By Bryan Dooley
If visitors to the New Winston Museum (NWM) happen to look down at the entrance floor, they will see words entwined in a stunning display of “word art”. Rebecca Fuller, board member and artist, designed this pattern to represent the mission of the museum and to represent equally, every facet of Winston Salem’s history.
Fuller interprets the meaning of her design and one of her dreams for the museum. “The story of a place, of a community, is sort of like a tapestry that is woven together,” said Fuller. “I think that each person’s story is a thread in the tapestry. The millworker’s thread is as important and integral to the tapestry as the mill owner’s thread. It is the story of everybody that is in the community. It is not just the wealthy people with buildings named after them. It is the people who worked in the textile factories. It is the people who worked in the tobacco factories. It is the people that started the stores downtown. It is everybody. His story is as important as her story.”
The NWM’s backstory represents the same idea. Winston Salem Forsyth County was a major metro area without a community museum. Frank Borden Hanes, Sr. led a decade’s long grassroots movement. Hanes and other prominent Winston residents worked to bring the museum to fruition.
When most people think of Winston Salem’s history, they automatically think of Old Salem. The New Winston Museum focuses on the time period after 1850. Director of Education and Programming, Chris Jordan, explains why.
“Old Salem is a great institution that focuses on the mid-1700’s through around 1850, which is about the time when Winston was founded,” said Jordan. “Before we opened 3 years ago, there was no institution that told the history after 1850, so people’s historical knowledge was limited. Most people know that Moravians founded Salem and Winston was a tobacco town. We help complete the story. Complete the gaps.”
NWM’s mission is to preserve, promote, and present the dynamic history and diverse stories of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County community through education and collaboration. One such collaboration, which will continue until June, is the telling of the story of how the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, was brought to Winston Salem 50 years ago with a massive community effort and drive.
37,000 conical white paper cups and 100,000 + staples have been transformed into a climbing honeycomb that appears to be multiplying, perfectly representing growth; the growth of the museum, the arts, the school, the students and the community, aptly named, “This School, This City.”
The exhibit makes clear that Winston Salem fought for the school to be located here. Dr. Michael Wakeford, museum board member and UNCSA assistant professor of liberal arts, spoke to the importance of having a school of the arts. “When you fill a community with people, both faculty, staff and most of all, students, who are passionate about what they do , who are afforded opportunities to do what they dream of doing and when they produce great ideas and great art, and fulfill their passions, it makes it a happier place, a more peaceful place,” said Wakeford. “It makes your community better.”
The museum is a resource from which the entire community can benefit. NWM is free, is located near a bus stop, and is accessible to all.
In addition to the art exhibits, the NWM regularly hosts a quarterly thematic Salon Series. The museum offers the opportunity to be a salon speaker to people who are both knowledgeable and passionate. They don’t have to be a professional, although those folks are welcome, too. Katherine Foster, executive director, defines the series.
“It’s a nod back to the French Salon, where people would gather in an intimate place to talk, listen and debate. We hope to be that cultural hub for our community.” said Foster. “Our goal is to be a Museum of Living Conversation.”
The entire community can participate. There is something for everyone. Attend an event, host your own gathering, make a donation, become an intern, or volunteer your time. NWM is always looking for flat artifacts like photographs and documents to scan and then return to their owners. Check NWM’s website for upcoming events and opportunities.
September will reveal the next exhibit. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: Wheels of Change. The remaining salons will cover immigration and transportation.
Some say that history is boring. Foster encourages a dialogue about the importance of history and its relevance to all aspects of our lives.
“History is a composite storytelling process. By us getting to know each other through our stories, we can understand each other better and create community,” said Foster. “It’s this coming together in relationship, even on this programmatic level, that leads to increased social capital that enriches all of our lives.”
Jordan expands on that point.
“A community’s identity is rooted in its history,” said Jordan. “If you don’t understand how that story’s progressed and how people came together to make a community what it is, you don’t understand its identity. History is often presented as a chronological collection of dates and facts. When in reality, history is about community building.”
Bryan Dooley is a graduate of Guilford College, where while earning a degree in History, he wrote for the The Guilfordian as a Staff Writer from 2011 to 2013, a Senior Writer from 2012 to 2013, and worked as a Diversity Coordinator. He now is a journalist and columnist with CCD. Bryan, who himself has cerebral palsy, is also an advocate for people with disabilities.