism? Or was it a case of a county board at odds with a fiscally conservative county manager and a desire to take a more progressive approach on policy issues? Soon after the Durham County Board of Commissioners last month voted 3-2 to not renew the contract of former County Manager Wendell Davis, Commissioner Nida Allam became the target of criticism from Black activists who took issue with her vote to part ways with Davis. His contract expires at the end of June, but he was relieved of his duties by the board in May. Allam was joined by Commissioners Wendy Jacobs and Heidi Carter, both white. Dissenting votes were cast by Commissioners Brenda Howerton and Nimasheena Burns, both Black. Activists with the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and SpiritHouse, a cultural organization 8

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led by Black women that supported Davis, turned their attention to Allam, the first Muslim woman in North Carolina history to hold an elected office. “It seems like her votes are not aligned with the interests of the Black community,” Tia Wilson Hall, the chair of the Durham Committee’s PAC told the INDY. Former Durham Committee chairman Omar Beasley says Allam told him in a meeting before the election that she would not cast a vote against Davis, which Allam says is inaccurate. Allam says she met with various community organizers to introduce herself and her vision for the county. Beasley did ask her how she would vote on Davis’s contract, Allam says, but she chose not to answer because, as a candidate, she wasn’t privy to the details of county personnel matters. “I told him that I was campaigning on this and that issue,” she says. “I’m not campaigning on the hiring or firing of any individual.”

Allam’s supporters and others take issue with the charge that Davis’s dismissal was fueled by race. They point to the former county manager’s brand of fiscal conservatism that was often at odds with the board. Davis’s critics say he put money toward the fund balance when it was needed during the pandemic and failed to increase funding for critical departments such as health and human services, and policy initiatives such as rental assistance and tax assistance grants. He also didn’t follow directions from the board, particularly when it came to increased funding for schools. Davis, they add, also fought against raising the county minimum wage to $15, which happened only after a prolonged fight. But Howerton says Davis managed the county ably through the pandemic by reducing expenses. “He imposed a hiring freeze. He did not give employee raises. He cut travel and made other sacrifices within the organization to keep the county solvent,” Howerton told the INDY. Davis declined requests to comment for this story.

Employee (dis)satisfaction Davis’s critics also point to the latest county employee satisfaction survey conducted in the spring of 2019, which showed significant gaps between the satisfaction of the county’s front-line employees, supervisors, and mid-level managers compared with the executive team, which includes the county manager, general managers, and department heads. The survey results, which were obtained by the INDY, suggest the county’s executive team was out of touch with the reality of its workers.

According to the survey, fewer than half of non-executive employees said they had a “psychologically and emotionally healthy place to work,” that “people look forward to coming to work,” that “management delivers on its promises,” and that “management’s actions match its words.” Only about half said management “makes its expectations clear,” “is approachable,” and “has a clear view of where the organization is going and how to get there.” Perhaps most telling, only about a third of non-executive employees said they “look forward to coming to work” compared to 83 percent of executive employees who said they did. There was positive data: roughly threefourths of non-executive employees said they were treated fairly regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and about the same fraction said they were proud to tell others where they work, which were signs that Davis didn’t oversee a toxic work environment, his supporters say. But in general, results from the 64-question survey indicated widespread unhappiness within the county’s rank-and-file. The results are not necessarily an indictment of Davis’s executive team, said one longtime county employee who agreed to speak with the INDY on the condition of anonymity. What was troubling, however, was how Davis handled the results. He chose not to share them with employees nor did he take steps to address their concerns. “He didn’t organize any response or take any action to improve the scores,” the employee said. Howerton disagreed with the suggestion that Davis was responsible for a toxic work environment, saying county employees loved Davis. “He was their greatest advocate,” she says.

Tax assistance grant Davis critics also pointed to a proposed tax assistance grant that would help low-income property owners stay in their homes, particularly in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. They claim that Davis, for two years, fought against it. Carl Rist, an independent consultant who worked for three decades as an advocate of wealth building in low-income communities, told the INDY that last year he was part of a group that went before commissioners to propose a tax assistance grant program to help low-income residents in the West End and Golden

“When schools are not getting what they need, that’s a system most assuredly casuing harm to what Black and Brown children need” Belt neighborhoods, where property values are soaring. With a looming pandemic, tax relief for low-income homeowners “was totally needed in the toolbox,” Rist says. He adds that community advocates worked with members of the county staff, including attorneys, financial officials, and a tax officer to hammer out the program, but from the outset, the county team looked for reasons not to do the tax assistance initiative. “They said the county commissioners could be personally liable,” Rist says. “We went back and forth, back and forth. There was this sense that they didn’t want to do this.” Rist added that when the program offering forgivable loans went into effect last spring, only one family applied. “It was a complete failure,” says Rist, adding that community advocates consulted with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government and were told that the courts in all probability would not find the initiative illegal. Although the community group did not directly speak to the former county manager, they assumed the legal staff acted under Davis’s direction. “We would love to see a county manager who says, ‘Let’s figure out a way

to do this,’” Rist says. “Someone who has a progressive willingness to push the envelope.”

School funding The former county manager’s critics also point to 2018, when the board asked Davis and staff to develop an education bond proposal that commissioners could approve and send to voters. He never did—even though “these [school] buildings are falling apart and getting older,” says Michelle Burton, a public schools librarian and president of the Durham Association of Educators. “A number were built in the 1970s,” Burton told the INDY. “The HVAC systems are falling apart. Durham School of the Arts and Brogden were built in the 1950s. Parkwood in the 1960s with RTP. Githens is old. They all need repairs. A bond should have been on the ballot in 2018. It definitely should be on the ballot by 2022.” Davis’ conservative budgets and failure to develop a bond proposal hurt children of all races, Burton says. “From an ideological perspective, when schools are not getting what they need, that’s a system most assuredly causing harm to what Black and Brown children need,” she says. Burton adds that the Durham Committee and Davis’s justification for not increasing school funding was based on the state-mandated, end-of-grade test scores and that the former county manager doesn’t understand what’s happening in the classrooms. The end-of-grade tests, Burton says, “are systematically designed for Black and Brown students to miss earning passing grades by one or two points.” “Wendell Davis says, ‘The kids are not passing the tests, but the schools are getting all of this money. So, what’s the problem?’” Burton explained. “But now you have millennials and Generation Z teachers looking at this as a social justice issue, and they want to dismantle it.” Howerton calls Burton’s comments about the 2018 school bond proposal part of an ongoing fake narrative. “The county is carrying a considerable amount of debt,” Howerton says. “Therefore, on the advice of the county’s financial advisor, the local government commission, and bond counsel, the county needed to spend what we had already issued, reduce our debt load, and get better positioned financially before having another bond placed on the ballot.”

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Howerton also says Davis increased the school’s budget every single year while he was county manager. “In fact, he did so even at the expense of county operations,” Howerton adds. “Over the past two years, he recommended to the board over 17 million dollars in new funding for the schools. That figure does not take into account how much he also recommended for school capital.”

New direction Moving forward, Allam says she would like the next county manager to push and support the same policies that have emerged as priorities for the county board. Those priorities include developing an education bond that supports preschoolers, removing obstacles toward homeownership, and supporting Black maternal health care and refugee services. Someone, she added, who is willing to work with commissioners on a “progressive vision for our residents.” But moving on is difficult for many members of the Black community. They say the effort to end Davis’s seven-year tenure as the county’s top executive had little to do with his job performance. Instead, it had everything to do with his writing an incendiary letter last year accusing Commissioner Heidi Carter of having an “inherent bias” against him and other people of color. Two investigations were launched soon after Davis’s letter was made public. One by the International City-County Managers Association found that Davis did not violate the organization’s code of ethics. A separate investigation by Duke University law professor James Coleman found that Carter’s actions were not racist in intent. Coleman concluded, however, that Carter’s criticism of the former county manager could have been reasonably perceived as racially biased “at least implicitly so.” Coleman probably foreshadowed the board’s vote when he wrote in his report that some of the commissioners “candidly admit that the trust between them and [Davis] likely has been irreparably damaged.” Some of Durham’s Black leaders think that Allam’s vote was an endorsement of the vitriol they contend Jacobs and Carter had for Davis. Hall says Jacobs drew the ire of Black residents during a county board meeting last year after Davis’s letter was made public. 10

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“There were wall-to-wall Black folk at the meeting in support of Wendell, and Wendy tells them, ‘Oh, he got his feelings hurt. I’m sorry.’ When you look at Durham’s racial demographic, you should not be in a place of power if you don’t understand the sting of those comments,” Hall says. “How can you be in a position of leadership in this community if you don’t understand those words are harmful and dismissive to Black people?” Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse, says Allam has consistently voted against the interests of the Black community. It started in December, when she voted for Jacobs, instead of Burns, to serve as co-chair. That was followed by a vote against hiring a group to conduct racial equity training for the board, and another vote to hire an outside attorney to review Davis’s contract. Hall says prior to the vote to fire Davis, she frequently spoke with Allam. She agrees with Wilson: Allam’s vote to select Jacobs as co-chair was problematic. As previously reported by the INDY, the two commissioners frequently clashed in the months after Davis’s letter. “It was her desire to create some sense of peace and to assure us that she can offer a remedy,” Hall says of Allam’s vote for Jacobs. “But you cannot broker peace when the person who has been harmed is not an integral part of creating that remedy.” Hall, who was a member of Durham’s inaugural Racial Equity Task Force, adds that what has happened in the community since Davis’s letter and his subsequent firing “is not about Nida, just like it’s not about Wendell. “It’s about a system that uses white privilege to keep us in-fighting so it can maintain power. That is what white power does. This should not be about Nida. This is about Wendy and Heidi not being held accountable. It should not be up to Nida to be a proctor of the peace. Again, we see the pitting of people of color against one another, while white harm-doers go unscathed.” Despite the current discord among the county board, Allam says she will continue to work with her fellow commissioners. “Absolutely,” she says. “I’m willing to work with all parts of Durham. I was elected by the people, and I am dedicated to serving the people of Durham. It’s about working together to close the gaps that existed long before any of us were elected. I can say for myself, I’m fully dedicated to working with the board’s four other women. We come from vastly different backgrounds. We may not always agree, but we all love this community.” W


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June 2, 2021



Chapel Hill A rendering of the 2200 Homestead project COURTESY OF CHAPEL HILL AFFORDABLE HOUSING

A Home For All Chapel Hill’s town council approved the plans for a new affordable housing development, and others are in the works. Is it enough to meet the demand? BY SARA PEQUEÑO


s alumni and locals are keenly aware, Chapel Hill is seemingly always growing and changing. And while there are plenty of luxury condos and townhomes planned, recently the conversation has centered on creating more affordable housing. Last month, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved permits for the 2200 Homestead Road development following four years of deliberation. The project will bring 120 new affordable housing units, which will be a mix of apartments, condos, and duplexes for folks making anywhere from $18,000 to just over $100,000. “Chapel Hill values being an inclusive community and, by providing land and working with our partners, we are creating a welcoming community and a special place for people to call home,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said in a press statement. The town owns the plot of land that will be home to the new development. In 2017, town officials began seeking out a group to develop the property. Now, there’s a development team composed of the nonprofits CASA, Community Home Trust, and Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. They’re led by the Self-Help Ventures Fund, a nonprofit created by Self-Help Credit Union. But Chapel Hill isn’t a home for everyone. Although experts advise not spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing, high land values and property taxes make it hard for everyday folks to afford housing. The average person living in Chapel Hill spends 58 percent of their income on rent, while homeowners spend a little over 22 percent on their housing. The average home in Chapel Hill costs more than $410,000 to own. The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have 1,155 public and privately owned affordable housing units between them. However, U.S. Census data estimates that more than 13,300 people—almost 20 percent of Chapel Hill’s population and almost 12

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16 percent of Carrboro’s—are living below the poverty level. The town is trying to keep up with demand for affordable housing by building more projects like the Homestead Road development. In the first six months of the 2021 fiscal year, the town completed three affordable housing developments. There are 15 more affordable housing developments and renovations on track to be completed anywhere from this quarter through fiscal year 2028. In addition to the Homestead Road project, the Aura Chapel Hill, a project still in the public hearing stage, is set to include 40 affordable rental units and create affordable home ownership opportunities off the 1000 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Public hearings on Aura Chapel Hill, however, have dredged up concerns from neighbors. The Estes Neighbors webpage, seemingly connected with the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT), has a petition to “Keep Estes Drive Moving” with 486 signatures at press time. Signatories say they want the town to reject the rezoning proposal, since they presume the development would create more traffic. They’ve voiced concerns over parking and “uncertain community benefits,” while also asserting that the development would be a “net loss in revenue” for Chapel Hill. “We’ve turned our attention to the proposed AURA[sic] development because of its disproportionate size and car-centric architecture that pose a large threat to Estes Drive mobility,” the website reads. The town council will move to vote on the Aura development’s rezoning application on June 16, almost 16 months after the initial application was filed. An affordable housing development on Jay Street is still in the planning stages, and its developers will present ideas to the town council later in June. Sitting right on the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Jay Street development would potentially create 50 affordable units, according to the concept plan application submitted to the town in March. The developers plan to submit a conditional zoning application in the fall. W


Orange County

In the Trenches A partnership aims to improve safety for Orange County first responders BY ELLIE HEFFERNAN


n August 2018, Jeff Holden, Orange Rural’s then-assistant fire chief, answered a trench rescue call. Holden and another Orange Rural firefighter entered a trench on West Ten Road in Efland and successfully rescued a trapped construction worker. Later that day, Holden was found unresponsive at Hillsborough’s main fire station. An autopsy revealed that heart disease and high blood pressure could have contributed to his death. Trench rescue is one of the most challenging and fatal rescue operations for emergency responders. The process involves shoring up the sides of a trench to dig out individuals who have become trapped in a collapsed ditch. Following Holden’s death, Orange Rural fire chief Jeff Cabe was moved to take action to reduce the likelihood of trench collapse-related injuries. So, he reached out to the county’s emergency services director, Kirby Saunders, to address gaps in rescue coverage and funding. This month, Orange County Emergency Services and Orange Rural Fire Department partnered up to buy equipment that officials hope will make trench rescue safer for their workers. “Nobody in the county currently has the ability to respond to a trench rescue and go into a trench to get people out,” Cabe said in a press release. “Fortunately, we live in an area with a lot of clay so they don’t happen a lot, but when the call comes, you have to respond.” Contractors must construct trench boxes to protect workers if they dig trenches more than four feet into the ground. Despite these efforts, collapses still occur. Rescuing people from trench collapse is a difficult and complicated process. Cabe says it requires specific equipment and a large team of responders who have to rotate due to the labor-intensive nature of moving dirt and debris. Through the partnership, the agencies purchased coated birch plywood panels that hold dirt back during trench collapse and air shores, or pneumatic cylinders, which hold the panels in place. They also attached a laminated veneer lumber beam to the plywood panels for additional support. Trench collapse is a high-risk, low-frequency event, says Cabe, which makes it a low priority when budgets are tight. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 25 people die annually in trench-related accidents.


Trench collapse rescue equipment costs thousands of dollars, may not ever even be used, and has to be replaced every two to four years. Although the county has experienced a few trench collapses in previous years, Cabe says ORFD was not dispatched since they did not have the tools to respond. Even though OCES and ORFD are absorbing all costs, the equipment can be deployed anywhere in Orange County. ORFD plans to host training sessions in June for first responders from other departments, Cabe says. This would help Cabe work toward his goal of ensuring that every county department has personnel who are trained and able to respond during a trench rescue. Trench collapse may become a more frequent occurrence as development increases and more popular municipalities, such as Chapel Hill, Durham, and Chatham, raise rent and mortgage prices amid high demand. The trend will likely continue as big tech companies like Google and Apple open offices in the area. With the increased demand comes a higher cost of living that pushes people to live in cheaper areas like Hillsborough. “Developers are going to try to meet that demand. And when they meet that demand, they’ll buy 100 acres of land and try to build houses on it,” Cabe says. “And when they need to put in 97 houses on 100 acres of land, they might have to take down this hilltop off this one side of the property and raise up this low place on the other side of the property.” Leveling dirt to support the weight of a house can cause the land to shift, eventually leading to trench collapse. Water, sewage, and internet systems, which typically have to run underground, can also contribute to this effect.

“If there’s any kind of fault lines that happen to move, or if there’s underground water, or during a 100-year flood, water rises, it causes the ground to get soft,” says Cabe. “And these buildings that have been built in these places could potentially fall.” At 11.1 percent, Orange County’s growth rate during the past decade was just over one point higher than the state average, according to Carolina Demography. The most recent data shows that Hillsborough, which is serviced by ORFD, is the county’s fastest-growing municipality. ORFD covered around half the equipment costs via tax revenues and will pay for annual upkeep and maintenance, Cabe says. OCES contributed the remaining $25,000. ORFD’s approximately $1.5 million budget is the highest in the county, according to Orange County’s budget from last year, almost double the size of the next-highest fire district budget in the county, which has 12 in total. Officials told the INDY this is because ORFD employs the largest number of full-time firefighters outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and covers both a rural district and the town of Hillsborough. The new equipment will also help rescue individuals involved in heavy vehicle incidents, such as those including containers or tractor trailers. Cabe said his department has seen a dozen tractor-involved incidents since the year’s start. Jeff Holden, the Orange Rural firefighter who died in the line of the duty, is remembered fondly by his colleagues. “He cared deeply for his brothers and sisters in the fire family and in other arms of emergency service,” his family said in a statement. This new equipment will be part of Holden’s legacy, with the potential to save lives. W

June 2, 2021



North Carolina

Not Out of the Woods Activists say that Governor Cooper hasn’t paid adequate attention to the environmental impacts of the wood pellet industry BY CARYL ESPINOZA JAEN AND ELLIE HEFERNAN


elinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. “We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers voiced their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies. The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the 14

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environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. The bulk of these exports is burned for fuel in European power stations. “Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” Zucchino said. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.” Northampton—like Hertford, Sampson, and Richmond counties, where the state’s four wood pellet facilities are located—is a Tier 1 county, a designation given to the state’s 40 most economically distressed counties. Within these counties, the facilities are located in census tracts predominantly inhabited by racial minorities. A fifth facility has been proposed in Robeson County. The rally organizers’ petition states people of color account for between half and almost 90 percent of the residents in these five counties. Demonstrators criticized the large numbers of North Carolina’s trees that are cut down and sold in the form of biomass pellets to other countries for fuel, worsening climate change. Pellet facilities also directly harm local communities by releasing carbon dioxide and air pollutants like PM 2.5, which are associated with respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer. Deforestation can also worsen floods, a major concern for counties like Robeson that were decimated by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. The Rev. Richie Harding, another community member from Northampton County, said the state’s politicians who have expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement must also care about the racial disparities surrounding pollution.

The Raging Grannies gathered at Halifax Mall to protest, singing songs like “Where is Cooper?” PHOTO BY ELLIE HEFERNAN

“If Black lives matter, why is my community the desired location for a facility that would not only shorten my life, but the lives of my children?” Harding questioned. “Why is it OK to have the dust cover the holes, the cars, the children’s toys for monetary gain because it’s a neighborhood of people of color?” Sarah Muskin, a graduate student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she and her classmates contacted Joyner to research Enviva Pellets’ environmental and public health impact in Northampton County. “The wood pellet industry is worse than a false solution for climate change, and it is also a harmful practice to the forests and the communities it impacts,” Muskin said. “DEQ [The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality] should not be granting permits to the wood pellet industry on the basis of environmental justice.” Demonstrators are also concerned about potential pollutants from the proposed but not yet operational Robeson County pellet facility. Active Energy Renewable Power, a subsidiary of the UK-based company Active Energy Group, received $500,000 in grants from the North Carolina Department of Commerce to run the plant before the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved its permit. A lawsuit was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, stating that AERP has violated state laws and the federal Clean Water Act by illegally discharging

wastewater into the Lumbee River without a wastewater permit. Rally organizers are now demanding the N.C. commerce department and all other state agencies halt subsidies, grants, and incentives that are not part of the N.C. DEQ Clean Energy Plan and Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 80 on climate change. They also asked DEQ to deny all future permits for such projects, review the impacts of intensive forest harvesting for wood pellets, and complete an impact report by November of this year. The rally followed a conference hosted by Rep. Garland E. Pierce (D-Scotland, Hoke), who represented affected residents, prior to a legislative redistricting. Approximately 60 people called on Gov. Cooper to cut ties with the wood pellet industry. Representatives from impacted counties, nonprofit organizations, and even the Raging Grannies gathered at Halifax Mall to sing songs including “Just Say No to Biomass” and “Where is Cooper?” After the rally, participants delivered a petition with their demands. Anita Cunningham, the program director for the Robeson County Cooperative for Sustainable Development and member of the Robeson County NAACP, said she came to the rally to spread awareness about the environmental harm communities were facing. “I’m not against business at all,” Cunningham told the INDY. “But I think that some processes can be put in place to make it less harmful for the environmental justice communities that they’re harming.” W


As the economy reopens, Triangle arts organizations are still waiting for promised emergency aid BY BYRON WOODS


arly last spring, Haw River Ballroom director Heather LaGardebegan to hear that cultural disruptions from the virus would be anything but brief. She immediately made a COVID crash landing: closing the venue, turning off the phones and internet, and letting her entire staff go. “We had to do some really painful calisthenics to make it survive,” she says of the ballroom. “If we didn’t, there’d have been no way we could ride it out.” Even though LaGarde and her partners own the building, keeping things afloat, she says, “has been a really close call. We’ve had to do a lot of work to make it last this far.” Having lost what LaGarde calls “a year of everything,” the ballroom made the top tier of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, a federal emergency aid program for the performing arts. That tier is reserved for groups that have lost more than 90 percent of their gross revenue during pandemic months last year. The news should be a lifesaving boon. So why is LaGarde struggling to schedule the ballroom’s season after its September 8 return with Julien Baker? Much of the answer lies with the Small Business Administration, which has just blown its second promised deadline to inform grant recipients that they’re actually approved for funding equivalent to 45 percent of their lost gross revenue. Without that fact in writing, LaGarde feels like she’s spending ghost money. “Booking is scary when you don’t know what your funds are,” she says. But if presenters like her are going to have any fall season at all, “no one can wait any longer.” The Chelsea Theater has also had it tough. Executive director Emily Kass had bought the theater in March of 2018 and run it as a non-profit for less than 2 years before the pandemic hit.

June 2, 2021


When the theater was forced to temporarily close last spring, she used it as an opportunity to give the 30-year-old arthouse cinema a systemic facelift, reaching out to subscribers and supporters to fund upgrades to the theater’s sound systems, screens, and seating, along with its bathrooms and lobby. But as the months of closure continued, the theater burned through its cash reserves “and more.” The theater reopened in April, but audiences have stayed small. “We’re living on a loan we have to make payments on,” says Kass. “It’s a very tense and frustrating time.” The SBA’s assessment reflects that. It puts Kass in SVOG’s second tier with groups who lost over 70 percent of their gross revenue between April and December of last year. By any measure, the SVOG, which was part of a larger economic aid act that Donald Trump signed into law last December, is a historical federal aid package for a constellation of arts industries in the U.S. Its origins began with grassroots efforts by live music venue owners across the country, who came together in April of 2020 to form their own advocacy group, the National Independent Venue Association. NIVA enlisted top-drawer advisors from the country’s largest lobbying group


June 2, 2021

by revenue, Akin Gump, to promote a proposed bill called “Save Our Stages.” “The key was that, in every state, there’s at least one club that people love, and those venues had some political clout,” says Cat’s Cradle owner Frank Heath. A subsequent “50-state blitz” to rescue live music slowly gained traction. “We knew we were getting places when some Republicans started putting their names on it,” Heath recalls. Lindsey Graham was an early advocate, and Texas Republican John Cornyn became the bill’s co-sponsor. “Then it was expanded to include performing arts organizations, for-profit and nonprofit,” says Arts NC executive director Nate McGaha. “Broadway was in it; symphonies, theater companies, and museums were included in the end.” The SVOG’s $16 billion price tag easily makes it the largest federal arts subsidy ever, almost 100 times bigger than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. Adjusted for inflation, it’s also 30 times the size of the largest previous comparable program in the nation’s history: the famous Federal Project Number One, which endowed artists including John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre in the 1930s under the WPA.

The legislation’s final version also targeted performing arts groups, movie theaters, and talent representatives in danger of closing permanently, by restoring 45 percent of their gross revenue lost during the pandemic, up to an individual grant cap of $10 million. For an entity like PlayMakers Repertory Company which, according to producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, lost nearly $1.2 million in ticket sales last season, a $540,000 subsidy could enable the company to rehire furloughed staff. PineCone executive director David Brower checks his online SVOG account several times a day. After submitting an 85-page application in April for his Shuttered Venue grant, PineCone was placed in the third and lowest qualifying tier for support, among groups who lost only more than a quarter of their earned revenue during the pandemic. Still, he has faith in the grant’s possibilities. “The funding will help preserve the country’s arts infrastructure,” he says.


ut to do that, the money has to first reach its recipients. After the SBA first missed a mid-May deadline to release the funds,

SBA administrator Isabel Guzman told a House committee, last Wednesday, that grants had started rolling out. But Triangle arts organizations, already stressed by five months’ delay in emergency funding, are still waiting. At this late date, none of the local arts contingent even knows if they’re being funded, or when they might be. “Lots of venues were—and still obviously are—hanging on by a thread,” says Frank Heath. He cites a chaotic January transition between presidential administrations and calls the delay “inevitable.” But other factors clearly lead to the hold up. “It took a long time for the SBA to wrap their head around how to administer this grant, and they kept getting it wrong,” McGaha says. Brower is reluctant to blame the bureaucracy. “Imagine what it was like when they handed out $26 billion to the airline industry. It was much less complicated; you could probably fit all their representatives in the same conference room.” Instead, he thinks the SVOG effort “exposed just how much [of a] hodgepodge the performing arts industry is.”

"Lots of venues were— and still are—hanging on by a thread," says Cat's Cradle owner Frank Heath. Devising a comprehensive rubric for a field with so many different, and often idiosyncratic, business models would be daunting, adds Burning Coal Theatre’s artistic director Jerome Davis, who says the SBA has been “working to make the thing as accessible as possible to as many as possible.” Still, even arts administrators accustomed to intricate grant applications have been daunted by the vagaries in the SVOG process. “The instructions changed at least three times,” LaGarde says. “And usually on a Friday, so everyone’s weekends were spent trying to unravel them without guidance,” Benesch adds. Compounding the stress, arts organizations had to quickly collect a lot of information they had never tracked before. Executive director Heather Strickland found herself having to prove that Raleigh Little Theatre was a performance venue. “Rather than asking about our mission and history, they said, ‘Show us you have a public address system and a lighting rig. Show us that you market shows for ticket sales.’ But how? Do we take pictures of our microphones? Do we find the receipts?” The process was even more fraught for people not accustomed to government grants. “It was complicated, terrifying, and time-consuming,” says Pinhook owner Kym Register. “It would really make a lot of people not want to apply.” Speaking off the record, a local venue owner who hasn’t completed the process calls the online form a “suicide application: you get it right or you get it wrong, and there’s no appeal at all.” According to American Dance Festival executive director Jodee Nimerichter, “it felt like if we did it wrong, we weren’t going to be considered.” Strickland frets, “I’m still worried I’m going to get an email that says you did it wrong and not get any money.” Apprehensions like this have discouraged artists like choreographer ShaLeigh Comerford, who doesn’t plan to apply for the funds.

Kass, who has had seamless interactions with government funders in the past, concludes, “The process does not appear to have been managed well.” With warmer days and mask and social distancing restrictions on the wane, long-frustrated concert goers are just starting to demonstrate the economic power of pent-up demand. When musician Waxahatchee’s October 7 show at Haw River Ballroom sold out in less than two days, LaGarde felt rejuvenated. “It was the first time we felt reassured that people felt safe and comfortable coming back to the Ballroom: a major shot in the arm for feeling like music would return.” Still, many of the region’s top presenters caution audiences against expecting an immediate return to business as usual at their favorite venues. “You can’t just flip a switch and have the same bands planned,” Heath says. He expects a full year before the Cradle can get back to a pre-pandemic schedule. Davis is scheduling two small-cast productions at the start of his upcoming season: shows “that would not put our company out of business if they had to be canceled or postponed.” Other groups anticipate a longer timeline for a comeback. PlayMakers Rep, which has canceled its PRC2 second stage and taken one mainstage production off the books for next year, estimates three to five years to return to pre-COVID levels of production. If Raleigh Little Theatre gets the funds it anticipates, it might take two years to rebuild what they had going into the pandemic; without them, closer to five. Even with its pandemic makeover, Kass anticipates two to five years for the Chelsea to repay its loans and “get back to whatever normal means.” For now, though, she and some 13,000 other applicants from across the country are still waiting, anxiously, for any word that help is finally on the way. W

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June 2, 2021




Wednesday, June 2—Sunday, June 6, 2021 |

What to Watch at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Festival This year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival features 36 titles from 21 countries—21 feature films and 15 shorts. Here’s a sampling of what’s unspooling, virtually, at this year’s fest.

My Name Is Pauli Murray

From the makers of 2018’s RGB, My Name is Pauli Murray chronicles the legacy of the pioneering poet and activist attorney who spent her childhood years in Durham. Murray’s tireless work on gender and race equity led to genuine lasting change in America.

Storm Lake

It’s no secret that local journalism is in crisis. Storm Lake follows the staff of an Iowa newspaper as they fight to keep their publication alive, and explores larger issues concerning watchdog journalism, lethal misinformation, and, quite possibly, the survival of democracy. World Premiere.

Television Event

In 1983, ABC broadcast the made-forTV movie The Day After, depicting the aftermath of nuclear war, which promptly traumatized an entire generation of viewers. Some of us still haven’t recovered. Australian director Jeff Daniels investigates the making of the film, as well as the psychological impact it had on people, policy makers, and even entire nations.

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation

This ambitious double portrait takes an innovative approach to Southern writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Actors Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto read from published works, diaries, and letters between the two literary legends. Acclaim! Addiction! Ambiguous sexuality! Good times.

In the Same Breath

Chinese-American filmmaker Nanfu Wang delivers what is essentially an origin story on COVID-19, starting with a Wuhan new year’s gathering in the very first moments of 2020. Wang’s 18

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ferocious film reveals corruption and deliberate misinformation at the highest levels of government, in both China and America.

Still from Scenes from the Glittering World PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FILMMAKER

Scenes from the Glittering World

This world premiere tracks three students from the Navajo Nation as they navigate the treacherous waters of adolescence. Filming in and around the most remote high school in the U.S., director Jared Jakins tells their stories through a series of sometimes funny, sometimes tragic vignettes. World Premiere.

It Is Not Over Yet

A small nursing home in Denmark is taking a radical new approach to caring for residents with severe dementia. Eschewing traditional elder care, the staff deploys the powerful medicine of laughter, engagement, and empathy.

Spirit never dies, only transitions

Logan L. Burroughs’ loving black-andwhite short film celebrates the power of simple traditions and rituals in Black communities, using slow-moving images and innovative sound design.

Meanwhile on Earth

Billed as a deadpan dramedy of manners, this doc takes an odd, artful approach to documenting the Swedish funerary business. Using carefully composed images, director Carl Olsson escorts viewers through cemeteries and morgues—even a hearse ride-along. Dead serious.

We Were There to be There

In 1978, psychobilly punk rockers the Cramps and the Mutants played a legendary gig in the psychiatric ward of Napa State Hospital in California. This short film includes rare footage from the show. —Glenn McDonald

Fully Reframed A virtual event may be bittersweet, but in its 24th year, Full Frame still captures the documentary spirit BY SARAH EDWARDS


n a normal year, thousands of attendees would spill out into downtown Durham during Full Frame Documentary Festival week, filling darkened screening rooms and squeezing into bar booths, afterwards, to celebrate documentary debuts. This year’s festival, though, is a little different—and virtual. “I’ll be candid: My greatest joy with the festival is watching the synergy between audiences and festival and filmmakers,” interim festival director Sadie Tillery says. “Not being able to see that spark in person makes for a very different year.” But maybe that’s the evolving nature of documentary filmmaking, or what filmmaker Jerry Risius calls “rolling with the punches.” Risius’ first documentary feature film, Storm Lake, will make its festival debut this week, and though a virtual premiere isn’t exactly what he and co-director Beth Levison had in mind when they began filming, neither was the film they ended up with. Storm Lake—a documentary capturing the power of journalism (and democracy) in the small corners of America—is a fitting film to have wrapped in 2020. But its filmmakers began the project earlier, in late 2017, when Iowan newspaperman Art Cullen won an unlikely Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing at small-town biweekly The Storm Lake Times. Levison and Risius (who grew up in Iowa) began to document the struggling family paper, catching slices of life. Then, more. Then came a fraught election year, the pandemic, and a new bout of furious reporting after nearby pork plants reported coronavirus outbreaks. The documentary stretched on, capturing life—slippery, unpredictable, often difficult—with the pandemic as an added starring role. Now Storm Lake premieres in Durham with Levison and Risius several states away. “It felt pressing,” Risius says, of the impetus to get the film out. “This is a really important message and an important film to get out for people to see as quickly as possible.” This June’s festival is its 24th. As in every year, the festival’s films capture broad swaths of life—sky and land, love and heartbreak, a next-door neighbor, and modern-day refugees in Afghanistan. One highly anticipated film with a Durham connection, My Name is Pauli Murray, has already sold out and, astonishingly, so have

festival passes. But, say organizers, single tickets are still available for most films, as are passes to more than 30 Full Frame filmmaker Q&As. Jared Jenkins, whose documentary Scenes from the Glittering World will have a worldwide premiere at the festival this week, calls the week leading up to the festival “bittersweet.” “Full Frame has become this landmark festival for documentaries in the United States,” he says. “To be a part of it is a big deal, but it’s a little sad that we won’t be able to go to North Carolina, and experience it in person.” Tillery, the artistic director and interim festival director, vividly remembers the moment that festival organizers made the call, last year, to cancel the 23rd edition of the festival, originally slated to take place April 2-6 of last year. “I was standing in my kitchen,” says Tillery, who has been with the festival for 16 years. “It was evening, and it was just crushing—a year of really careful work for our team. To not be able to see that hard work come to fruition was sad. Some of these films had taken years to be made.” When planning this year’s festival, Tillery says that, unsure whether filmmakers would even want to release documentaries in an online-only showcase, she considered curating a lineup of already-released films. But after talking with filmmakers, the consensus was clear: they wanted to get their work out into the world and move onto the next project. During the call for submissions, an outpouring of nearly 1000 entries came in for the 36 slots. Jared Jenkins’ debut film Scenes from a Glittering World, which he’s been working on for three years, follows the robotics team at a remote Navajo high school. He sees a silver lining in the remote release: an in-person festival wouldn’t have been accessible to the whole community he worked with in Arizona and Utah. Now, they’ll all see the film make its world premiere—remotely together. The Storm Lake film team will also have their own launch party. They’ve been working remotely since March 2020, Risius says, but plan to gather for a backyard premiere hosted by film editor Rachel Shuman’s in Beacon, New York. Back in Iowa, too, their subjects will be coming together to watch. “This is the year of a virtual event,” Tillery says. “But when we eventually do come back in person, our audience will still be here. We still have a community of people who are excited about what we do.” W

June 2, 2021




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June 2, 2021

Water Signs A spin on a European folktale makes for a sophisticated, spooky romantic thriller BY GLENN MCDONALD


n European folklore, an undine is a female water spirit—sometimes called a selkie or naiad—that has the unfortunate habit of taking human form and falling in love with mortals. According to legend, if the mortal lover proves unfaithful, undines are bound by a violent bummer of magical law. “If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you.” That’s Undine, played by the wonderful German actress Paula Beer, speaking to her smarmy boyfriend, Johannes, in the opening breakup scene of director Christian Petzold’s moody romantic thriller. In a contemporary update to the myth, Undine is a young professional in present-day Berlin. Johannes has indeed strayed, and he’s clearly unaware of Undine’s true nature, or the consequences of his actions. But the look in Undine’s ancient eyes suggests she’s about to get mythological on his ass. Fortunately for Johannes, Undine is reluctant to fulfill the curse this time around. When she meets-cute with another mortal—the good-hearted underwater diver Christoph—fate takes off in another direction entirely. The myth of Undine is better-known in Europe and it’s good to go into this film with a sense of the cultural context. In Germany, director Petzold is known for sophisticated thrillers (Transit) and multilayered storytelling techniques. Indeed, Undine operates on that particularly European frequency of literary cinema. It’s not a supernatural thriller, as we in America have been conditioned to expect these kinds of movies to be. It’s deeper—quieter, too, and better. Petzold’s update of the Undine myth brims with both contemporary and timeless ideas. Past and present coexist uneasily in the film, and Petzold is interested in

how this dynamic relates to the modern German state. In his version of the myth, Undine is a historian who specializes in the city of Berlin and how it’s grown around its waterways and wars. Leading a tour group through a room-sized scale model of the city, she looms over the metropolis like a deity. Later, when Christoph brings her along on one of his scuba dives, the couple chances upon the word “Undine” carved into ancient underwater pillars. Christoph thinks it’s a crazy coincidence. For Undine, it’s presumably a sad memory. She’s been haunting this place for a long time. This theme of history repeating itself plays out in more personal terms, as well. In her modern incarnation, Undine is trying to break the tragic patterns of her curse. She wants to end her toxic relationship with the manipulative, mansplaining Johannes. But can she defy destiny and change her own patterns of destructive behavior? The answer to this question comes late in the film and has the tragic resonance of those original dark fairy tales. If this sounds awfully dense for a spooky romantic thriller, well, it is—and that’s what makes it so interesting. The Undine myth has inspired artists through the ages, from 16th century alchemists to a long list of novelists, composers, and playwrights. (Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” is a happier version of the legend.) Petzold is a veteran filmmaker, affiliated with the movement known as the Berlin School. He’s clearly having fun splashing around in the waters of magical realism. The storytelling is brisk and efficient; Undine clocks in at a tight 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite stick the landing, and the story lacks the elegant roundness of an abiding myth. But it did remind me of why I love the feature film format. It’s nice to get a fulfilling story, artfully told, in a beautiful little package like this: no seasons to plow through, no binge watching required. Just the good clean fun of doomed love, ancient elementals, and deep Teutonic melancholy. W



[Manifest Destiny Records; April 25, 2021]

No Shame With a name change and new purpose, Shame Gang is ready to level up from local phenom to international heavyweight BY CHARLES MORSE


hame Gang is on a mission. When you’ve been working the independent rap circuit for years, there comes the proverbial “make-or-break” moment when you take stock of your actual purpose in making music and get sick of the games that go along with the local scene. Born Darren Clark, Shame Gang has more to work for than just himself. Last year his brother Darnell, more commonly known as Manny, was murdered, sending shockwaves throughout the North Carolina hip-hop scene. Manny was a well-respected figure in local hip-hop circles as a true-to-the-roots rapper who really lived the things he rapped about. He was also Shame’s closest advisor, and with his death, Shame Gang is making sure to build a lasting legacy for his brother. 2018’s Genesis 98’ was Shame Gang’s first officially distributed album, and it was strong enough to get him into the right conversations, propelling a few tour runs and ultimately landing him an opening spot for Wu-Tang Clan at their wildly anticipated reunion tour stop at Red Hat Amphitheater. Now, with a slight name change—formerly Shame, now Shame Gang—the energy he exudes on new album No Safe Havens is very different. On it, he dabbles in gritty Memphis trap beats in the song “Nike,” but still maintains authority as a boom bap spitter in “HFM,” which features Torae. After six years of covering Shame for multiple outlets, I got a chance to catch up with him to discuss the release of No Safe Havens, and how the death of Manny has affected his outlook on the future. INDY: I was listening to your album at the release show and the first thing I thought was how much you’ve grown your sound in that time.

SHAME GANG: That’s what I was aiming for, man. I feel like if you ain’t trying to grow in this game and stay stagnant, then it’s not gonna work. That’s why now I’m in a different mindset. I feel like I’ve finally arrived. I feel like all those years you’ve known me to now, I was searching for who I wanted to be as an artist, with different sounds, and producers, and everything—and I feel like I’ve figured it out. I’m comfortable. You said at the listening party that you were done making music that you felt other people wanted you to make.

I got tired of impressing “old heads,” you know what I’m saying? Like I can rap, everyone knows I can rap! I’m trying to have fun now. I want to make good, high-energy records and get this thing going. Was there a moment when you finally got something like that recorded, and you realized that it was the right direction for you?

It was right after the Wu tour and I was hanging out with a lot of Dreamville artists. I went to a backstage day party with Lute and them at Hopscotch, and got to see how they work together and make music, and I thought, “I can do this too, man!” Like what’s the difference between them and me? It kind of felt like how J. Cole switched it up on KOD. Like, I said, “let me show you how I can do this, and still stay true to me without coming down to sound cool.” You express in No Safe Havens that you want to separate yourself from just being a local Raleigh rapper. Is that what your goal is with this album?

Yeah, I want to separate myself from that stigma of people saying “local artist this

Shame Gang


and local artist that.” I just want to be an independent artist and travel, man… see the world and get my music out to the people that are supposed to hear it. The attitude used to be that you couldn’t stay in North Carolina and expand your brand. With the Triangle expanding and our music scene getting national attention, do you think that’s still the case?

I feel like you can stay here, but you need a circuit that you can run. I think DaBaby and other cats out here that have blown have put a magnifying glass on us, but you gotta at least get on the road. Leading up to No Safe Havens, your brother Manny died. I can’t imagine how that felt for you—how did that loss affect the writing of this album?

Well, before he passed I had already written and recorded three tracks, including “Nike.” And he told me, “I like where you’re going with this, man. Don’t worry about bars, you got bars, so don’t overthink this.” He was proud of me. But when he passed, it halted a lot of things. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t even want to rap anymore. I told my manager that I wasn’t gonna do it anymore and he was prepared for everything that involved. The person who got me out of that funk was Damian at Evenform Studios. He called me one day and told me that he wouldn’t let me quit. He said that

I have too much potential and it’s not what my brother would want. Once we had that talk and I got back in the studio, I recorded “Still Here.” I had to do that song to get through. If I didn’t record that song, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through. But after that, we just kept recording and recording. That’s appropriate though, because Manny always pushed you. It’s like his spirit pushed you through making this album.

Man, I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I be rapping with the ghost of this dude taking the pen sometimes. But I really do believe that people live on through you in your memories, and I really believe that my brother is still here and behind me right now. I have to say, as someone who respects both of you, it’s good to see you putting music out that elevates your voice and immortalizes Manny for people who don’t know who he is.

Well if you look at the name of the imprint the album was put out under, it’s called Manifest Destiny Records. So he’s gonna live forever and we won’t stop until the world knows. I really want to do it for his kids and make sure they’re straight and never have to need anything. A lot of them are babies right now, but I want them to know what kind of man their father was.W

June 2, 2021




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June 2, 2021




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