The Arts Council of Wilson (ACW) has a history of fifty years as a local arts agency since April 24, 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, 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.
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