Sixty years ago, a group of Winston-Salem volunteers took to the phones to raise money for what was then just a governor’s vision: create an arts school in North Carolina. That “Dial for Dollars” phone-a-thon brought in nearly $1 million that was eventually used to create what’s now known as the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  

Terry Sanford was governor at the time. He fashioned himself as a new kind of Democrat and was looking for ways to make headlines with a minimal price tag. His adviser, novelist John Ehle had the answer: a performing arts conservatory for the American South paid for mostly by big philanthropy — like the Ford Foundation — and private wealth from a host community.

Six cities vied for the opportunity to play host. Winston-Salem was seen as a dark horse in the competition that was expected to lead to Raleigh or fast-growing Charlotte. Winston-Salem edged out the competition with its support of the arts and the fact that the city raised a significant amount of money during the two-day phone-a-thon. Plus, UNCSA History Professor Mike Wakeford says Winston-Salem had an ace up its sleeve.

"Gray High School was already slated to be closed down at the end of the academic school year," says Wakeford. "When it came to competing with these other cities, unlike those communities that didn’t have a good answer to the question of where are you going to put these students and faculty, where are you going to have this school, Winston-Salem was able to say, no problem."

Longtime resident and educator Phyllis Dunning was a teacher in that building and never considered herself major donor material, but remembers that the person who called her said they were calling everybody. 

"And I told the person who called, I said, I understand," she says. "Because when you are down your list of people to call to a poor, public school English teacher, I understand you are literally calling everybody."

Dunning says she gave what she could, and she, like many in the community, quickly fell in love with the idea of a state-supported conservatory in North Carolina and easy access to performances with low ticket prices. She says they soon became a staple for her and her students: field trips to see recitals, orchestra concerts, and shows like Guys and Dolls.

The rest as they say is history. Sixty years later the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is celebrating the anniversary of the “Dial for Dollars” with its annual “Days of Giving” which takes place this week.


300x250 Ad

300x250 Ad

Support quality journalism, like the story above, with your gift right now.