A Winston-Salem exhibition that showcases the history of black theater in North Carolina and across the country is officially open to the public. Organizers say it will also serve as a key tourist attraction for the city.

The National Black Theatre Festival Museum and Hall of Fame is the brainchild of Larry Leon Hamlin.  In 1989, the actor and performance company owner started the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem. Hamlin died in 2007, but his idea for a central museum in the city lived on. Now three major arts organizations are working together to make his dream a reality.

Festival spokesman Brian McLaughlin says the museum will feature several exhibits including one devoted to Hamlins' career.

“The original goal for the National Black Theatre Festival was not only to showcase the best in black theater, but to ensure it's survival around the country,” says McLaughlin. “When you walk in the museum you see the pictures, scripts and artifacts and it's amazing, so we are really excited about that.”

The N.C. Black Repertory Company, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and UNC School of the Arts held a ribbon cutting this week for the new museum, which is in temporary quarters on South Marshall Street. The groups are negotiating for a permanent location.

Organizers say it will also attract more tourism to the city. They estimate the festival alone has a $10-million dollar economic impact every two years.

*Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news.

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