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The Art of Cool Project -Where Jazz & Art Collaborate

The Art of Cool Project – Where Jazz & Art Collaborate

By Kim Alexander

Through its long history, jazz has thrived in a collaborative environment, one in which musicians spontaneously “jam” with one another during performances and where improvisation and free styling prevail.  The Art of Cool Projectendeavors to expand collaboration between the aural and the visual, while advocating for the jazz and arts community in the Triangle, crossing economic and cultural boundaries, combining diverse artistic disciplines and bringing creative people together, giving rise to a community.

Al Strong sits in with Shana Tucker at Flanders Gallery. Photo by Sweet Life Photography.

“Jazz fans have been looking for a home.  Instead of a home, we try to let them know there are several ‘living rooms’ they can visit”, states Cicely Mitchell, co-founder of The Art of Cool Project with band leader, Al Strong.  The Art of Cool Project started, in part, from a desire to find a venue that was conducive to a concert performance “feel”, where the focus was primarily the artist and distractions kept to a minimum.  She and Strong approached the owners of LabourLove Gallery, an art collective with gallery space in Building 2 at the Golden Belt complex, to inquire about a one-time concert.  Mitchell felt the art gallery was a good fit since the venue was zoned for music performances and “People who like art, can appreciate jazz.”  LabourLove’s owners were receptive and suggested the Third Friday “After-Hours” concept to create more foot traffic.  The first show booked at the gallery venue featured the Al Strong Quartet, and sold out.  That initial collaboration’s success has resulted in five other “After-Hours” concerts, with future shows booked in 2012.

The Art of Cool Project concerts directly impact the selected musicians (net ticket sales support the musicians) and have evolved to incorporate multiple visual art disciplines.  The LabourLove Gallery space is well suited for live jazz performances, both acoustically, with its exposed wood beam ceiling softening the harder floor and wall surfaces, as well as aesthetically.  The collective artists’ works on display on the exposed brick wall provide a visually interesting back drop for the bands.  During intermission, concert attendees peruse the available art.

Included among the displayed art works are digital photographs from Sweet Life Photography and the urban pop art of Luis Franco, a self-described “Visual Activist”.  Omnipresent at each performance, both artists participate in extending The Art of Cool Project into the visual.  Frank Myers of Sweet Life circles the gallery during concerts, taking photographs of performers and audience members, while Franco’s poster art has

Cicely MItchell of Art of Cool speaks to the crowd at the Shana Tucker concert at Flanders Gallery. Photo by Sweet Life Photography.

become the project’s “brand”, a consistent visual connection between the artist and the project.  The photos and poster art create a merchandising opportunity that sustains the project, the gallery and the visual artists.  The music and art combined in the gallery space complement one another and have formed a symbiosis. Recent concerts featured a host and were streamed live to internet audiences.  Future concerts may include poets or live painting performers.

The Art of Cool project, still in a developing phase, holds promise for future growth, as the founders explore a variety of alternatives to promote the project and collaborate with the local community.   The project founders feel selection of quality musicians, across a range of jazz music styles, remains key to maintaining momentum, as well as to

Peter Lamb & The Wolves at Labourlove. Courtesy of Sweet Life Photo

increasing community interest in the Triangle jazz scene, both within the local area and from areas beyond the Triangle.  As Cicely puts it, “Being a part of a scene, or movement, or local sound transcends one musician, one artist, or even one venue.”

Soon Flanders Gallery will become Art of Cool’s “living room” in Raleigh, hosting FIrst Friday “after hours” shows there.  The first performance at Flanders will take place on March 2, working with media partner to kick off this series with a splash.

“To build community further”, Mitchell reports, “now we produce a weekly jazz guide and have a jazz calendar. We just implemented a self service calendar submission form to make it easier to keep the calendar comprehensive. We have also synced the calendar with the national site”

The crowd enjoys Carlitta Durand & Fat Snacks at LabourLove. Photo by Sweet Life Photography.

Looking longer term, Art of Cool is working toward creating a regional jazz festival within 3 years and an international festival within five years.
Mitchell adds “We hope to gain more funding this year to send students to area jazz camps and to send professional musicians to masterclasses and workshops.”

To find out more about Art of Cool, or to support them, follow them on Facebook or Twitter at TheArtofCoolProject.


Kim Alexander’s high school piano teacher persevered through four years of weekly lessons, ultimately instilling in Kim an appreciation for higher levels of musicianship she would admire only in others throughout her life.  Presently, Kim deftly operates a laptop keyboard somewhere in RTP during the day, while in her off hours she enjoys cooking, perusing farmers’ markets, volunteering and exploring the Triangle arts scene and scenery. You can reach Kim at her email.”

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