This must be the place: WNC art councils: where do we stand?

The recent “Sunday at the Opry” hosted by the HCAC at the Colonial Theatre in Canton. The recent “Sunday at the Opry” hosted by the HCAC at the Colonial Theatre in Canton.

It’s like pulling teeth.

As your arts and entertainment editor for Western North Carolina, I find it difficult sometimes to not only “rally the troops” to attend local art events, but also get folks to support and share these ongoing gatherings and vital interactions in our mountain communities.

And at the heart of many of these events are the art councils, which for many artisans provide crucial grants and promotional tools needed to push their education, evolving craft and showcase events into a place where they can find creative and financial footing.

With state and federal funding for the arts waning — or nonexistent — these art councils and their members are the frontlines in making sure these creative mediums and outlets are not only preserved, but also vibrant and alive, always growing alongside the communities they’re part of. 

Recently, Lindsey Solomon, executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council, announced she would be leaving her position after two-and-a-half years.

Though Solomon will be the first to say she truly enjoyed her position at the HCAC, she felt it was time to move on, where she will now be part of the capital campaign to raise funds for the Asheville Art Museum’s new building. 

And though we all wish her well, I felt we needed to chat with her before she left her post. Though many in the HCAC are well aware of uncertainty of the nonprofit organization before Solomon came aboard, some of you readers may have forgotten.

“When I came on, [the HCAC] suffered from a lack of consistency, to no fault of anyone. It went for a few years as kind of an assessment with no director, and so it was in this place that it hadn’t had any consistent leadership,” Solomon said. “I’ve really invested myself personally here, and I want to continue to see it thrive. I hope [my time] here have shown some consistency and excitement for the arts.” 

Solomon touched on a key word in the fate of art councils in Western North Carolina — consistency. I would surmise an overwhelming majority of folks around here appreciate the arts and cultural heritage that is presented in their communities throughout the year. But, I would think that same number — that overwhelming majority — also are not directly involved in their local art council, either personally or financially. 

“Every artist that works, and sells their work, is a small business in and of themselves, and helping bridge that gap is something that’s been important to me,” Solomon said. “It’s something probably every arts council struggles with — how do we maximize our resources? And that’s both internal and external, and a combo of the two. It’s a common challenge.”

At the HCAC’s recent Annual Meeting, where the organization looks over the past year’s accomplishments and the upcoming year’s goals and obstacles to overcome, it became apparent, as it does year after year, that I, at age 32, was one of only a few people in attendance under the age of 50. 

Where is everybody else? Surely, there are folks busy with their young families and other obligations. But, that doesn’t take away from the dire state of bridging the age gaps within WNC art councils and the unknown future of these organizations that may or may not be in existence in the coming years. 

Solomon, and myself included, see the importance of the new and ongoing partnerships between the art councils and other organizations in the community, where precious ideas and innovations like Junior Appalachia Musicians (JAM), “Sunday at the Opry” and monthly artist exhibitions immediately come to mind.

“Partnerships are so important,” Solomon said. “When you’re part of not only a small organization, but also a small community, a rising tide floats all boats. And I feel you can do so much more together than you can alone, to get us plugged in with other places and other groups.”

The fate of WNC art councils resides in breaking down invisible barriers between groups and businesses around the community. 

“Approaching your work without a sense competition, and without holding things too closely, allow for people to approach you,” Solomon advised. “You have to also be careful with your time and resources — you can’t do it all — and being open to possibilities and having that attitude to work together, things that might be different than what you’ve done that might bring in a whole new audience.”

Beyond the fact you do see collaborations over county lines with other art councils, there also needs to be more of a civic duty by citizens, where artists can’t just rely on summer and fall tourism to ensure their survival — they need all our help, which, in turn, makes all of our lives that much richer.

“Some people have that attitude of the arts being this superfluous thing in society. But, I think that coming into the gallery, experiencing music, or whatever your art of choice is, that is what makes life worth living. It’s what makes a community really special and speaks to the culture of a place,” Solomon said. “[Art councils provide] publicity, grants, [and] make art patrons and art lovers out of everyone in the community. It helps bolster the economy and the vibe of a place. To me, the arts are what give a place life.” 

 

Hot picks

1 Americana/folk act The Maggie Valley Band will host an album release party for their new record, “The Hardest Thing,” at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at Isis Music Hall in West Asheville.

2 Boojum Brewing (Waynesville) will host Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters (honky-tonk/rock) at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9. 

3 A “German Friendship Dinner” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.

4 The popular “Haywood Ramblings” series will present “Waynesville’s African-American History” by Lin Forney at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, in the Town Hall Board Room on Main Street. 

5 Old-Time and Bluegrass Series at Western Carolina University continues with singer-songwriter Keith Shuler at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, in the H.F. Robinson Administration Building. 

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