Winston-Salem Arts Council bullish on the arts

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The arts are poised for a local boom, with the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County spearheading efforts to promote the arts, raise money for arts groups and facilities, and strengthen the arts as an engine for downtown growth and economic development.

With the announcement of a $2 million pledge from Hanesbrands, the council has launched the public phase of a comprehensive campaign to raise $26 million.

The council will use funds from the campaign to increase annual operating support for arts groups and facilities, create a downtown arts center, create an endowment to support the new center’s operations, and promote the city as an arts destination.

“It’s a great place to live, and the arts make it extra special,” says Milton Rhodes, the council’s CEO and president, “because you can live in a relatively small town and have big-city quality of life.”

Chaired by Janie and J.D. Wilson, owners of direct-mail company Excalibur Inc., the campaign in its quiet phase already has raised $13.4 million, including the Hanesbrands pledge, $5 million from a couple who wish to remain anonymous, and $3 million from The Millennium Fund created in 2002 at the Winston-Salem Alliance by local companies and foundations to spur economic revival in the city.

One goal of the campaign is to increase giving to the council’s annual fund drive, which last year raised $2.5 million and aims to grow to $3.25 million over the next three years.

Chaired by Bill Womble Jr. and Erna Womble of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the annual drive this year has a goal of $2.75 million and consists of a “broadened effort to attract new donors that will realize how important the arts are to this community,” Rhodes

With 6,400 donors last year, the annual drive aims to enlist 7,000 donors this year, to visit more companies and to make a special effort to reach Hispanic donors.

Overall, the goal for the comprehensive campaign is to raise $9 million through the annual fund, which provides operating support for 19 partner arts agencies and for two facilities.

Last year, the council provided $762,000 to support operations atthe Hanes Community Center, which the council co-owns and shares with United Way of Forsyth County, and the Sawtooth Building.

The Sawtooth Building, which the council also owns, will become the centerpiece of a downtown arts center the council plans to develop with $11 million from the comprehensive campaign.

With the funds Hanesbrands has pledged, for example, the council plans to build a 300-seat black-box theater in the former AC Delco Battery garage next to the Sawtooth

And the Sawtooth building itself will get a makeover, including transforming the Mountcastle Forum into a 100-seat space for multiple uses and turning what is now RJR Gallery into a 200-seat music performance hall that will be a naming opportunity for a donor.

Using $5 million from the campaign, the council plans to create an endowment to provide funds to cover operating costs for the new arts complex not covered by income it generates.

And the council will use the remaining $1 million from the campaign for an effort to brand Winston-Salem as a “City of the Arts,” bundling the Riverrun Film Festival in April, the Black Theater Fesitival in August, and the Crafts Fair and Holiday Season in November and December, and promoting them, initially in newspaper ads throughout the state and eventually within a 300-mile radius of the city.

Overall, Rhodes says, the campaign will strengthen arts in the city, providing critical operating funds that can be the toughest for arts agency to raise, and creating an arts complex that will boost tourism, downtown development and economic growth.

The complex, he says, reflects the “quality of life that North Carolina currently is offering to the world.”

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