History and Mission

The mission of the Arts Council of Wilson is to improve the quality of life for all the citizens of Wilson County by providing cultural leadership and opportunities in the arts.


The Arts Council of Wilson (ACW) has a history of fifty years as a local arts agency since April 24th, 1967.  Our mission is to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Wilson County by providing cultural leadership and opportunities in the arts. Currently we fulfill that mission through participatory and passive programming in visual, literary, and performing arts disciplines. Throughout the year, we offer more than six professional gallery exhibits, a professional performance series (the “Boykin Series”), a youth theater education program (the Arts Council Troupe known as ACT! for Youth), a student gallery exhibition series, educational workshops for adults and children, lectures, and camps in visual art and theater. We also offer support to large and small emerging arts organizations through our Grassroots Grant program.

The national arts council movement was born in North Carolina in 1949 when the country’s first local arts council was established in Winston-Salem. In 1966, the NC State Assembly created the North Carolina Arts Council, which prompted several civic-minded citizens of Wilson (including some members of the Wilson Active Artists Association) to start meeting to discuss the possibility of forming an arts council for Wilson County. On April 24, 1967, the Articles of Incorporation for the Arts Council of Wilson, Inc., were signed by NC Secretary of State Thad Eure, and on May 3, 1967, the charter meeting of the Arts Council of Wilson, Inc., was held at the Wilson Recreation Center on Sunset Road. Each attendee was asked to complete an interest questionnaire and donate $1. More than 150 people attended, and the first Board and officers were elected: Burt Gillette, President; Janet Hackney, Vice President; Ann B. (Bonnie) Young, Secretary; Douglas Graham, Treasurer; and members Betty Parker, Peggy Donoghue, Anne Hackney, Susan Bridgers, Marshall Daniel, Brian Wilcox, and Dorothy Cooke. Meetings were held in private homes until 1972. In 1968, the first “corporate” patrons came aboard, including Blue Bell, Inc.; BB&T; Hackney Brothers Body Company; Imperial Tobacco; Merrill Lynch; Pierce, Fenner and Smith; Southern Testing & Research Lab, Inc.; and Wainwright’s Warehouse, Inc.

In April of 1972, the Arts Council moved into the Bruton House on Jackson Street, where plans were made to provide an art gallery, classroom space, a rehearsal room and a meeting space for members. In June of 1974, the Shoestring Theater was organized (with Oliver as its first production), and Vicky Bell was hired as the first full-time Executive Director of the Arts Council of Wilson. On October 9, 1974, the Arts Council moved into the 205 Gray Street house, where it was located for almost 15 years.

In September of 1986, a feasibility study was commissioned to determine the potential for developing the “BB&T Community Building” as the new, permanent home of the Arts Council of Wilson. Clearscapes Architecture in Raleigh was selected as the architect, and in January of 1987, the Board voted to pursue funding. For several months, community meetings were held seeking broad-based support and input on arts center use, and in October of 1987, the Arts Council celebrated the completion of a successful capital campaign with pledges in excess of $285,000. Renovation began in March of 1988, the staff moved in during December of that year, and on February 4, 1989, the new Wilson Arts Center opened to the public.

In 1995, the Wilson Community Theater, Inc., and the Arts Council of Wilson merged, expressly for the purpose of restoring the historic Wilson Theater on Nash Street to its former glory so that it could become a premier performing arts venue for the community. Clearscapes Architecture was once again tapped to handle the renovations, and fundraising and drawing of plans commenced in earnest. Edna Boykin led the way with her generosity and leadership, but many diverse groups and individuals shared the credit for making the renovation project successful, including the Department of Cultural Resources, the City of Wilson and its Manager, the City Council and Mayor, the Arts Council Board Members and staff, and many private individuals, all of whom were generous with time and money. In January of 1998, the Edna Boykin Cultural Center opened its doors, named in honor of Ms. Boykin's lifetime contributions and service to the arts in Wilson. In the lobby, the Hammond Gallery was named in honor of Dr. Robert  Hammond, another generous and long-time supporter of the arts in Wilson.

The Arts Council Today

Since it was first organized back in 1967, the Arts Council has continued to grow and thrive with the support of local businesses and the many, many private individuals who give time and money to help us fulfill our mission. Our current programming includes:

In Visual Arts

•    The Visual Arts Academy, which provides art instruction for local area high school youth
•    Creative Kids Academy, which provides art instruction for local area elementary youth
•    The Visual Arts Series, presenting at least six gallery shows a year at no cost to the public
•    The Lowe Celebration Hall, which exhibits the work of the Wilson Active Artists
•    The Cooke Student Gallery, which exhibits work of the youth of Wilson and Wilson County
•    A variety of workshops in the Visual Arts for all ages

In Performing Arts

•    The ACT! for Youth Program, providing performing arts education for local area youth
•    The Boykin Series, providing professional concerts and performances for all ages
•    Performance spaces for The Playhouse, Visions Community Theater Group, and various other community groups needing performance and rehearsal spaces
•    Workshops in the Performing Arts

In the Community

•    The Grassroots Grants Program, providing funding for local arts programming for Wilson and Wilson County
•    Outreach Workshops in neighborhoods in Wilson and Wilson County


The Arts Council welcomes volunteers of all ages and interests. Opportunities are available for any length of time, and no specific background is needed. Volunteering can provide participants with experiences in visual arts, performing arts, special events, and administration. In visual arts, we are always looking for docents to help curate and hang exhibitions and guide tour groups. In the performing arts, we have opportunities for ushers, stagehands, box office assistants, concessions, lights and sound. Each year we have several fundraisers and special events where volunteers can help with organizing, planning and executing these events for the enjoyment of participants and the continued success of the Arts Council. And of course, we can always use extra hands in administration, helping to mail out newsletters and fundraising materials and keeping things organized and running smoothly.

We work tirelessly to maintain the Wilson Arts Center and the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, as well as to provide the staff to manage all of these programs and to create all of the necessary publicity and newsletters so that the community can enjoy all that their Arts Council has to offer.


The Edna Boykin Cultural Center – A Walk Down Memory Lane

Dr. Leland Grady had a vision. He created an opera house for the people of Wilson from his two-story Nash Street office building. While there were other theatres downtown, when the Wilson Theatre opened in fall 1919, it was the downtown showpiece for the citizens of Wilson. The theatre featured a beautiful palladium exterior, plush seats, brass railings and an elaborately detailed gold-painted plaster interior. It was truly a sight to behold.

During its early years, the theatre served as a performing stage for traveling shows of vaudeville, singing acts, magicians, minstrels and plays. Vaudeville entertained the entire family with a wide variety of acts designed to replaced their daily concerns with fun, fascination and fantasy. In addition, local events, including talent and fashion shows, made the theatre a center for the town's cultural activity. Also popular with Wilson’s citizens were sexy burlesque acts during the early years.

On nights when there were no live performances, the theatre was in demand for silent movies. Talkies didn't make an appearance until several years later, around 1930, but a piano played in sync with the action on the screen and kept the 800-seat audience on the edges of their seats. Like most of America, Wilson flocked to movie theatres, and the Wilson Theatre was no exception. It was a busy place through the war years of the 1940’s and into the 1960's as Wilsonians lined Nash Street to see their favorite stars of stage and screen. Wilsonians may recall with nostalgia donating bottle caps or soup labels as admission for seeing a movie, as the theatre was home to silver screen stars including Ava Gardner and Cary Grant, 3D movies and Saturday morning cartoons, serials and newsreels.By the early 1970's, the Wilson Theatre showed X-rated films. Although met with much disapproval, the scandalous films played there for several years.

The Renovation

The City of Wilson purchased the Wilson Theatre in 1984 and organized the Wilson Community Theatre, Inc. Under the direction of President, Woody Harrison, the Board managed the facility's use and restoration. Many felt that the theatre should be restored to its original splendor and that it still served a necessary role in the community. For the next fourteen years, Executive Director Carol Blake and many volunteers, the theatre improved with such basic necessities as updated restrooms and heating and air conditioning systems. The renovation project was well under way when in 1995 the Theatre Board and the Arts Council of Wilson merged expressly for the purpose of seeing the project to fruition. Clearscapes Inc., a Raleigh architectural firm was hired and the fundraising and drawing of plans commenced in earnest.

Edna Boykin led the way with her generosity. However, many groups and individuals share the Credit for making the Wilson Theatre renovation project successful and transforming it into the Edna Boykin Cultural Center. The Department of Cultural Resources, under the leadership of Betty McCain, the City of Wilson and its Manager, City Council and Mayor, the Arts Council Board Members and staff and the individuals have been generous with time and money.

Several companies and citizens of Wilson began this historic undertaking including restoration of the beautiful plaster details throughout the facility, refurbishing and adding to the number of permanent theatre seats. The new plans included the addition of dressing rooms, a stage extension and loading dock, a new marquee and 35mm projection equipment.

Workers restored and transitioned the soda and jewelry shops into a lobby, saving some old Brick walls on either side. The walls, amazingly, still showed remains of old movie posters and advertisements from an earlier era and remains intact to this day as a reminder of its history.

In January 1998 the Edna Boykin Cultural Center opened its doors, in the honor of Ms. Boykin's lifetime contributions and service to the arts in Wilson. In the lobby, Dr & Mrs. Mark G. Hooper named the Hammond Gallery in honor of Dr. Robert Hammond, which featured its first visual arts gallery exhibits. On opening night, January 31, 1998, Ms. Edna Boykin and Mrs. Eleanor Hammond were among those in attendance to celebrate with The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra and The Platters.


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