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The Carrack: A Place Where Liberty Meets Community

By David Boegaard

Every great city has an abundance of galleries for the presentation and sale of art. These galleries create a space for artists and serve as a sort of language through which the artist is able to speak with local people. But what galleries give, they also take away. Galleries are subject to standard market pressures that tend to reward kitsch and established favorites. This dynamic leaves little space for artists to experiment and take risks, and frequently leaves new artists without a venue. If galleries are a sort of language, many of the freshest and most creative artists have trouble finding their voice.

These problems are precisely the problems that The Carrack was created to address. Located in lush and youthful Durham, NC, The Carrack seeks to reopen the dialogue between galleries and artists. Founded in 2009 and Directed by Laura Ritchie, The Carrack was created to liberate artists from market demands, while providing them with a way to publicly show their work to a broader audience and the artistic community.

"The Carrack's mission is to empower artists to forge productive cultural and socio-economic ties with their community through professional exhibit and performance opportunities," says Ritchie. They've done this by working as a non-profit and paying their bills with donations rather than commissions. And with more than 100 exhibits, and nearly 500 artists represented, The Carrack has succeeded immensely.

Originally funded by community donations and a crowdfunding campaign, The Carrack donation based model truly allows for a level of artistic freedom seldom seen anywhere in the art world. Not only does The Carrack not take commissions or charge artists for use of the gallery space, but they accept artists from diverse backgrounds and levels of reputation. Rather than selecting only those artists that a gallerist believes most likely to sell, suggests Richie, "we are much more interested in an artist's vision than their résumé. We believe that any artist with a great idea deserves the opportunity to express it, and to do so with complete creative freedom."

The level of freedom The Carrack allows its artists is truly extraordinary. Artists are given almost complete freedom to present their shows as they see fit. "We put the artist squarely at the epicenter of all of our efforts and say: 'The space is yours; do something great,'" Ritchie insists. "Our hope is that each artist transforms the space into something that reflects and compliments their body of work."

The Carrack ties its survival to the artists it shows in a very unusual way. Rather than basing its revenue off the price and sales numbers for a particular show, The Carrack's reputation is dependent on the quality and excitement of each artist's shows. Artists gain by having freedom to make the art they want and display it the way they want. But The Carrack doesn't only benefit artists by giving them such extensive creative freedom, suggests Ritchie. "The public greatly benefits from the opportunity to experience art in this way."

With more than 100 applicants for 20 exhibitions in the past couple years, The Carrack has no trouble finding excellent artists of every sort. In order to decide who will get to show in the upcoming year, The Carrack gives each application to a jury of peers. Every artist who shows in the gallery is required to take part in the selection of subsequent artists. Ritchie emphasizes the value of this process to the institution. "By requiring that each Carrack artist serves on a future Carrack jury panel, we ensure that our exhibiting artists meet one another, are exposed to artists who will exhibit in our space in the future, and are directly invested in how this project evolves."

Many artists won't be accepted for solo shows at the Carrack, or have yet to create a sufficient body of work. But that doesn't mean they can't present a significant work of art to the public. "Twice a year, The Carrack invites any artist to drop off one work of art to be hung in a Community Show. There is no entry fee or jury process. Everyone who brings an original work of art during the designated drop off times is accepted."

The Carrack isn't just a place for artists to express themselves freely. It represents an approach to the world focused on freedom and generosity of spirit. As Ritchie says, "The Carrack is a place for experimenting, taking risks, and forming connections." Durham has been a perfect place for such an approach to take root. So next time you're in Durham, go see the art, form some new connections, and hear the voices of free creation.

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