As one walks into the newly renovated Benton Convention Center, one’s eye catches two massive paintings that stretch from the floor all the way to the ceiling. As one makes one’s way down the wide, open corridor one is struck by a piece of Maya Angelou on the left and a dancer on a river on the right.
On July 28 of this year, the Convention Center located on 301 West 5th Street, celebrated its ribbon cutting ceremony for the $20 million renovations that included several new art pieces displayed throughout the entire building.
“We are excited that this is the largest art gallery aside from Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem,” said Grant Minnix, the Director of Operations. “We have 11 commission pieces displayed throughout the convention center.”
Minnix talked about the process he and the rest of the committee from the Public Arts Commission in Winston-Salem went through in order to get all of this artwork.
“I think the committee had about fifty-to-fifty-five thousand dollars to spend on the artwork, so we had to manage our budget while selecting the pieces we wanted,” said Minnix.
Nico Amortegui, the painter of the pieces entitled “We, Winston-Salem” that is displayed in the very front of the convention center said in an email that the first mural represents the city and history of Winston Salem. The second represents all of the citizens and what it is today.
These are the two paintings that stretch from the floor all the way to the ceiling. Both paintings have the same color schema using light blue, yellow, pink, red, green, purple and gray.
Christine Rucker, the artist of the piece “Dance for the River – Blue Dress,” has her photograph of a dancer in a blue dress posing on top of a large rock near the water of the Yadkin River displayed on a large wall on the right side of the center.
“I was contacted by the city and they suggested I submit something from the project I was working on,” said Rucker.
This project is about creating awareness for the River through images of dancers at locations throughout the watershed.
“I think putting a human connection in, in the serious images, really puts somebody up in that spot and can connect with it in a different level,” said Rucker.
All artists had to submit a proposal of what they wanted to put up in the convention center to the committee and waited to see if their artwork would get chosen.
Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, civil rights activist and was professor at Wake Forest University until 2011.
“[Maya Angelou] had such a major pride to Winston Salem and it was going to be a big public venue where I felt like some of the things should be representative of the city because that’s where people come for very big events,” said Dennis Wells, the artist of the piece entitled, “Maya Angelou – In Her Own Words.”
Wells talked about his admiration to Angelou and her importance to the arts in Winston-Salem so he thought it was a natural fit to propose a piece about her for the convention center. The portrait of Angelou is made up of quotes from her and is in black and white.
Rucker, who lives just above the Yadkin River, gets very inspired by not only this river, but also rivers in general and wanted to create a special message about the importance of clean water.
“I could have taken pictures of really nasty spots or put it in any light that I wanted, but I chose to go with dancers to create a different perspective,” said Rucker.
The three artists spoke about the honor that they feel having their artwork displayed on such a public level in the convention center.
“I’ve never had something be this public in a permanent installation for public site, but of course I’m proud and I’m thrilled,” Rucker said.
“Winston has a really good art community that’s growing and getting strong…for the city to really make use of local talents was pretty cool,” said Wells.