The Carrack opened in 2011, providing Durham artists with a zero-commission gallery to display their work. We sat down with cofounder Laura Ritchie to discuss the fascinating story behind the Carrack, the organization's goals, and what makes the gallery a unique space.
Tell us a little about yourself – how did you end up as a curator at a gallery in Durham?
I grew up in Salisbury [NC], then went to school at UNC Chapel Hill and pursued a degree in studio art and art history there. My junior year, I went to Florence [Italy] for a semester-long art program. It was really the first time I was noticing the art spaces around me, the dynamics of them, how they were set up, and how important that was to the experience of the art works.
I started volunteering with the Carrboro ArtsCenter, and very shortly after they hired me as the gallery coordinator.
How did you get involved with your partner, John Wendelbo?
I met John at the ArtsCenter a couple years prior when I curated one of his shows. He sent me this email about the Durham Sculpture Project. It was this incredibly ambitious idea that didn't resemble anything else I had seen.
He spelled out this idea to create the framework and the engine that would allow Durham sculptors to design and fabricate works that were decided upon, and funded by, the community.
How did the Durham Sculpture Project morph into the Carrack?
Within [John's] original vision for the Durham Sculpture Project was an idea for a space that would act as kind of a fundraising hub. He also wanted that space to house a sculpture collection and to be an artist-centered, zero-commission exhibit space. I got really excited about that part. Really excited.
We started with very little money, in the middle of the summer in May of 2011, and we turned it into a gallery. We hung PVC pipe from the ceiling, and strung up a bunch of quick lights. We cut a slit in the top of a cardboard box and wrote "donations" on it. We had a few pieces of miscellaneous furniture donated, and we started asking people we knew to come share their work there.
It sounds like the Carrack was very much a grassroots, community venture.
We were hustling. John would be down on the street trying to get people to come up; I'd be in the space trying to talk about our ideas and encouraging people to donate, and then we'd switch places. All night long. We had as many events as we possibly could, because we had to get people to come. We needed it.
The vision of the Carrack completely evolved out of the experience of those first few months [when] I was at the gallery almost every day, just trying to teach myself how to run a business.
Thankfully, now I have this amazing team of volunteers in the roles of advisers and board members. People have various committees within our organization who do have that type of business savvy, that can help me with stuff like that. I don't think the Carrack could exist in any other place. We're a zero-commission, donation run gallery in the middle of downtown. One-hundred percent of our funding comes from people like you. We don't receive any grant money, no big corporate sponsorships - though we'd be open to that. We're based on a sustainable model where individuals sign up to give $5 or more per month.
What was it about the idea of the Carrack that drew you to it?
My experience had taught me a little bit about how much of a struggle it is for an artist to get to a point where they can have a public audience, and then to actually make money to support themselves from that exposure. I was watching these artists work so hard all around the community just to get into these [gallery] spaces, and then once they got there, there's red tape about how they could or couldn't show their work. There are a lot of limitations, either imposed on them by just the physical site or by the rules of the other functions of the organization. So this idea of just saying "yes" to an artist, just saying, "go," made perfect sense. It seems like, yes, absolutely, that's exactly how it should be.