Art Works Blog

Postcard from North Carolina

Washington, DC

Here I am with Linda Carlisle, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Photo courtesy Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts

I just returned from an Art Works trip to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, North Carolina, and it was a very busy couple of days. We started out in Winston-Salem at the Reynolda Museum of American Art, which is the old R.J. Reynolds estate. It has incredibly beautiful grounds and a wonderful modern art collection. We were lucky to be given the tour by Barbara Babcock-Millhouse, who is a descendant of the Reynolds family. Her passion and life?s work have been this house and this museum. She and Allison Perkins, the museum?s executive director, gave us a wonderful overview of what?s going on there.

Next we had a well-attended town hall discussion at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts. Our host was John Mauceri, the chancellor there, who is an artist himself. The discussion was mostly around the theme of arts as it relates to neighborhood revitalization and urban renewal, and the importance that the arts can play in that. We talked about ways in which you can use new technologies and outreach to bring a lot of the art institutions out of their ?marble palaces? and into the community. It was a very free-wheeling discussion. There was a healthy amount of time allotted for questions from the audience, so there was a lot of back and forth. It was a great session.

Peter Bogdanovich was on that panel, and Mabel Robinson who runs the North Carolina Black Repertory Company---she was a delight. Also joining us was Joshua Morgan from the No Rules Theater Company, a very innovative theater company that?s in DC and in Winston-Salem. Belinda Tate, who directs the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University, was our moderator.

Linda Carlisle, the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, was also on the panel. Linda was with me in both Winston-Salem and Greensboro at almost every stop. Boy, is she a cultural resource! She has really made a big difference in arts support in North Carolina. Throughout the whole two days I think we were cheating and reading from each other?s playbook. She totally gets it. In fact, it?s more like we?re copying her because they?ve been doing this for awhile, and they?ve really been walking the walk out there. 

My day ended at an amazing gala with a concert by Tony Bennett (an NEA Jazz Master!) at the new Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts. Milton Rhodes has spent a lifetime advocating for the arts in Winston-Salem and in North Carolina, and this new art center is being named for him. That was just a perfect capper for what was a very intense but wonderful day.

The next morning we were back at the Rhodes Center for the official ribbon-cutting, which was attended by U.S. Senator Richard Burr and other notable dignitaries. Also there were some school kids who did a song that was just incredibly winning. These kids were just so little, and they did a great number. I was very touched by it---we all were.

And then we went on to Greensboro, which was a fascinating trip because we are funding Action Greensboro, an organization dedicated to the beautification of the city. Greensboro has a Downtown Greenway, which is this kind of loop around around the city, and the NEA has made an MICD 25 grant toward putting some public art in the greenway. We took a tour of the greenway itself, the parts that have been done and also the parts that are still to be done so we could visualize how it will be.

In the evening there was a reception at the home of Kathy Manning and Randall Kaplan who are big arts supporters in Greensboro. I got to meet just about everybody who?s anybody in the arts community in Greensboro. The city is home to the Eastern Music Festival is there, Greensboro Opera, and Triad Stage, among other great organizations. A lot of the arts council people were at the reception, and it was great to initiate those contacts with the arts community in Greensboro.

I should mention that, like Greensboro, Winston-Salem also received an MICD 25 grant. I was glad that I was able to see two MICD 25 projects at first hand. Winston-Salem?s project has to do with the bridges that intersect the city and with including the arts in the civic improvements plan for those structures. I think both of these projects will be unifying to their communities. The whole object is the revitalization of downtown areas. These downtowns are in transition, and they need help. They need design and planning, and they need activity. They need arts organizations, and they also need some thinking and some conceptualization, and we?re trying to be a part of all of that. And that?s been very exciting.

What I?ve really taken away from my North Carolina visit is that arts communities are filled with dedicated and passionate people. I think that one of the things they?re starting to realize is that they are a constituent group, and that they have voting power and persuasion power. To the extent that they can band together, talk to each other, organize, and speak with one voice, they?re going to have much more effect, and you see that in these two communities.

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