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Winston-Salem accepting nominations for Memorial Walk of Fame

by Chanel Davis

Winston-Salem is taking measures to honor those who’ve contributed to arts culture that the city is known for with the Arts, Culture and Entertainment Memorial Walk of Fame. The walk will feature bronze stars with the honoree’s name engraved in them embedded in the sidewalk outside of the Benton Convention Center downtown. The city is accepting nominations until Feb. 26 and will narrow them down to five choices.

The purpose of the program is to recognize deceased residents who’ve made significant contributions to the arts and entertainment industry,” said Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe. “This came about when the “5” Royales were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

The really made an iconic contribution to the music industry and there was some interest in having some local recognition for their works.”

The “5” Royales was a rhythm and blues (R&B) vocal group from Winston- Salem that combined gospel, jump blues and doo-wop, marking an early and influential step in the evolution of soul music John Singleton, a spokesperson who works closely with the National Black Theater Festival, said that this is a great idea for the city.

“This kind of recognition and the attendant ceremonies can only help to enhance Winston-Salem’s reputation as a leader in the arts.”

In 2015, City Council authorized the Walk of Fame to honor deceased Winston-Salem residents who have made “a significant contribution in music, dance, theater, writing, visual arts, motion pictures, television or radio,” according to a media release. It goes on to state that for purposes of evaluation, “a significant contribution is one that is iconic in terms of renown and impact on the artistic disciplines or popular culture.”

The program has a $10,000 budget that would be used toward the marketing of the program and the unveiling but most of the dollars would go toward purchasing and installing the stars, according to Rowe. The funds come from the city’s Occupancy Tax Fund, tax dollars generated from hotels and motels, used to help promote economic development and tourism in the city.

“We feel like this is the perfect opportunity to utilize those funds because we hope that as residents are honored this will draw people downtown to the convention center,” he said.

To be considered, nominees must have exhibited sustained excellence in his or her field for at least five years, made distinguished contributions to the community and civic-oriented participation, must be deceased, and must have been a resident of Winston-Salem for at least five years. A Memorial Walk of Fame Nominating Committee will be created by the Mayor’s Office to review the nominations and come up with a slate to recommend to the city’s Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee who would narrow the choices down to five and send to the Mayor and City Council for final approval. That committee will be comprised of residents that represent “various artistic disciplines and fields within the entertainment industry.”

“This is an appropriate way to recognize the life of artists and entertainers who have contributed to the life of this city, have grown up or lived in the city,” Rowe said.

When asked why those living couldn’t be nominated Rowe said that when coming up with the guidelines, it was thought that it would be better to focus on those that have died.

“Quite frankly you never know when you elect somebody if something happens later on in their lives that may have an impact on that distinction, so we thought we should be careful about that,” he said. “Heaven forbid if something were to happen that would have an impact on their legacy I think there’s this concern of whether we would want to have something in place that would perhaps evoke the wrong thoughts about that particular individual.”

Singleton said that while he doesn’t have view point on limiting recognition to deceased individuals, recognizing living recipients would bring more fanfare like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where fans nominate, gather signatures and pay a fee.

“I must note that other widely known recognitions, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, do recognize living recipients. It seems to help generate media recognition when the awardees can participate,” he explained. “This is not, however, necessarily meant as a criticism. There is certainly more than one way to conduct such a program.”

Marilyn Ingram, event coordinator for the Winston-Salem Downtown Arts District said that she hopes the program remembers those who brought arts to the early Winston-Salem, such as actress Kathryn Grayson, dancer Harold Nicholas and arts personality Howard Cosell.

“There are plenty of awards for the living. I think it’s great to honor the people that’s been out there and done their thing. We haven’t done anything like this before so there’s quite a few that we need to go back and pick up because they’ve been out of the public eye for a while,” she said.

Ingram also said that she hopes the nominations are inclusive of all art.

“I would love to see them honor visual and performing artists but also look at literary artists. It’s all art,” Ingram said. “It doesn’t have to be on the wall.”

Diana Blanchard, executive director of the Associated Artists of Winston Salem, called the project a wonderful idea due to the rich history of the arts in the city.

“I absolutely think them being deceased adds to the memorial. It does exclude people who are living, obviously, but for now, I think it is a fantastic way to honor the artists who have made an impact on our community during their lifetime,” she said. “The city can make sure this is a hit by including the community and organizations in town in the discussions of who the artists will be and how the artists are selected.”

Rowe said that since the convention center is about to undergo construction, the 2016 honorees will be recognized in 2017, along with the 2017 honorees. He said that there will be an unveiling ceremony to recognize the honorees.

For more information, visit the city website at www.cityofws.org. !

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