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A gallery no more, Pleiades promotes a grassroots Durham arts scene

A familiar sign on the gallery that helped ignite downtown Durham’s arts scene is gone.

What was once Pleiades Gallery is now 5 Points Gallery. This chic space showcases the work of Triangle-based creatives, many of them with long ties to what came before. 

One Pleiades co-founder, Renee Leverty, is not among the list of artist’s names displayed on the gallery’s window. She has stepped away, taking the name Pleiades with her to pursue projects not confined by the four walls on Chapel Hill Street.  

This was not a nasty split. “The division couldn’t have happened any better,” Leverty said. 

Renee Leverty is leading the next chapter of Pleiades Arts. Photo by Anna Carson Dewitt.

In April 2013, Leverty and Kim Wheaton, co-founders of Pleiades Gallery, left the Hillsborough Gallery of Art to open a Durham gallery to try to bring more local art to Durhamites. Pleiades wasted little time setting that mission in motion. In just a few months they opened their first community-focused show, Truth to Power. 

The first Truth to Power coincided with the “Moral Monday” movement — a series of protests against policies advanced by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly. The juried show featured political art addressing government stances on everything from LGBT+ rights to fracking.

Both the show and the gallery became a staple in the Durham art scene, especially during Third Friday Durham, a monthly event when local arts venue host receptions for visitors.

In 2017, Leverty decided to shift her focus and founded the community-oriented nonprofit, Pleiades Arts. She wanted to uplift the voices of even more diverse artists, she said. 

Fast forward to 2019 and both Truth to Power and Pleiades have evolved beyond their original form. Successive Truth to Power exhibits have focused on singular political themes such as climate change, racial and gender bias, and environmental pollution. The latest show highlighted social justice activism in the Triangle and was the last in the Pleiades Gallery.

The moniker “Pleiades” now labels an active nonprofit. To support its mission, the Durham Arts Council awarded Pleiades Arts $2,200 in cash grants for 2019. Leverty has moved the nonprofit into an office in the arts council building — a gift worth $3,225.60.

“The relationship between Pleiades Arts and 5 Points Gallery is positively mutual,” Leverty said. Jenny Blazing, a member artist at 5 Points Gallery, described the changes with the two entities as an expansion of the arts in Durham.

“We are supportive and energetic around our artists who make statements with their work,” Blazing said. “We’re happy to share in the cultivation of Durham’s burgeoning arts scene.”

5 Points Gallery promotes itself as North Carolina’s “premier” fine arts gallery. Its grand opening exhibition is running alongside a solo exhibit and highlights the creative prowess of 15 Triangle artists. 

The future of the nonprofit, as Leverty explains it, will be more flexible by design. She envisions a “more grassroots, ground-up” group aimed at creating “work in response to what is happening in our community, state, and country.”

Be You, Bloom by Shoshanna Carroll will be featured in Queer Lens: Queer Identity in Arts.

Next week she’ll help install an exhibit called Queer Lens: Queer Identity in Art. In keeping with its new mission, Pleiades is working with the LGBTQ Center of Durham. The show is funded in part by the Durham Arts Council and the North Carolina Annual Arts Fund. The project invited any LGBTQ+ artist in North Carolina to submit artwork regardless of skill level.

The show’s purpose is to “highlight the diverse perspectives, identities, and creations of the LGBTQ+ community, centering the voices of black and brown artists in particular.” Queer Lens will run at The Fruit from Sept. 27 to Sept. 29 before moving to the LGBTQ Center of Durham from Oct. 7 to Oct. 31.

Beyond Queer Lens, the Pleiades Arts Board intends to stage Truth to Power 2020, at a location not yet determined. The nonprofit is always looking to partner with artists, advocates, and activists who want to tell their stories, Leverty said. 

“What we’re interested in is anybody that wants to partner with us to create these art experiences that are accessible and authentic,” she said.

Image at top is Chance Meeting by Michael Tice, one art piece to be featured in Queer Lens: Queer Identity in Arts, which opens Friday at The Fruit in Durham. 

Ryan Williams

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