Cone Health Foundation (CHF), Guilford County’s largest health philanthropy, has been supporting art development in Greensboro for at least 15 years. Beginning in 2008 with a historic $1 million grant to the Downtown Greenway. This 4-mile walking and biking trail emphasizes public art, connects with the existing trail systems and offers a safe place for physical activity – a significant component of a healthy lifestyle.
From its earliest stages, Downtown Greenway planners knew that site-specific public art would be a key focus of the urban loop. Four major works of public art mark the corners of the Downtown Greenway. Benches and bike racks created by artists, as well as other special features, complement the loop. Once completed, the Downtown Greenway will circle the heart of downtown Greensboro and connect not only to other trails and greenways but businesses, universities, and neighborhoods. The collaboration between the City of Greensboro and Action Greensboro delivered beautifully for our city.
“Support of the Downtown Greenway was an easy case for our Board to get behind. Seldom do you have federal and state grants, local foundations, voter-approved transportation bond allocations, and contributions from private businesses and individuals all coming together for a common goal, it was exactly the kind of project that makes Greensboro a great place to live,” said Susan Shumaker, Cone Health Foundation President.
Then in the spring of 2020, CHF became a co-sponsor of the street mural, One Love, that covers the 200 block of Davie Street near LeBauer Park. Born out of the protests sparked locally and around the world following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody while a white policeman pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Phillip Marsh is the Lead Artist and Project Lead of the One Love mural that was finished on Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. “The community was able to enjoy the mural through the Juneteenth weekend. People from all over the state were able to experience the project. We had creative travelers from Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville, and Virginia, plus more we didn’t get to meet. The work continues to be an attraction,” said Marsh.
Throughout history, art and protest have often gone hand-in-hand. From the AIDS epidemic to the tragic events of 9/11 to the civil rights movement to the present day, art has illustrated and chronicled the narrative of our lives.
“Greensboro saw an incredible outpouring of public art to express feelings stirred amid protests against racism and injustice. Cone Health Foundation saw this as a unique opportunity. One Love is one of the world’s most iconic solidarity anthems. It’s about children, and their hopes and dreams for a better, more united, and equal world. Bob Marley had it right,” said Shumaker.
Cone Health Foundation’s most recent opportunity to demonstrate its support of arts was in January 2022 as the Covid omicron variant was surging. We had a North Carolina ice storm (read: “a dusting of snow with plenty of ice”). The kind that breaks tree limbs and wreaks havoc on outdoor structures – like the one the iconic Magnolia House was using, collapsed during the storm. An emergency plea from ArtsGreensboro went out to Greensboro’s philanthropic community on behalf of Magnolia House. The needed $7,500 was in-hand (including support from CHF) within hours, allowing Historic Magnolia House to host planned events featuring local musicians through the spring and to keep its budget in the green.
The Historic Magnolia House is a Green Book site that provided a critical safehaven for African American writers, actors, athletes, and musicians as they traveled south to perform during the Jim Crow era. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this former motel was recognized in six editions of The Green Book as a highly recommended place to stay for Black travelers in North Carolina. Of the more than 250 Green Book sites, the Magnolia House is one of very few that continue to operate within their historic context.
Late in 2022, CHF again had an opportunity to partner with ArtsGreensboro through its Community Elevation Grants Program. This funding focuses on East Greensboro and provides opportunities for arts-based community projects to design and plan transformative spaces with the people who directly benefit. This community-driven program supports artists and cross-sector collaborations with community and civic groups and local businesses. The funded projects promote creativity and use art to solve community needs.
This support aligns beautifully with Cone Health Foundation’s ongoing commitment to racial equity. “We cannot define what it means for historically marginalized communities to flourish. We have to listen, first. The Community Elevation Grant process does that so well and we are delighted to support that work in East Greensboro,” Shumaker continued.
Bottom line, the arts are uniquely suited to help us all understand and communicate concepts and emotions by drawing on all our senses and capacity for empathy. Greensboro is fortunate to have ArtsGreensboro’s expertise in elevating the arts.