Check out Nnenna and Phil Freelon’s New Community Performance Venue, North Star Church of the Arts

courtesy Dalvin Nichols

It’s a place where creativity is sacred and artists are the ones preaching the gospel. The site of North Star Church of the Arts in downtown Durham has served as a house of worship since it was built as a church for the deaf in 1931, and functioned as an all-signing ministry and congregation until the 1970s. In January 2019, it started a new sort of sacred journey: as a venue to celebrate Triangle artists and explore how creativity and art feed spirituality. Here, creators and performers come together to share how art transforms them both as citizens and as artists. “Art has a capacity to help people contextualize, to move through trauma, and be therapeutic,” says Executive Director Heather Cook.

Funny story: Cook and her husband, guitarist Phil Cook, almost purchased the church themselves to convert it into a space for performance. Other buyers struck the deal first, but unbeknownst to the Cooks, those buyers—creative First Couple of Durham, Nnenna and Phil Freelon—happened to share their vision of using it as a community performance space. It was a matter of dreaming and scheming that amounted to a spiritual kismet of sorts. After a serendipitous meeting, Cook and the Freelon’s put their heads together over coffee for several months to make North Star Church of the Arts come to life.

courtesy Dalvin Nichols

Cook says it best. “Art is sacred and worth fighting for.”

North Star Church of the Arts curates programming for the third weekend of every month, then leaves the rest of the calendar open for community groups (past events have included rummage sales, film screenings and theatrical performances). For the third Thursday performances, expect to be delighted by music, poetry, puppetry or dance that culminates with a Sunday worship service led by a member of the creative community. Later this summer it will host The Gospel According to Nina Simone, programmed in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. —Ilina Ewen

Visit for a calendar of upcoming events and rental information.