Local activist groups Hate Out of Winston and Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America say they are outraged that the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County would put on a play they say whitewashes local history about the removal of a downtown Winston-Salem Confederate monument.
“It’s not that we don’t respect art, but we don’t respect art that promotes white supremacy,” said Miranda Jones, who spoke on behalf of Hate Out of Winston.
But playwright Lynn Felder said her play “Our Time: A Conversation in Black and White” is not about the statue and doesn’t defend white supremacy. In addition, an Arts Council official said the organization invites open dialogues with the activist groups.
Felder is a former Winston-Salem Journal entertainment editor.
The Arts Council was the financial sponsor of the play and provided space for its performances. The play opened Thursday and closes Saturday.
According to an Arts Council press release, “the three-character, one-act play and workshop production, is set in Winston-Salem after a Black Lives Matter rally and a Sons of the Confederacy protest of the removal of a Confederate monument. Two men, one Black and one white, are reluctantly drawn into conversation by an Old Hippie as they all wait for their rides to take them home.”
In a post on the Hate Out of Winston Facebook page, the two activist groups stated that they are part of the community groups that fought for the removal of the downtown Confederate monument.
“The conflict between white supremacists and the community members that rallied against the statue is not a ‘misunderstanding,’ nor is it a conflict that can be resolved by conversation. We reject this framing, as well as any framing that calls on us to ‘just get along’. The call for mutual understanding with neo-Confederates and their sympathizers is, at best, naïve and, at worst, an attempt to uphold the status quo and distract attention from important efforts,’” the activist groups said.
Hate Out of Winston and Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America said that the groups presenting this play — the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, Triad Cultural Arts and Artzenstuff Creative — “are using their power to whitewash our local history.”
Jones said she was made aware of the play on June 6.
“We are opposed to the play because the way that it is billed, they want to make light of white supremacy,” Jones said. “It comes across very much as a ‘can we all just get along?’ I would say, ‘No, we can’t.’ We’re living right now in the time of heightened racial tension, state-sanctioned violence toward Black people.”
She said Felder didn’t reach out to activists who worked to bring the statue down.
Felder acknowledged she failed to reach out to Hate Out of Winston.
“I am in awe of the hard and important work that Hate Out of Winston is doing in the community,” Felder said. “I wish I had reached out to them to talk about the play. I am trying to educate myself and to put myself in the service of justice, peace, equality, and equity. I want to know what I can do to further the cause of getting the Hate Out of Winston.”
But, she said she did reach out to faith leaders, Black Lives Matter, and various Black artists and cultural art organizations, including Triad Cultural Arts and Delta Arts Center, about what she was doing with the play.
“To develop dialogue, I interviewed both liberals and conservatives, both Black and white,” Felder said.
Lillian Vavatsky, also of Hate Out of Winston, said she has not seen the play but has seen its summary/framing, and wants to know why the local arts community supports it financially and by promoting it.
“Who controls the art in our city?” Vavatsky said. “If you look at the board of the Arts Council, it is primarily real estate and corporate interests, and that is who control our arts. Why are they interested in telling us to just get along and ignore the deeper issues in our city?”
Chase Law, the president and chief executive of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, said the Arts Council “is committed to serving as a facilitator, organizer and promoter of conversations that are authentic, inclusive and forward thinking. We welcome conversations. That’s the only way that we will all move forward, if we have these conversations and listen, learn and then move forward together.”
She said she invited members of Triad Abolition Project, Occupy Winston-Salem and Hate Out of Winston this week to come see the play “and have their voices heard during the talk-back sessions so there could be an open dialogue.”
She said she has also invited the groups to sit down and meet with staff at the Arts Council.
“We want to do more around change and not keep things status quo,” she said. “It’s really important to learn what’s going on in the community. How are the arts and creative sector responding to real needs, like social justice, racial equity and so much more through the lens of arts and culture?”
Jones said that because the play is going forward, she wonders what would be the point of holding a meeting.
“I just don’t know what could really come from this,” she said. “But in our tradition, we just don’t make nice over things like this because this absolutely did not have to be.”
Felder said she wants to be educated, to learn and grow. “I don’t mind listening to this criticism,” she said.
She said her play is a conversation between two people in which she conflated the Black Lives Matter marches (2020) and the protests of the statue (2019).
“It’s a fiction, not journalism or history,” Felder said. “I’ve conflated the two things so that we can get these two guys together to have a conversation.”
“It’s a conversation between two men who are politically opposites, but have things in common personally. If we demonize one another, there can be no progress,” she added.