It Just Might Work: Overhaul the Greensboro Cultural Center

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by Jordan Green

Every newspaper and website needs a design overhaul once in awhile. That’s not an admission of deficiency; it’s just a recognition that we can all get into an aesthetic rut, and it’s healthy to change up habits, try new things and stimulate new interests.

It’s the same with any great arts facility, and that brings me to the Greensboro Cultural Center. Like its Winston-Salem counterpart, the Milton Rhodes Arts Center, the Greensboro Cultural Center is a people’s arts facility, accessible to citizens of all ages and abilities who want to engage their creativity. It’s a democratic, small-A counterpoint to the elite, big-A arts framework that will guide the coming Steven Tanger Center for Performing Arts, which will provide a forum for ticketed events with symphonies, Broadway shows and national acts like Morrissey or Gillian Welch.

As a stalwart public arts workhorse, the Greensboro Cultural Center is at risk of being further marginalized by the dazzle and hype surrounding the new performing arts center and LeBauer City Park. All three facilities are part of the emerging Cultural District, with the new park being adjacent to the cultural center. Part of the cultural center’s challenge is its name, which is a) generic, and b) easily confused with the new Tanger Center. It needs a new name, although I’m at a loss for ideas, and more generally a marketing plan.

The cultural center needs some new spark.

Longtime residents and savvy newcomers know that the cultural center offers a fantastic complement of amenities from the GreenHill Center for NC Art’s spacious gallery to spaces for community theater, African drumming and martial arts. ArtQuest, under GreenHill’s umbrella brings in a steady stream of children and families. The other three galleries — African American Atelier, the Guilford Native American Gallery and the Center for Visual Artists, with a slightly edgier aesthetic than the more eminent GreenHill — are all solid, too. I’m sure everyone has their own favorites, but the live music at GreenHill every First Friday is a highlight for me.

Based on the strength of its programming the cultural center deserves a far higher profile. Unfortunately, while most of its constituent organizations are thriving, the cultural center itself lacks cohesion. A legitimate website with a unique domain name that showcases new exhibits and upcoming performances would be a start. The cultural center probably needs a part-time marketing director to cross-promote programming. I don’t know if each of the constituent organizations would chip in some of their budget to support such a position or City Arts (a division of the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department) should outsource the position to someone at ArtsGreensboro with the requisite background.

The building could also use some renovation. A small auditorium equipped to screen films and a nice space to rent out for receptions would be worthwhile enhancements. The cultural center’s location adjacent to a bar, Café Europa, is an incredible asset. But the building needs to be redesigned to create a more open path to the bar so that foot traffic can more freely between the two. Maybe a mini coffee bar could be added to the cultural center? The specifics don’t really matter, as long as the principals come together and do something to add some spark to the cultural center.

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