5 Questions with: Susan Amey on Durham’s 150th Anniversary

Our neighbor in the Triangle is celebrating 150 years! Durham is our favorite spot to spend the day (or stay the night!) for brewery visits, a Bulls game or dining at one of downtown’s top-notch spots. We talked with Chief Marketing Officer and CEO-Elect of Discover Durham Susan Amey on what this milestone means for the Bull City.

As told to Catherine Currin | photos courtesy Discover Durham

The American Tobacco Campus

How long have you lived in Durham? What does living in Durham mean to you personally?
I’ve lived in Durham 14 years, and my husband is originally from here. There’s a certain excitement in helping build a new community, and a sense of depth and significance that goes with being rooted in one with a rich story to tell. Durham manages to be both right now. There’s a tangible energy in the air as people create new businesses, music, artwork, products, and so forth, but I think there’s a shared sense that we’re revitalizing and adding to—rather than replacing—the community that’s always been here. That’s energizing to me.

What does it mean for the community of Durham to celebrate 150 years?
This comes at a great time. People in Durham are looking back on the last decade or so of Durham’s evolution and we’re really proud of what we see. Durham has a lot of what I like to call “school spirit”: there’s a lot of passion here, and we’ve been getting some national spotlight attention for being a hip and fashionable place to be, so people here are ready to celebrate. At the same time, people are just as fanatical about Durham history—warts and all, as we like to say—so it’s not just about having a year-long party. Durham 150 events dive into topics like social equity and robust democracy to ensure we’re looking backward and forward at how we behave and what we value as a community.

What are some highlights for the anniversary celebration?
The Opening Celebration is April 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the American Tobacco Campus. It’s a family-friendly event with dancers, musicians, educators, entrepreneurs, and a whole lot of other people sharing what they do, leading activities, and teaching people what Durham’s all about. There’ll be birthday cake, “The Running of the Bulls” (a rubber duck race down the river), a 4’ x 8’ photo mosaic that’s created and a lot more. The Closing Celebration, on November 2 at DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center, will recognize a class of honorees selected from Durham’s 150-year history in what will no doubt be a memorable evening.  Throughout 2019, there’ll be 150+ community events related to the sesquicentennial and tied to its themes: History & Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Social Equity & Robust Democracy and Arts & Leisure. Durham150.org is the spot where people can see all of the upcoming events.

What makes Durham a unique and diverse community? How have you seen it change over the time you’ve been here?
I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and I’ve never seen a community that has such a shared sense of commitment to being inclusive. You can see that in our elected bodies, in local events and in many of our companies and nonprofits. It’s more than just a “headcount” issue, though. I’d say that overall, Durham loves a good debate. People are passionate about diving into important issues – including the ones that tend to make people uncomfortable – and fostering discussion on them. That’s what it takes to truly embrace diversity, and I think we’re getting better at it. When there’s a commitment to not shutting down difficult discussions, we have more opportunity to hear different points of view.

What’s something we can look forward to in the future of the Bull City?Another part of our community’s core values is being compassionate and supportive toward each other. Sometimes you even see competitors helping each other out and working together on shared projects. While we’re busy opening new businesses and buildings, there’s also a lot of focus on helping everyone benefit – making sure the rising tide really does lift all boats. So, I’m optimistic we’ll open up a lot of new opportunities that provide some open doors for everyone. That will certainly make us a stronger city.