Delta Arts leader bows out gracefully
After a dozen years at the helm of the Delta Arts Center, Executive Director Dianne Caesar is stepping down.
“Her service has been invaluable, and she worked, lots of times, beyond the requirements of the job,” stated Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts Inc. Board of Directors member Peggy Moore. “…We will miss her a great deal.”
Caesar, a city native and mother of two, said she had planned to retire later this year, but the Center’s Board of Directors has asked her to vacate the position early.
“People have different ideas and direction, and I think the board decided that they wanted to go in a different direction,” she stated. Board members cite financial reasons for Caesar’s departure.
“Like almost every other arts group, we have felt the pinch of this tough economy,” Board Chair Cynthia Jeffries said in a statement. “It is not surprising that after 40 years, we should look at our operating model and determine how to make it more effective. New leadership will be tasked with making sure we are on sound financial ground and creating innovative programming consistent with our service mission and our unique position in the Winston-Salem arts community.”
Macon, Ga.-native Daphne Holmes-Johnson, the former vice chair of the board, will assume the position of interim executive director on Feb. 15. Holmes-Johnson, a Knoxville College alumna and published poet, said she will be volunteering her services to the organization until it can get on more solid financial ground.
“It is (about) keeping the center going,” she said of her appointment. “We have a very active board that is engaged in doing that … It’s just some things that we need to do on a programatic level and an administrative level so that we will be ready for the next executive director.”
As luck would have it, Holmes-Johnson, an event planner and retired US Airways employee, will be working alongside her son, Brandon Scott Johnson, 31, who was hired as the Center’s program developer prior to her appointment. Johnson will answer to Jeffries to avoid any conflicts of interest, his mother said. The two will work to create interactive programs that attract a broader cross section of the community, with a special emphasis on young professionals, Holmes-Johnson said. The 41 year-old Center is currently rewriting its strategic plan and looking at ways to expand its reach within the community, according to Holmes-Johnson. Increased programming around the exhibits and a summer arts camp for youth are among the initiatives the Center is considering, she explained.
“We’re moving towards keeping what we have, sustaining that, and moving to attract a younger crowd,” said Holmes-Johnson. “…We’re looking at bringing some improv and some different cultural activities that will attract the younger crowd.”
Holmes-Johnson said the Center will be embracing a more 21st Century model by increasing its social media and online presence to remain viable and relevant.
“I would love to have the community come support us,” she said. “…We will be working very hard – almost guerrilla-style marketing – to get the community involved to get a new base of support.”
Caesar, who is expecting her first grandchild in May, said she plans to make the most of her newfound free time, traveling, gardening and spending time with family and friends. Among her proudest accomplishments at Delta are establishing collaborations with noted artists Elizabeth Catlett and Dr. Maya Angelou and the Winston-Salem Symphony and creating popular events such as the “Samplers & Symmetry” quilt show, the Mother’s Day Brunch and programming to complement the biennial staging of the National Black Theatre Festival. She is also pleased to have overseen the center’s 2005 relocation from East Third Street to its present home on New Walkertown Road.
“I think my legacy will be this building, this new location, being a part of the community and welcoming people into the building. We’re getting an average of 4,000-6,000 people into the building (annually), and it’s become a favorite place for community gatherings,” she remarked. “For 40 years, this center has educated the community on American arts but particularly the contributions of African American artists have made… We have a diverse audience age wise and all different ways, and I think it was important that the decision was made to keep the center in our community.”
Leaving Delta behind is bittersweet for Caesar, who says she thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the community and the artists, including Photographer Michael Cunningham, whose book “Crowns” gained national prominence. Caesar appeared in one of Cunningham’s later books, “Jewels.”
She will remain active on several community initiatives, including Creative Corridors, the grassroots organization that is working to ensure that highway bridges slated for reconstruction will be built with an artistic flair, and not surprisingly, the Delta Center.
“I love this place, so I’m sure I will be back,” she said of Delta. “…I love this community (too). I am hoping to offer whatever I can to make the city a better place, a more interesting place.”