Our Creative History
The 1067-acre country estate, assembled by industrialist R.J. and Katharine Smith Reynolds, offers Winston-Salem landscapes that are both natural and cultural. Through rolling fields, woodland trails and formal gardens, visitors may parse through the estate or spend time circulating through the 14 boutique restaurants and retail stores of its small shopping village. At the center of the grounds is Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which is home to the historic house and a world-class collection of American Art and rotating contemporary exhibitions.
Before the days of FaceBook, what started as a joke among friends as a way to connect and choose among the countless options of things to do in Winston-Salem more than 20 years ago has become a mainstay for connectivity in Winston-Salem. Keeping up with it all took a Master Connector–Jeff Smith. Today, a variety of online services makes searching and deciding easy, though Smitty’s Notes was a pioneer. The information and connecting service has more than 16,000 subscribers to its monthly e-newsletter, making it Winston-Salem’s #1 place to check to see “what’s happening.”
In its earliest days as a trading center to open the wilderness of North Carolina, Winston-Salem was created by musicians and became one of America’s first places of music in 1753. Today, three young entreprepreneurs are giving new life to the city’s musical heritage with The Ramkat, an entertainment venue that attracts top national talent, touring groups and local artists, as well as interviews of national significance by National Public Radio (NPR). In the COVID-19 era, its creative and innovative owners transformed the venue to be a streaming source of live music performances with a branded reminder of people enjoying music together, but apart, called “Home Sweet Home: Live at the Ramkat.”
Museum of Understanding, Storytelling & Engagement (MUSE) is Winston-Salem’s newest museum that’s a vibrant, welcoming place. Following its founding as The New Winston Museum, in 2012, It seeks to celebrate the city’s history–of every kind–as a way that leads to “acceptance, understanding and belonging” among all peoples of every community. Its work takes many forms, from exhibits to public programs and oral histories. MUSE has taken careful and focused aim to explore Winston-Salem “at work and play, at school and in the street, in moments of crisis and celebration, and through the lenses of its neighborhoods, its social diversity, and its ongoing evolution.
The National Black Theatre Festival
With the help of the late Dr. Maya Angelou, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, the late Larry Leon Hamlin, native Winston-Salem African-American artist started The National Black Theatre Festival in 1989. The biennial event draws noted theatre professionals from around the globe to Winston-Salem to showcase the best in African-American theatre. With an entrepreneurial flavor, it helps present new works, new artists and new ways of expressing theatrical performance. The festival is produced by The N. C. Black Repertory Company, also based in Winston-Salem and draws more than 60,000 to its week-long events.
Coffee Park Airstream
There’s perhaps no place that’s more symbolic of the entrepreneurial connectivity of Winston-Salem than Coffee Park Airstream on Reynolda Road. Literally housed in a shiny silver Airstream trailer, where cars pull up alongside it for some hot coffee, rather than towing it, Coffee Park is a touchpoint of the community’s pulse and purpose. “Coffee Park has become a community space,” said Tommy Priest, who owns it with his wife, Kendall. “We have the best customers of any business in town. I know what they drink. I know their kids. I know their dogs. I just wanted a place where our customers could hang out.” And they do–for great coffee, informative conversation and connectivity.
Shell Service Station
If you’ve ever purchased gasoline at a Shell station, it couldn’t have been a more fun or intriguing one than this iconic structure in Winston-Salem. Built in 1920, the single-story facility stands as a giant yellow shell, trimmed in traditional red paint and is an iconic example of novelty architecture in America. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a perfect example of the kind of creative thinking that entrepreneurs have had in this City of Arts & Innovation since its founding in the mid-1700’s to raise brand awareness and promote their products. This is the only surviving one of eight built in this part of North Carolina by Quality Oil Company, one of the oldest such companies in America and still a vibrant force in the economy of Winston-Salem and North Carolina.
RiverRun International Film Festival
As an Oscar-qualifying film festival, this annual, 11-day attraction of film creators and film lovers is a leading event in the Southeast and recently was rated by USA Today as one of the 10 best film festivals worth traveling to see. Year round, the festival is surrounded by leading film interaction and education, closely aligned with the UNC School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, also located in Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, founded in the city. In partnership with these leading entities, RiverRun also is a sponsor of OUT at the Movies, the country’s leading LGBTQ international film festival. While dedicated to the role of cinema as a conduit of powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints, the festival fosters greater appreciation of cinema and a deeper understanding of people, cultures and perspectives through great films.
Helen Simoneau Danse
Growing up in Canada, Helen Simoneau knew that she wanted her life to be interesting, different and meaningful. So, she identified the UNC School of the Arts as the place she would go to learn dance and how to share its movement with others. Today, with fellowships at Juilliard and noted prizes from performances around the world, Helen Simoneau Danse (HSD) enjoys its home base in Winston-Salem, which Helen celebrates as a City of Arts & Innovation. From Winston-Salem, the dance company is upholding the value of dance and its ability to create change around the world, as HSD has been presented in Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and has toured throughout Germany, Asia, and the United States.
Forsyth County Library
The main public library, newly renovated in 2017, functions as the 21st century version of the town square, “where everyone meets and mingles–and learns.” Located in the heart of downtown, on land that once was the location of the home of R. J. Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company, today it boasts impressive statistics: 6,500 programs for adults, teens and children that attract more than 116,000 customers; its collection contains more than 657,000 items; customers check out more than 1.3 million items. It operates 10 branches throughout the community and one virtually that draws more than 1.5 million visits. Cited as a force in revitalization of downtown, it is described as a “social catalyst that encourages a sense of vibrancy, supports economic growth and contributes to a literate citizenry.”
George Black, Acclaimed Brick Maker
One of the city’s most interesting and successful entrepreneurs was George Black, a son of former slaves who came to Winston-Salem as a boy, started his own brickyard in Winston-Salem. He rose to national and international prominence. His home and brickyard are on the National Register of Historic Places as being “nationally significant,” which less than 4% of such listings are. Black built his business on his solid reputation of producing an enduring product by hand. His bricks were used to build much of the Reynolds Tobacco factories, parts of Historic Williamsburg and Old Salem. He has been an honored guest at the White House and featured by the late Charles Kuralt on his CBS television series, “On the Road.” A bronze statue of Black greets visitors to the Forsyth County Government Center and serves as a reminder of one of the city’s best known entrepreneurs who literally helped build Winston-Salem from the ground up.
Cobblestone Farmers Market
Acclaimed as one of the top markets to visit nationally, Cobblestone Farmers Market is a sustainable, producer-only farmers market that strives to curate a robust variety of seasonal products. Its entrepreneurial owners, including a mother/daughter team, are dedicated to significantly increasing the regional agricultural economy as well as access to sustainably produced food for all. Local and/or sustainably produced ingredients are strongly preferred. The market serves as a weekly grocer and gathering spot for a diverse community to purchase the freshest of vegetables, fruits, meats, baked goods, herbs and flowers.
Sweet Potatoes (well, shut my mouth!)
When people want “sumntaeat,” especially in the category of memorable Southern food, they make their way back to Sweet Potatoes, an Award-winning restaurant in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Arts District. Owned by partners/business partners Stephanie Tyson and Vivian Joiner, the restaurant has a special twist on “soul” and “food.” Because of its soulful nature, Sweet Potatoes has developed a community reputation best described in their words, as it’s a place where “friends have been made and relationships forged over a basket of fried green tomatoes and okra.”
Tours on the Moravian Cookie Trail
Nominated as the official state cookie of North Carolina, the Moravian Spice Cookies are still made today the same traditional way they’ve been made for hundreds of years–rolled out by hand. Created among Moravian communities in Colonial American, molasses and spices are blended together and rolled paper thin to make what is claimed “the world’s thinnest cookie.” Tours are available at Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies in Winston-Salem.
If a city, state or region had arrows pointed toward a distinct spot of Energy, it would be Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter. Energized by Wake Forest University, it’s a magnetic place that’s drawing biotech, datatech, health education and visionary leaders to Winston-Salem, a center of creativity known as a City of Arts & Innovation. Described to be “emerging as one of the most distinctive innovation districts in America,” it has become a welcoming mecca of people, ideas and activities.
Black Mountain Chocolate
Visible Factory and Kitchen
As North Carolina’s original bean-to-bar chocolate factory, Black Mountain Chocolate (BMC) welcomes those who are “chocolate curious” to come for a self-guided tour of their kitchen and factory. Visitors can observe the entire chocolate-making process through visible plate glass windows, especially the way they work in small batches to coax the maximum flavor from each and every bean. BMC knows the art of making fine chocolates, as it was founded in 2007 in the small town of Black Mountain, NC, which the New York Times described as “a haven for the arts” and moved in 2014 to Winston-Salem, City of Arts & Innovation.
Farm to Fourth
A table through the heart of the city? What better way to deal with challenges created and illuminated by the pandemic? Second Harvest Food Bank and their Providence culinary team are planning a unique dining experience in Downtown Winston-Salem in the block of the Stevens Center. Planned before the pandemic, chefs from favorite restaurants will create a special meal focused on local foods and farms as diners join in fellowship, together around a long table to raise money to put food on the tables of families throughout Northwest North Carolina. As the pandemic has shown, too many local families struggle with food insecurity, and this is one way to bring communities together to start tackling the problem. Farm to Fourth is a place where change can begin to happen.
The Reynolds Building
The Empire State Building owes its art deco design and style to The Reynolds Building in downtown Winston-Salem, which was used as a model for New York’s skyscraper, the world’s tallest building at the time. Described as a “national iconic work of public art,” the 21-story building today is home to The Residences at the Reynolds Building, 116 luxury apartments; Kimpton Hotel’s “The Cardinal”; and a stylish restaurant and bar, The Katharine, named for Katharine Smith Reynolds, one of the earliest role models of women as leaders.
Old Salem Museum and Gardens
Today, a visit to Old Salem is a way to step back into history and imagine a time when most of North Carolina was wilderness–until this place was established to be a trading center that attracted commerce and creative people and ideas, as it does today. A creative center from which the interior of North Carolina grew. On July 4, 1783, creative townspeople composed and played music to hold the first official celebration of Independence Day in America, in Salem Square. Eight years later, in 1791, President George Washington spent two nights in Salem, where he examined the workings of its innovative water works to share with other parts of the country; where he talked with a variety of artisans about their crafts; and where he requested to hear more music by the community’s abundance of composers and musicians. All reasons that define Winston-Salem as a City of Arts & Innovation.
Lavender and Honey Kitchen
As a mother and daughter baking company, Lavender and Honey Kitchen uses seasonally inspired heirloom recipes to create decadent desserts. They specialize in nostalgic cakes and pies reminiscent of their grandmother’s table, with modernized twists influenced by European food trends. Everything in their kitchen is made from scratch, using organic North Carolina milled flour. They take their location in a City of Arts & Innovation to heart, as all their creations are truly works of art.
Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Winston-Salem attracts visitors from throughout the southeast to its Festival of Lights at Tanglewood Park, which is a top local holiday tradition. Over 1,000,000 lights forming storybook displays from childhood stories are displayed over a 4-mile journey as well as on the surface of Tanglewood’s lake. With over 300,000 visitors per year, Festival of Lights has been ranked a Top 100 Event in North America.
Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA)
A museum steeped in avant-garde history, SECCA has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) since 1979. SECCA contributed to the oeuvre of contemporary American fine art by exhibiting Andres Serrano’s provocative work, which garnered both criticism and praise from the bleeding edge of the art world. Today, its Crossroads @ SECCA Series features artists such as Bela Fleck, the late Leon Russell, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.