by Jordan Green

The distance between the booming hub of tech and culture around Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and the eastern leg of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is a mere six blocks, but US Highway 52 and the stark gap in wealth between the two poles make it feel like a gaping chasm.

MLK Drive is the major thoroughfare of the city’s historically African-American section, connecting Winston-Salem State University to the south with the Sunrise Towers public housing community. A public school serving grades 6-12, two county agencies, a library branch and a Food Lion are all part of East Winston, an area that is all but invisible to many Winston-Salem residents.

A divided city desperately needs to be reunited. It’s almost intuitive that the solution for a city that prides itself on embracing “arts and innovation” would be a creative corridor. The Creative Corridors Coalition has been working on a project to enhance Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The project has been on the backburner for a while, but an announcement about public art components is expected soon. Meanwhile, improvements to the Fourth Street corridor, including enhancements to the bridge over Highway 52, have been discussed in Creative Corridors’ master plan, but the nonprofit is not actively raising money for it at this time.

With the launch of a “community innovation lab” in Winston-Salem to address inequities in employment, income and wealth, now is the perfect time to breathe new life into the creative corridor concept as it pertains to Fourth Street. Jim Sparrow, the president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, has even mentioned Highway 52 as physical and psychological barrier that the initiative might potentially tackle.

It shouldn’t be hard to find partners on either side of the chasm. On the east side, Councilman Derwin Montgomery is the pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church at the corner of Woodland and Fourth streets. Nakida McDaniel is a longtime community organizer with ties to many of the residents. For that matter, the Cleveland Avenue Transformation Team, a group of public housing residents, could be tapped directly.

On the other side of the highway, the network of artists and scene-makers at Reanimator Records, Krankies Coffee and the Black Lodge would be great candidates. Donell Williams, an artist with strong ties in both East Winston and the Trade Street arts scene, also seems like a natural recruit.

Whether the community innovation lab takes this on or not, the project needs to be inclusive with strong partners at both ends rather than imposed from one side. Also, the creative corridor should take shape through a series of tactical actions to make an immediate impression rather than a strategic process bogged down by years of planning and fundraising. The corridor needs infrastructure — things like iconic bridge enhancements, streetscaping and permanent public art — but that’s more of a long-term prospect.

The content of a creative corridor should be determined by the participants to be culturally relevant to the communities it links. The project could certainly incorporate chalkings and yarn-bombing. I’m also envisioning parading along the corridor to sites at either end. Imagine a high school marching band leading a crowd from the intersection of MLK and Fourth Street to an electronic dance music party at Bailey Park. Or a radical drum corps departing from Reanimator Records and delivering a crowd to a midnight poetry jam at a church in East Winston.

The possibilities are limited only by the bounds of our imaginations.

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