Winston-Salem arts council poised for growth

Milton Rhodes
Milton Rhodes

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Local arts initiatives are booming:

  • A community effort is underway in Winston-Salem to make sure $200 million in infrastructure work over the next 10 years, including 11 bridges to be replaced on Business 40, reflects the city’s arts-and-innovation brand.
  • With the city’s new Downtown Center for the Arts set to be dedicated in September, the job of making it an efficient, functioning operation will take time.
  • And with its comprehensive campaign to raise $26 million nearing its end, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County is looking for ways to keep up its fundraising momentum and build on its efforts to broaden its base of donors.

In the face of all that activity, Milton Rhodes has delayed his plans to retire this fall and has reached an agreement with the council’s board of directors to remain as president and CEO until July 2012.

“I’m excited about Winston-Salem’s opportunities as we come out of this recession,” Rhodes says. “The next two to three years are going to be terrific.”

Rhodes, who was executive director of the council from 1971 to 1985, served as president of CEO of Americans for the Arts from 1985 through 1993, and returned to the council in October 2004 as president and CEO.

Three years ago, the council launched a campaign to raise $26 million to develop an arts complex, build an endowment, brand the community and grow the council’s annual fund.

That effort has raised just over $25 million, including $5 million for endowment; nearly $11 million for the arts complex; $1 million for branding; and nearly $9 million for the annual fund.

This year’s annual fund drive, which has a goal of $3.25 million and ends Sept. 30, the end of the council’s fiscal year, is roughly $1 million short of its goal.

Rhodes says the annual drive’s two co-chairs — Rich Noll, chairman and CEO of Hanesbrands, and Mike Ernst, the company’s senior vice president and general manager for direct-to-consumer business — have “opened doors that have never been opened before for the arts,” enlisting companies that are participating in the drive for the first time.

“Juicing up annual funds is necessary today,” Rhodes says. “Our colleges and universities and hospitals have figured that out, and arts organizations need to figure that out, too.”

Formed in 1949, the council operates with an annual budget of roughly $3 million and 11 employees, and expects to hire 12 to 15 more with the opening in September of its new Downtown Center for the Arts, including the renovated Sawtooth School for Visual Art and the Hanesbrand Theatre in the former AC Delco Battery garage next door, along with other performing-arts spaces, public galleries and education areas.

The council also has teamed with the Downtown Partnership to spearhead the Creative Corridors Coalition, a collaborative effort among 68 member organizations that aims to make sure Winston-Salem’s “The City of Arts and Innovation” brand is integrated into a project that calls for 11 bridges to be replaced on Business 40, along with other bridges and infrastructure work planned for the next decade.

Randall Tuttle, president of Trade Street Partners, has agreed to serve as chair of the coalition, which was developed and has been managed by the council and now will be coordinated by a new nonprofit, Rhodes says.

The council also is working to make the new arts center “an efficient, functioning operation,” he says.

In addition to owning the complex, the center is responsible for its maintenance and operations, programming, and marketing, although it may find another group to handle its maintenance and operations, Rhodes says.

The council also is part of a collaborative effort to coordinate marketing and programming for seven arts and cultural facilities in the center city “so they complement each other and there’s something year-round and a vibrancy that ties these things together and the appearance that these groups are working together.”

The council plans next year to update a study it sponsored several years ago that found the local arts industry directly and indirectly employs 3,500 people.

A statewide coalition of arts leaders has adopted “Arts create jobs” as its theme for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Arts folk have to figure out how to continue to make the case we are an important part of North Carolina’s economy,” Rhodes says, “and how what’s being done in this area complements what’s being done elsewhere in the community.”

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