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National Black Theatre Festival – a cultural and economic treasure

Larry Leon Hamlin was born in a small-town, but had dreams bigger than most. A native of Reidsville, N.C., he went north to college, but decided to make his home in North Carolina. Long a lover of the stage, in 1989, he organized Winston-Salem’s first National Black Theatre Festival with 30 performances and a powerful faith in its success. His vision caught on, and by 2017, the festival had grown to feature more than 140 performances, a colloquium on citizenship and criminal justice, midnight poetry jams and more.

Larry died in 2006, and his wife, Winston-Salem native Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, vowed to continue the biennial festival. Under the executive leadership of Sprinkle-Hamlin—the director of the Forsyth County Public Library and a civic powerhouse herself—and with the support of donors including the Reynolds American Foundation, the future looks promising for Winston-Salem as the continuing home of this outstanding cultural and economic treasure.

When the festival carpets roll out every two years, the National Black Theatre Festival infuses a dynamism and vital international fame into the Winston-Salem arts world. In 2017, the event brought in more than $8 million to the local economy, according to Visit Winston-Salem. It is credited with bringing 60,000 visitors to the city in 2017 and 500,000 since 1989. It was named one of the Top 100 events in North America by the American Business Association.