Step into Durham for only a few moments and you’ll see that it’s an art rich city. With murals, statues and the overall lay of the land filled with artistic flair. There’s a real and true artistic community here and moreover, a genuine appreciation for the arts. It’s ingrained into everything the city does. If it’s not worked into the project originally, it will find its way there eventually, most likely in the middle of the night. Creativity never sleeps.
It’s this creativity energy that wouldn’t let Durham die and breathed life into the revitalization of the city. Creativity is the long thread through Durham’s history that makes it a city unlike any other. After all, where else can you find century old tobacco factory buildings built with Italian inspired architectural flair now housing unique boutiques, esteemed restaurants and art exhibits? Only in Durham.
Much of what goes on in the Bull City can be filed under ‘Only in Durham,’ but there is another slogan that will serve any newcomer or someone passing through, ‘Welcome to Durham. Leave your expectations at the city line.’ This may be particularly helpful to anyone that expects to be able to pass through Durham unaffected. The Bull City will make an impression on you and forever leave a mark on your heart.
One such expectation defying woman flipping the script on the art scene and in the know about many of those touches of art that show up in the middle of the night is Durham native Candy Carver. Her art and her person will sneak up on you and make an impression. It’s not what you see in this world, it’s how you see and, while she may not fully realize it, Candy has a way of pushing people to see things from new perspectives.
If there is anything in the modern world that skews a perspective, and very quickly at that, it’s social media. With a constant stream of information from outlets and persons we choose, we can handcraft a bias feed that reiterates what we want to see and hear. Bull City hashtags, true to the nature of the city, have a way of veering from that and that’s a good thing. It’s those deviations that let the true spirit of the city spill through.
You don’t have to go too far down the hashtag rabbit hole when it comes to the Durham to happen upon the art scene and once you do, you’ll find Candy Carver. Whether it’s a new art gallery opening, 3rd Friday art scene, Paint Durham or even in the background at Letters Bookshop or Cocoa Cinnamon. There’s Candy.
In real life you may be trying to have a cup of joe at Cocoa Cinnamon when Candy’s art demands your attention. Strolling on down Main Street to pick up a new read at Letters Bookshop and her provocative art will get your mind racing before you can get that page turner to the register.
I met with Candy Carver towards the tail end of her 3 month residence at the Golden Belt Arts in studio 127. While Golden Belt is a subject matter all its own, it can definitely be said that only in Durham would you interview an artist in their studio located in an old hosiery mill.
I walked into studio 127 to see Candy sitting on the floor next to a hollowed out chair and an end table covering them both with decoupage. She gave me a big smile and invited me to come on in and then returned to picking small magazine clippings out of a container and adhering them to the furniture with Modpodge. As I began to walk around the studio pouring over her work, she abruptly let me know this encounter would not be candy-coated when she told me told me to sit my ass down. The tension was broke and the interview officially began.
Now seated, I asked Candy to describe herself.
Candy: I am an outspoken visual artist and lover of my city. I try to use my energy to create art, events and do good in my community. The city doesn’t pay me for it but I have taken it upon myself to help new and old community members enjoy their city more.
How long have you been in the Durham area?
Candy: I was born in Durham, let’s start there. My mom, Lovettia Carver, worked in RTP (Research Triangle Park) . After she came back from maternity leave they eliminated her position. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that was a thing. Even though women were part of the work force in the 1980s having children was of detriment to their career goals. Instead of firing them for being pregnant, their jobs were eliminated in their absence or leave. She looked for employment and couldn’t find anything. Her mom lived in Indiana. My mom, dad (Marvin Carver) and I moved to Indiana. We lived in Indiana from ’82 to July 2007. I’ve lived here in Durham since 2007.
When I asked Candy how long she had been doing art, her answer let it shine that being a creative is who she is and she was blessed to have parents that both saw that and encouraged it.
Candy: I started being creative when I was elementary school. I think that my parents saw a creative streak in me and they gave me opportunities to embrace it. In 2nd grade they enrolled me in an art program to learn about art.
I spent a lot of summers in Durham. There are many historical neighborhoods in Durham, but gentrification is changing that. Folks come in, buy lots just so they can build a new house with a garage. The Wall Town area is where I stayed when I visited my grandmother for the summer. If I wasn’t in Durham, I was in an art program in Elkhart, Indiana. Every kit in the craft isle, I had it. I had EVERY kit.
Once I got to middle school, I got to be in art classes because they offered that in school. Once I got into high school I got to be in the honor program of art. That is where I got into painting. I still did a lot more drawing then painting. But once I got to college I dropped off from drawing and went into painting. I had one drawing class and the art teacher was an asshole. I won’t tolerate disrespect at any age. I did painting on my own.
I took a break for a couple years when I got here. I was new to the area and I was only married for like a year. I was getting used to it all. I would paint sporadically every now and then. I know the year… It was around the time my husband and I separated I hit hard in a good way.
Some friends saw some stuff I was painting either in person or online. And they asked, “Candace what are you doing with this?” Some friends took me on as a ‘fall project.’ They helped me be an artist. They made opportunity to do art show in Chapel Hill, made a website and business cards. To name names — Clayton Mack, Jason Rhyne, Johnathan McDougald, and Sandy Wiley.
Unfortunately, when it comes to be a creative, the myth of the starving artist often overrides the work you do. Candy’s perspective and way of being stop the perpetuation of that myth when it comes to her and fortunately she’s passing that along to the youth of Durham, as well as to the community as a whole. She explained fully when I asked her if she does art full time.
Candy: My life is complicated. Sure. I will continue to do it as long as my mortgage allows me to. It’s not like I come here (Golden Belt) and paint and my bills get paid.
I have done work with Student U’s creative mentorship program. I have also mentored young female artists in the area on my own. We don’t have a name… it’s just something that feels good to do. Then I created a quarterly art, culture and music showcase called Paint Durham in 2014. I did that because I don’t like or want someone to tell me that my art is good enough or not. I found a way to showcase my work and I found great people with all these great companies, startups and businesses and I wanted to share that with other people that may not be as extroverted as I am.
I showcase my work and the work of entrepreneurs, my students/mentees, food trucks, bourbon, all those great things that are our city. It’s all about word of mouth. I initially curated Paint Durham to prevent that separation in our art community. I want more diverse creative spaces.
When asked what stands out to her the most about Durham, Candy captured what it is that leaves a bit of Durham in the hearts of all that pass through.
Candy: It’s not a thing. It’s a feeling. That’s not a thing. It’s more of… like an essence. History of Durham. You know Raleigh is founded on government workers — educated, 9–5, people who work in cubicles. Government workers. Then you come to Durham it was a tobacco town. Blue collar, right? The spirit of the city, the culture of the city is real blue collar. Everyone is on the same playing field. Treat everyone equal. Especially if you’re from somewhere else and not used to being treated that way or you leave and you’re “uh-ah I’m going back.”
In a city in the midst of a strong tension between a massive change and holding onto the history that made the Bull City a destination in the first place, everyone has their 2 cents on what changes would they would like to see for the city of Durham. It was interesting to see Candy’s take.
Candy: As a visual artist I want to see our city with more creativity entities being more diverse. If I go, it’s me and like one black committee member. I want to see that change. I want to see that become more diverse.
I have concerns about the current developments. I think it’s about money and not the community. How it stands to displace people. Especially the people who made Durham a cool place to be, service people, and the people who own the places that make it a place to be. What are you going to do when they can’t afford to be here? $1900 for a 2 bedroom apartment!
I’m not saying make it free or subsidized. Make it affordable. And don’t put it next to the housing department. To come and take the heart out of something has impacts. I hope they just take a piece of kidney as opposed to the heart.
What do you think we can do to protect the heart of Durham?
Candy: I have my own solution for new implants that come and don’t get it. I had this conversation with friends. I told them, “You’re on the front lines of keeping Durham’s culture. You speak to them. They’re not used to that because they’re not from here. You talk to them. You approach them. You show them the warm and friendly bit that is being Durham and if they don’t like it they’ll go. Show them Durham.”
People who don’t look in your face and speak, you know they’re not from here. If you have positive interactions with them you don’t have to worry about losing the culture of the city.
Perhaps it was Candy’s stirring words or my perpetual need for movement, but at this point I got up and walked over to a table that had a variety of Candy’s work displayed. There, laying on the table in a way that marked it as an item that wasn’t intended for display, nor sale, was a bull painting that demanded my attention. I picked it up and before I could tell Candy how much I loved it she nonchalantly informed me that it was sitting there for me because I needed some more bull in my life.
Before any gratitude or happy tears could bubble up, Candy once again redirected me towards my chair. In Candy’s world there’s no tears over art, there’s happy appreciation. After carefully placing my new Candy Carver original in my bag, I countered her bravado with a loaded question of which bull in the city is her favorite.
Candy: The one in CCB plaza and the one at the train tracks that lights up.
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Sheila Amir is a health & nutrition writer who fell in love with Durham, North Carolina and starting writing a book about it.