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A Guide to Durham's Art Galleries and Museums

Estimated Read Time:
6 minutes

Art lovers will find a depth of creativity and artistry in Durham, equally inspired by local artists, extensive and thoughtfully curated collections and traveling exhibits.

Posted By Ayana Hernandez on Mar 08, 2024

Durham is affectionately known as a culinary capital of the South, and like its rich and diverse culinary offerings, the scene for those seeking to fill their artistic palettes is brimming with creativity. The arts are booming here — whether in public spaces, art studios, photo galleries or museums. The diversity exists in areas from historic Hayti and Golden Belt to City Center, Central Park District and North Durham, to name a few. Add the two universities — North Carolina Central University and Duke University — and their educational edge and appeal sell the Bull City as an artistic cultural core. The city’s curated collections and galleries have more than meets the eye — complete with rare pieces and eclectic enclaves that make it distinct yet unpretentious.

Some of the nation’s most lauded creatives are Bull City-bred, from multifaceted artist Stephen Hayes to early 20th-century photographer Hugh Mangum. If you know, you know. The best part: you can see their work up close while interacting with other painters, craftspersons, photographers and mixed media artists and nourishing your creativity in a community ripe with talent.

Explore the expansive artistic confluence of historic, classic, ultra-modern and chic. Consider Durham’s masterpiece still being designed and influencers—whether locals or visitors—adding the perfect stroke of color to the backdrop.

Durham Art Museums

21c Museum Hotel

Visit: 111 North Corcoran St.; Instagram @21cdurham
Hours of Operation: 24 hours daily. The museum offers Third Friday Guided Tours and other guided tour hours. Admission is free.

If you’re an art lover, your trip to Durham isn’t complete if it doesn’t include a stop at the 21c Museum Hotel to see its iconic art collection. Throughout the downtown hotel, visitors will see a revolving display of specialty artwork and exhibits that tour nationally and internationally, including a multi-room gallery on the third floor. Signature to the building, a former bank, is a formerly functioning vault that also adorns artists’ works.

Exhibits: Check the website for details on the latest contemporary art installations; the museum hosts new exhibits annually. Virtual museum tours are also available on the website.

While You’re There: Eating a dish off the famed seafood-driven menu in The Counting House provides the perfect culinary complement to the museum’s flavorful gallery.

An art gallery with artwork on each wall and a column in the center of the room. A sofa sits on the floor in the middle.

A gallery at 21c Museum Hotel. Photo: Chris Cooper

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

Visit: 2001 Campus Dr.; Instagram @nashermuseum
Hours of Operation: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m.-5 p.m.; closed Monday. Admission is free.

Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art is a jewel of the art world. Eight extensive galleries are housed within the 65,000 square-foot facility on the corner of the university’s campus; they will ensure any connoisseurs’ appetite for old-world, modernism, global and futuristic art is well nourished. Through art, understand how history provides a lens into life today in a setting akin to a Pavilion at Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum of Art.

Exhibits: Nasher is keen on featuring artwork and artists representing communities from the diaspora. Regular updates on new exhibits are featured on their website and often highlighted in their permanent galleries.

While You’re There: Grab a bite to eat at the café, open for lunch, brunch and dinner on specific days or by reservation; check for details. In 2024, Durham favorite retail store Parker and Otis will expand to open a gift shop at The Nasher, so expect great gifts and souvenirs. Explore Duke University’s campus, a leading private research university with an NCAA championship-winning athletics program.

The Nasher Museum on Duke University West Campus includes permanent collections as well as special exhibits.

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo: J Caldewell / The Nasher

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Art Museum

Visit: 580 E. Lawson St.
Hours of Operation: Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.; closed Monday and Saturday. Admission is free. Check the museum's calendar for special exhibitions.

African American art’s home in Durham is nestled on the sloping hills and verdant green of North Carolina Central University (NCCU)’s campus. Complete with upgrades thanks to a recent remodel, the work of numerous coveted A-list African American artists hangs on the walls and in the permanent collection at the NCCU Art Museum. The space has must-see work and valuable finds from GOATS of the art world, including university alumnus and legendary painter and former NFL star Ernie Barnes, as well as greats including Henry O. Tanner, Edward M. Bannister, Robert Blackburn, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Selma Burke, Elizabeth Catlett and Barkley Hendricks. NCCU isn’t shy about offerings, as a tour of the picturesque campus should be on the schedule.

While You’re There: Walk the famously beautiful campus of NCCU, the first public liberal arts college founded for African Americans in the nation and a top-ranked Historically Black University and public university in the South. Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A and other restaurant retailers are open daily during the university’s traditional academic year.

Two people look at a sculpture in an art museum.

NCCU Art Museum. Photo: NCCU

Hayti Heritage Center

Visit: 804 Fayetteville St.; Instagram @haytiheritagecenter
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free. Check the event calendar for special programs and performances.

The Hayti community has preserved its historic legacy. Lessons in American history are present throughout the Hayti Heritage Cultural Center, which once served as home to the St. Joseph AME Church, an early house of workshop and community cornerstone for the affluent African American business enclave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the structure lives, breathes and serves as a gathering place and meeting for cultural and educational exchanges. Visitors can explore the Lyda Moore Merrick Gallery Exhibitions, named after the daughter of Black Wall Street legends North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company founder Dr. Aaron Moore and wife of Ed Merrick, son of Mutual founder John Merrick. Whether one’s taste leans toward photography or artwork, the soulful works sing in tribute to the hallowed groups on which they stand, which has been restored and relocated from its original home to the second floor of the Center.  

While You’re There: See Hayti up close with Whistlestop Tours, a walking tour of the famed historic district that includes the Hayti Heritage Center. Aya Shabu, an award-winning local teaching artist, hosts the experience.

A gallery with art lining the walls and an easel displaying information.

An exhibit on the Founding Fathers of Hayti at the Hayti Heritage Center. Photo: Keenan Hairston

Durham Artist Studio Spaces

Golden Belt Campus

Visit: 807 E. Main St.; Instagram @goldenbeltcampus
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday

Walking onto the Golden Belt Campus feels like a nod to Durham’s past as a once-thriving manufacturing town. With its original brick structures and the hip, new community of businesses and artist studios attracting people of all ages to make new connections, you can’t help but return. Located off Main and Fayetteville streets, the unassuming campus is a hub for talented artists in the Triangle region. A must-do is every Third Friday when the Warehouse Studios opens its nearly 25 artist studios on 800 Taylor St. The community’s connections are nurtured by the Durham Arts Guild, a non-profit, member-based organization, and an artist-in-residence and Creative Mentorship Program.

Current Exhibits: The artist gallery features artists from the local community whose art is on display and often available for sale.

While You’re There: Stop by Mettlesome to catch an improv performance at a community black box theater. Don’t miss out on Durham’s foodie scene at the campus’s locally owned and operated restaurants and coffee shop — 19FiftyOne, Tater Bread Cafe just down the street, Cugino Forno Durham and Hi-Wire Brewing.

people view art on walls and pillars in a gallery and art space. The floor is marked with paint and art supplies.

Durham Art Guild Gallery at Golden Belt Studios. Photo: Discover Durham

Cecy’s Gallery & Studios

Visit: 417 Foster St.; Instagram @cecysgallery
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; closed Sunday

Since, in the words of Beyoncé, we're getting back ‘outside,' let’s go outside with Cecilia Henaine de Davis, founder and owner of Cecy’s Gallery, adjacent to Durham’s Farmers Market in Central Park. Whether you are searching for one-of-a-kind jewelry, painting, home décor, sculptors or woodworking or want to spend some dollars supporting local talent, this gallery tops the list. Consider yourself a budding creative? The gallery hosts opportunities for hands-on learning and arts engagement. The signature Art Market Durham happens each Saturday, complete with an outdoor art and makers market from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., on Foster and Hunt streets, directly in front of the gallery.

The Scrap Exchange

Visit: 2050 Chapel Hill Rd.; Instagram @scrapexchange
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Monday

In the age of newness, writer Ferdinand August Bebe’s quote about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure has missed out on The Scrap Exchange. The remix is better than the original as the Artist Market here is reserved for local artists and enthusiasts to promote and sell original works made of creatively reused materials. The Scrap Exchange, a Durham staple, currently features more than 25 artists in its Market. No matter the good—pottery, jewelry, hanging artwork and original gifts—sustainability reigns supreme, which pleases Mother Earth.

a person views art lining a gallery wall

A gallery show of local art at The Scrap Exchange. Photo: SP Murray

Durham Art Galleries

Durham Arts Council

Visit: 120 Morris St.; Instagram @durham_arts
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m.

There’s no question that Durham Arts Council (DAC) fuels the arts in Durham. The city and county-supported entity invests year-round in quality art enrichment, education and outreach. Noted events, including CenterFest, Third Fridays, SmART + Public Art and Durham ArtWalk, bring thousands to the Bull City to experience what the artist community knows well. Whether you’re here for a DAC event or not, you can browse the four art galleries on the building’s first and second floors to see paintings, abstract art pieces, photography and sculptures. Not to leave out the aspiring artists, the Council offers classes, camps, resources and other engagement and creative learning opportunities.

Current Exhibit: Artist collectives are highlighted throughout the year.

sculptures under spotlights in a gallery

Durham Arts Guild Gallery at Durham Arts Council. Photo: SP Murray

Ella West Gallery

Visit: 104 W. Parrish St.; Instagram @ellawestgallery
Hours of Operation: Wednesday to Saturday, 12 p.m.-5 p.m., and by appointment.

Durham is known for its distinguishable swag—perhaps legendary–and the center of it lives on historic Black Wall Street’s Parrish Street. Nearly a century after Black Wall Street’s original Black-owned businesses thrived, Ella West Gallery opened where African American business executives shaped and influenced the financial industries and higher education. Founder Linda Shropshire notes one of her inspirations as the late prominent artist Ernie Barnes, whose work inspired her to create space for local and nationally celebrated African American artists and honor Black life and history through their artwork. Think a nod to the Harlem Renaissance with the infamous sprinkle of Southern seasoning. The gallery boasts a lineup of award-winning artists with local ties, including visual artist Maya Freelon, multidisciplinary artist and muralist Sachi Rome, fine art and editorial photographer Kennedi Carter, painter Clarence Heyward, painter Ernie Barnes and artist Ransome.

Current Exhibit: Catch one of the gallery’s special exhibits and capture a taste of leading, internationally lauded modern African American artists.

Two women look at a photography exhibit.

Ella West Gallery. Photo: Morgan Crutchfield Photography / Ella West Gallery

5 Points Gallery

Visit: 109 E. Chapel Hill St.; Instagram @5points_gallery
Hours of Operation: Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m.-9 p.m.; closed Sunday through Wednesday.

Connections bring communities together, and a visit to downtown Durham’s 5 Points Gallery is just that—a space that connects the community, art aficionados and collectors and local organizations. Trust us—it’s an artist haven. Nearly 10 local artists display their work, from mixed media and fused glass to paintings. A Third Friday Art Walk is the perfect time to check out the art and mingle with a crowd of art fans.

A nighttime view of a crowd inside a gallery from the outside.

5 Points Gallery. Photo: 5 Points Gallery

Craven Allen Gallery

Visit: 1106 ½ Broad St.; Instagram @craven_allen_gallery
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sunday

Local gallery owners Keith Allen Wenger and John Craven Bloedorn are keen on keeping North Carolina’s best artists in the Durham spotlight. Their gallery contains the Tar Heel state’s nationally celebrated visual artists, photographers and painters, including the likes of acclaimed painter Beverly McIver, noted visual artist, curator and professor-in-residence William Paul Thomas, and Peruvian painter and cultural artist Rezo Ortega.

Current and Future Exhibits: Art talks and noteworthy exhibitions are showcased in intervals during the year.

Horse & Buggy Press

Visit: 1116 Broad St.; Instagram @horseandbuggypress
Hours of Operation:
Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday by appointment only; closed Sunday

Calling all bookworms and art lovers, we’ve got the perfect Durham spot for you. Horse and Buggy Press combines books, fine crafts and art, offering a place to fulfill and encourage a love of literature and passion for art. Catch the exhibits while they are showing because the gallery regularly rotates a list of original paintings, drawings, printmaking and mixed media, keeping the curated works at the 28-year-old gallery fresh daily.

While You’re There: Check out books throughout the gallery, as the press is a book publisher for museums and diverse artists and crafts persons.

A man sits in front of a desk facing the camera and smiling. Art and prints line the wall behind him.

Horse & Buggy Press. Photo: Discover Durham

NorthStar Church of the Arts

Visit: 220 W. Geer St.; Instagram @northstardurham
Hours of Operation vary. Contact info@northstardurham.com.

Whoever said church and art cannot coexist has yet to experience NorthStar Church of the Arts. A 21st-century masterclass ministry, congregants and visitors are served a cultural, musical and artistic sampling established by the late renowned American architect Phil Freelon and his wife, Grammy Award-winning jazz singer and composer Nneena Freelon. The community-centered “multidisciplinary artist-led cultural enclave” was created for marginalized populations. Northstar features public art projects and a once-monthly Sunday Service with art, song, meditation and movement where the spirit is bound to move.

A person walks in front of a Gothic church converted into an arts space. The door is open and people are inside.

NorthStar Church of the Arts. Photo:

Through This Lens Gallery

Visit: 303 E. Chapel Hill St.
Hours of Operation: semi-regular Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday

Looking for a photography learning studio? Check out Through This Lens Gallery. With more than 50 local, regional and international photographers displayed, it is a one-stop-shop for photographs, framing and printing. Each piece provides a glimpse into the eyes of a photographer whose keen skills capture notable and unknown subjects and chronicle everyday life.

Current Exhibits: Explore local and state photographers' works as part of the gallery’s regular rotation of exhibits.

Other Artist Spaces in Durham

The Fruit

Visit: 305 S. Dillard St.; Instagram @durhamfruit
Hours of Operation: by appointment only; times are posted for scheduled events. Contact durhamfruit@gmail.com.

Who’s got next? The Fruit! Home to a growing community of innovators and creatives, the downtown space regularly hosts art shows and the Festival of Art, Thought and Culture that is part of the Third Friday Artwalk. Described in the owners’ own words, it is a “social enterprise dedicated to making and experiencing visual and performing arts that include dance, painting, photography and drama.”

A person performs on a stage in front of a crowd of people in a brick-lined space.

A show at The Fruit. Photo: The Fruit


Visit: 600 Foster St.; Instagram: @ps37durham
Hours of Operation:
by appointment only; times are posted for scheduled events.

PS37 is an eccentric and electric event and performance space designed for people to “celebrate, create and experience art.” Located in Central Park District, head to the pop-up venue’s social media channels to be an insider.

About the Author

Ayana Hernandez - Freelance Writer

A Nutmeg State (Connecticut) native and Tar Heel State transplant, Ayana Davis Hernandez is a lifelong storyteller whose career began in magazine publishing. She is a senior communications and marketing strategist who enjoys her Bull City community's beauty and cultural offerings.