Alumni in the arts: 2023 RJR Arts Hall of Fame


Photo provided by Will Bumgarner

Senior Kyle Brady presents Phyllis Dunning with an award after being inducted into the RJR Arts Hall of Fame.

Avery Ehrman, Staff Writer

After a hundred years of RJ Reynolds, many profound artists, musicians, and performers have made their way through our school and gone on to great success. This school has produced great talent and to let that talent go unrecognized would be a shame. The school has had a sports hall of fame for many years, recognizing athletes for their talent, so why shouldn’t the arts have the same?

The Arts Hall of Fame was started in 2017 with the goal to connect with the arts community and recognize former RJR students, staff, and alumni for their contributions and achievements in the arts. This year on March 30th, eleven individuals were inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was an action-packed day with events such as building tours, a luncheon, school-wide performances, and finally, the ceremony itself. For many of the inductees, the best part of the day wasn’t even receiving this honor, but simply having the opportunity to return to their alma mater. 

“Getting back to Reynolds is almost like a victory lap,” Former R.E.M pianist and lead singer of the dB’s, Peter Holsapple said. “I’m always fascinated by the people who say ‘God, I hated high school’ because it wasn’t like that for me. It was Reynolds. It was filled with bright, interesting people and musicians. I loved it, I really did.” 

Students Paul Gunter and Stuart MacMillan play together alongside Peter Holsapple. (Photo provided by Will Bumgarner)

A common theme of this event was simply the love that everyone in attendance shared for the arts. This afternoon gave them all a chance to gather with those who share this love and see what art means to one another. 

“Art is kind of like breathing,” Photographer and 2017 inductee, Endia Beal, said. “I think art has a way of touching people and helping people have access to things that maybe they didn’t understand, but they can understand through a song or a photograph or a painting. It really just changes the whole experience for people.”

A prominent factor in the changes the inductees picked up on was that the arts program has only grown since they’ve been here. RJR became an Arts Magnet High School in 2007 which expanded the courses offered and curriculum in some classes at our school. 

“It’s an arts magnet school now,” Beal said. “You guys have the opportunity to take dance and guitar lessons, and there’s even a recording studio you get to use. It’s so different and we didn’t have those things growing up here. The celebration of the arts is next level now, especially in terms of our opportunities here.” 

The main reason the school looks the same to those who graduated as long ago as the 60s is because RJR is considered a historic building in Winston-Salem. This means we have to undergo approval from the city to make any major changes to the stricture. 

 “It’s only from an art standpoint that Reynolds has changed,” Sculptor Tom Ogbourn said. “Other than that the athletic program has changed but the building and everything is all the same. Everything down to the landscaping looks exactly the same to me.” 

Endia Beal talks with fellow inductees and RJR students. (Photo provided by Will Bumgarner)

While only a select group of art students were given the chance to have a more “VIP” experience of the event, all students attended the school-wide performances from both the inductees and fellow classmates. 

“The arts are the reason I came to Reynolds,” sophomore Lilly Greene, said. “So I thought it was super cool to see them perform here, especially with current RJR students and staff.”

Along with this, all students and staff were invited to the ceremony itself that evening which was also open to the public. That night, each inductee was introduced by someone close to them, gave a short speech, and then given a small trophy presented by RJR senior Kyle Brady. 

It’s safe to say that the arts have had a tremendous impact on many individuals, and the Arts Hall of Fame event only continued to show that. Getting to see current RJR students work with those who had such an impact on our school was truly so special and the school hopes to continue this event for many years to come.