Winston-Salem Pacesetter for Arts Councils

Student artists paint at the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, circa 1964. Image from the Forsyth County Public Library.On August 9, 1949, the first locally-established arts council in the United States was formed in Winston-Salem.

The Junior League of Winston-Salem brought national community arts consultant Virginia Lee Comer to town in 1943 to study the cultural life of the community. Her strategy for cultural planning was to build connections between the community and its arts activities.

Seed money of $7,200 was set aside by the Junior League in 1946, and in 1949, representatives from twelve cultural groups convened to form the arts council. The council’s purpose was:

to serve those members and to plan, coordinate, promote, and sponsor the opportunity for, and the appreciation of, cultural activities in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County today works to make Winston-Salem the “City of the Arts,” where center-city revitalization efforts rely on the arts as an economic development resource.

The Arts Council has helped develop new arts organizations, established a united arts fund and constructed an arts center. Its comprehensive cultural program has received national acclaim and gained support for the arts from local business.

More than 4,000 local arts agencies across the country now work to build the presence of the arts in community quality of life. Today there are 74 local arts councils in North Carolina.

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