EDITORIAL: In the WS arts scene, consolidation and evolution

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The arts council owes $4.5 million on the Milton Rhodes Arts Center, which opened in 2012. Balancing its own viability with grants to arts organizations remains an ongoing challenge.

If you’re just coming in on the story now, the sale of the Arts Council Theatre space on Coliseum Drive in Winston-Salem might seem like an egregious episode of malpractice by the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the owner of the property and also the organization charged with advancing the arts in this market.

But as we’ve reported, the arts council fell $400,000 short of its 2017 fundraising goal and was forced to spread the pain around the organizations it supports. And, like a lot of organizations, they were forced to make some hard decisions about their business model in light of the current climate.

Remember, this is the oldest arts council in the United States, the model upon which thousands of similar organizations have been built. That space was established in 1957, not long after the council itself was founded in 1949, for all the area theater groups. At the time it was the only alternative for a performance stage to Reynolds Auditorium and the Stevens Center, which was still the Carolina Theatre.

Doubtless the NC Black Repertory Co. and Little Theatre of Winston-Salem — the last two arts groups that call the building home — feel differently, but perhaps this facility’s utility has run its course.

Now the arts council owns the Hanesbrands Theatre and Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, right in the heart of downtown: more modern facilities (on which they are still paying) with (probably) enough performance spaces and office suites to accommodate these two orphaned groups, bringing them more prominence in the bargain.

That’s the hope, anyway.

These are lean times for the arts in the Triad, with a dwindling crop of corporate donors and the sort of private individuals who undertake the financial responsibility of patronage. But the show, as they say, must go on.

And to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if we don’t have a vibrant arts scene, then what is the point of everything else?

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