Taking it to the streets: Clemmons resident helps curate unique art experience in Winston-Salem

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

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WINSTON-SALEM — A new event hosted by a nonprofit arts organization is putting creatives across the table from potential customers, in large part thanks to the help of a Clemmons resident.

Suzanna Ritz is on the board of the Arts District of Winston-Salem, the recently-formed arts organization behind the monthly Art Crush event. Ritz is also the head of the group’s events committee.

During Art Crush, which takes place on the third Friday of each month from 7-10 p.m., Trade and 6th streets are shut down to traffic for a block party featuring various live performances, visual artists, gallery exhibits, make-it opportunities, local business and other creative organizations.

“(In April) we launched the idea that we would do a monthly program in the Arts District and feature rotating curators for both performing and visual creatives,” Ritz said.

Ritz indicated it is catching on, with more than 2,000 estimated visitors at the previous two events.

Each month, the Arts District of Winston-Salem invites guest curators to select a new and diverse group of performing and visual artists to be featured at Art Crush.

“I’m delighted by the success of our first event, and I look forward to seeing it grow as more of our creative community gets involved,” said Toni Tronu, the Arts District of Winston-Salem chairwoman. “The energy has been incredible, and I love seeing such a diverse group of people coming to the Arts District. We want Winston-Salem to live up to its name — ‘City of the Arts and Innovation,’ — and this event is a big step towards that effort.”

Ritz added, “I think it is a great way to demonstrate that the nickname of the city isn’t just a name that we like. It’s a name that we live. We have so many local creative people who may not be represented by a gallery or may not have ever shown their work to the public before … we offer a space for them to set up while the streets are closed off so that they can share their artwork with others.”

Ritz explained that Tronu had reached out to her about getting involved. Ritz’s background primed the Greensboro native for her current role. She went to Salem College for undergrad and got her bachelor’s in art history before pursuing arts administration. She went to New Orleans, where she earned a master’s degree in that field.

“Focused on visual arts education and museum education,” Ritz said. “I worked for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for about five years.”

Ritz moved back to North Carolina in 2018 and bounced around a bit before landing her current job at Körner’s Folly, a historic home museum in Kernersville.

“That is what I get paid to do, but I dabble in a variety of different media and support other local creatives and artists,” Ritz said.

Ritz has heard from many artists in the few months since Art Crush launched.

“The biggest thing that our artists have commented on is the amount of people that they were able to interact with in this setting,” Ritz said. “It has been wonderful for them to gain that exposure.”

According to Ritz, the benefits are two-pronged.

“The businesses who are brick and mortar in the district are benefiting from an extra couple of thousand people wandering through their spaces every third Friday,” Ritz said. “It’s artists, but also the businesses that make the arts district so well rounded.”

It isn’t the Big Easy, but Ritz sees a lot of similarities in what Winston-Salem has to offer.

“New Orleans has always been an inspiration to me, and I like to think that we have a little bit of that vibe going in the arts district of Winston Salem,” Ritz said.

According to Tronu, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners made the event possible by awarding the Arts District of Winston-Salem with an ARPA grant. For many galleries and restaurants, the pandemic stifled their business, so offering a rebound opportunity was central to the event’s planning.

Tronu also recognized The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership and The Variable as instrumental in launching the organization and Art Crush.

“We see this as the first event of several we have in the works to advocate for, celebrate and support area artists,” Tronu said.

Go tot www.artsdistrictws.org for information on monthly curators and selected line-ups, Art Crush partners, sponsors, parking, maps and other relevant information.