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Delta Arts Center | Heritage | Celebrating 40 years of unique cultural and education programming

Historical Perspective

Historical Statement from Founder Simona Atkins Allen

by Simona Atkins Allen, October 7, 2012

simona allenAs we begin the 40th anniversary celebration of Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts, Inc., I believe it is appropriate to look at the organization’s beginning 40 years ago and then look at what has been accomplished during this 40-year journey. I would like to speak about the beginning, and then give some highlights of our programs and projects during the years.

W-S Delta Fine Arts, Inc. was established in 1972 as an independent, non-profit, 501©(3), tax-exempt corporation by the W-S graduate chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a national organization of African American college women founded in 1913 whose principal purposes and aims are to engage in cultural, educational and public service activities.

Since its beginning 40 years ago, Delta Fine Arts has provided unique cultural and educational programming through a year-round program of exhibitions, classes, workshops, lectures, films, performances, and special projects for youth, adults, and the elderly in the areas of visual arts, music, literature, history and folk arts. The organization has also made purchases and donations to public collections in the state. Here are a few highlights of our programming during these 40 years.

In its first year, 1972, Delta Fine Arts presented the landmark exhibition, “Reflections: The Afro-American Artist,” the first major exhibit of its kind in North Carolina and among the first in the Southeast. This exhibition of one hundred works of art by eighty African-American artists of the last two centuries was accompanied by performances, lectures, and dialogues with artists. It was shown at Benton Convention Center and was seen by more than 10,500 people, including around 7,000 students from the local schools.

Since 1972, major solo exhibitions by nationally recognized African-American artists including Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Leo Twiggs, Charles Alston, John Biggers, Lois Mailou Jones, Eugene Grigsby, Aaron Douglas, Jonathan Green, Hughie Lee-Smith, Minnie Evans, and James Van Der Zee have been presented.  Works of important local artists such as Francis Brown, Jr., Marvette Aldrich, Barbara Eure, Hayward Oubre, Roland Watts, Vandorn Hinnant, and Michael Cunningham have also been exhibited. Noteworthy historical exhibitions have included: “The Black Presence in the American Revolution” and “Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds,” both from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Delta Fine Arts has made major donations to public collections in North Carolina. In 1975, we raised funds for the purchase of an 18-piece collection of furniture by 19th century African-American master furniture maker, Thomas Day, of Milton, NC for the permanent collection of the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. (Day exhibit now in Raleigh.)

Beginning in 1973, Delta Fine Arts has enhanced WSSU’s permanent art collection by our purchase and donation to the university of sculpture by NC native artists William Artis and Selma Burke and paintings by Samuel Brown, Stephanie Pogue, John Biggers, and Romare Bearden. And in 1989, we commissioned John Biggers to paint two 15 x 30-foot murals, Origins and Ascension, for the new C. G. O’Kelly Library at WSSU. John Biggers, assisted by his nephew, James, who is also a painter, began work in July 1990. The completed murals were donated and formally presented to the university in March 1992.

Collaborations with local organizations have included the following: readings and book signings by Pulitzer prize-winning authors Gwendolyn Brooks and Alice Walker in collaboration with Reynolda House Museum; the Rita Dove project with Forsyth County Public Library;  the first Triad performance of composer Undine Smith Moore’s cantata “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr,” in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. performed at WSSU’s Williams  Auditorium by the Winston-Salem Symphony, a community chorus, and nationally known soloists Hilda Harris, Marymal Holmes, Seth McCoy, and William Warfield; the presentation of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in collaboration with the W-S/Forsyth County public schools, and a concert of the music of Pulitzer prize-winning  composer George Walker at the University of NC School of the Arts.

Delta houseIn 2000, Delta Fine Arts published a color brochure entitled “The Little House That Grew.” The brochure cover showed a photograph of the first Delta Arts Center, the little house at 1511 East Third Street, which the organization leased, renovated and opened in 1982 to meet its gallery, classroom, office, and programming needs. The booklet described how Delta Fine Arts, from its founding, had continued to grow and to enrich the entire community and state through its arts and humanities programs, emphasizing  the contributions of African Americans.

In 2001, Delta Fine Arts became a funded member of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, and in 2001 the organization was accepted into the Museum Assessment Program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency.

Also in 2001, the organization embarked on an exciting project to acquire a new facility. We initiated a $1,000,000 campaign to purchase and renovate the former ABC liquor store building at 2611 New Walkertown Road. With much assistance and contributions from our members, friends, community and state supporters, staff, our Board of Directors and Capital Campaign Advisory Committee, we were able to raise 91% of our million dollar goal. We purchased the building in 2002 and completed the renovations in 2004. The new Center features a soaring gallery space with soft natural lighting and track lighting for display purposes and a professional climate control system allowing presentation of exhibitions not possible before. The building has space for expanded audiences and programs, a small gift shop, a small kitchen, much-needed office, storage, work spaces and ample parking. The grand opening of the new Delta Arts Center took place in January 2005. The inaugural exhibition, “Five Contemporary Voices in a New Space,” featured the work of five innovative African-American female artists from the NY City area.

Since opening, the Center has been a hub of activity with programs such as concerts by pianist Benjamin Bradham, a graduate of the University of NC School of the Arts; Silver Arts exhibits; exhibits of work by Raul Montero and other Latin American artists; quilting , pottery and woodturning classes and exhibits; Jazz dinners and Mother’s Day brunches.  One of the 5-star events at the new Center was the filmed conversation with artists Elizabeth Catlett and Maya Angelou during the 2008 Catlett exhibition, a memorable evening, indeed. Thank you, Dr. Angelou.

In addition to Delta members, individuals from the W-S community have been active at the Center as participants and attendees, as volunteers, and as Board and Committee members. All of the help we have received has been sincerely appreciated. And as we go forward, The Delta Arts Center will continue its efforts to be a cultural focal point, welcoming all artists and audiences, where the appreciation of visual art, music, literature, and education will bring enlightenment and enjoyment to all in our community and the state of North Carolina.