Exterior view of SECCA, Winston-Salem, 2010. Courtesy Jim Sink Photography
Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) opened in 1956 as a nonprofit, non-collecting organization dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. It was formed in response to the national exclusion of marginalized regional artists seeking to provide a platform for the periphery to be recognized. In the words of former board chairman Gordon McCray, “The very notion that an institution committed to contemporary art could emerge, thrive, and persist in a relatively small southern conservative city in the so-called ‘Bible Belt’ seemed to defy logic.” Yet by the late 1960s, the program had grown to include all eleven states in the southeastern United States.
In 1972, SECCA relocated to the thirty-two-acre estate of the late industrialist James G. Hanes. By 1990, his historic mansion had been twice renovated to provide 10,000 square feet of gallery space and a 300-seat auditorium, surrounded by forested grounds and a pond. With the completion of these spaces, SECCA’s vision was expanded to international work while preserving a commitment to the southeast. During this period, SECCA initiated numerous artist support programs including fellowships like the Awards in the Visual Arts (AVA), which provided funding for artists such as Ann Hamilton, Adrian Piper, and Andres Serrano (the latter would thrust the organization into the culture wars).