Apr 17, 2023 - News

What's next for Durham's festival scene

Before its cancellation in 2019, Moogfest had become one of Durham's signature cultural festivals. Photo: Alicia Funderburk/Getty Images

Durham's festival season looks different coming out of the pandemic, with three of the city's marquee events facing uncertain futures or not happening.

Why it matters: Festivals are an important economic driver and serve as a chance to showcase the city and its culture to visitors and residents alike.

What they're saying: "Festivals give you something different when you come into our downtown area," said Nicole Thompson, CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., a nonprofit that helps manage downtown.

What's happening: When Durham convinced Moogfest to move from Asheville to Durham in 2016, the electronic-arts festival brought in adventurous musical acts, visitors from all over the world and national media attention.

Full Frame, put on by Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, has long been one of the most influential documentary festivals in the country. It went virtual during the pandemic, but this year was canceled for the first time since 1998.

  • The event is expected to return in person next year — but the Center for Documentary Studies is still looking for a new director and has laid off workers due to financial struggles, according to a report from The Assembly.

Art of Cool was last held in 2019, bringing acts like Jill Scott and Ari Lennox to downtown Durham. Founded in 2013, it stood out for being completely homegrown and for highlighting the local Black music scene.

  • Yes, but: Once again Art of Cool, bought by the DOME Group in 2018, will not take place this year.
  • Of note: The DOME Group told Axios in an email it is planning on returning the festival in 2024.

What's next: Thompson said she has high hopes for one new entrant to the festival scene: the Bull City Summit, a music, business and technology-focused festival that held its first event last year.

  • The next festival takes place September 18-24 and will feature acts ranging from the soul singer Lee Fields to alternative rock groups like Death From Above 1979 as well as dozens of speakers from the business world.

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