Untitled (Durham Food Co-op mural), 1993
ARTIST: EDIE COHN
Location: 1101 W Chapel Hill Street (The Cookery)
When the Cookery opened its doors in 2011, the Durham Food Co-op mural was already a long-time resident of the West End neighborhood. The building, constructed in the early 1920s, had seen the neighborhood transform, from the boom of the tobacco industry to the social unrest of the civil rights era and the current economic revival of downtown. Throughout its history, the space has served as a place for residents to gather. It was a grocery store (1920s-50s), a cultural center and music venue (1970s-‘80s), a food distribution cooperative (1992-2008), and now a culinary incubator, commercial kitchen, and event space (2011–present).
The walls of this building have been a canvas for public art for some time. In the 1970s, when the Salaam Cultural Center (known for furthering the careers of such North Carolina jazz musicians and vocalists as Eve Cornelius and Nnenna Freelon) occupied the space, it featured murals on both its east and west walls. Images of these murals can be found on Open Durham’s online archive. In 1993, shortly after the Durham Food Co-op moved into the space, Edie Cohn painted a new mural. Cohn said, “I volunteered to paint a mural that would reflect the co-op’s mission: to build bonds of solidarity across racial and class boundaries while providing quality food for their members and the surrounding community. The mural was of a farmers market, populated by a diverse group of people—all working together.” Like the crowd drawn to the co-op, the mural depicts individuals of different races, genders, and ages, but these differences go unnoticed as they blend together in the lively market. The warm colors and energetic scene paint an image of what the members of the West End community had hoped for it to become: one community without racial tension or class divides.
The mural’s message remains relevant today as Durham cultivates a culinary identity that is both nationally recognized and homegrown. Durham will continue to grow, and its collaborative nature and harnessing of local assets to help drive economic development is what makes the city a desirable place to live. The building’s history, combined with the Cookery’s contribution to the revitalization of this area, has assured that the mural and building will remain a community landmark for years to come.