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The Art of Creativity: WNC arts councils find steady ground, look ahead to 2016

art frIt is the litmus test of a community.

The arts. If you want to know how well a society functions, where its heart lies, then look no further than the strength and vitality of its creative minds and the art councils that support and showcase their work.

And within the rich and storied cultural fabric of Western North Carolina resides these councils, that are not only thriving, but growing and shifting focus, constantly moving entities that are as important to the perpetuation of Southern Appalachian talents and traditions as ever before.

With the two largest and most prominent councils in our region being Haywood and Jackson counties, The Smoky Mountain News took a peek at just what makes these organizations tick.



Located in downtown Waynesville, the Haywood County Arts Council was ready and eager to take on 2015, only to be shocked by the untimely passing of its executive director Elizabeth Haynes in April. By October, the council named Lindsey Solomon to take over the helm. In her first few months at the position, Solomon is already pushing ahead for a landmark upcoming year.

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“I want to see the HCAC move to the next level by incorporating more types of art — dance, literature — that will reach more people,” she said. “The more people involved and passionate about what we’re doing, the more stable we are as an organization.”

The HCAC recently received a grant from Duke Energy that will be used to institute an artist resource center, one that will include five workshops for local artists and community members. 

“The topics are still being determined, but I’m excited about moving our mission forward in this way,” Solomon said. 

Another big change in 2015 was to rename its Gallery 86 space to Gallery & Gifts, a move that will emphasis the nature of the building, as to put more attention to selling and promoting art through its jury process and numerous exhibitions.

“Selling an artist’s work mean they earn income and we have money to put back into our programs,” Solomon said. “And having this steady income in addition to our generous donors will help us plan better future programming.”

These set objectives for 2016 complement the already strong activities supported and put on by HCAC, which include the Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) program, Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, Young Artist and Friends of the Library concert series, Art After Dark, and rotating gallery openings. The council also provided grants from the North Carolina Arts Council that were delegated to the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, Haywood Community Chorus, Haywood County Schools Foundation, Voices in the Laurel, Fines Creek Community Association, and the Haywood Community Band.

“I think the HCAC — an arts councils in general — do much behind the scenes work in communities,” Solomon said. “The arts are an economic driver, they are educational, both as a standalone subject and as a supplement to other fields — the arts make the world a better place to live in. The HCAC has been around for almost 40 years and wants to continue to empower artists and share the great work they do for years to come.”

When asked what more the HCAC could do for the community, and vice versa, Solomon pointed to the constant need for new artist members and volunteers, and to spread the word on how intricate and important the council is to the cultural stability of Haywood County. 

“The thing is, I’m still new, and I’m open to hearing ideas from community members on what more we can do,” she said. “I’m working with our board on what the coming months will look like — how we’ll expand and reach more people in 2016, how we’ll help further the arts in our area. I’ll be excited to see what we all can do together.”



President of the Jackson County Arts Council, Claire Collins joined the organization as a way to give back and brighten her own backyard.

“An arts council exists to support local artists, educate children about the arts, and help incorporate arts into the community,” she said. “We want to provide more opportunities for community members to be involved in the arts and for artists to have an outlet to show their talents.”

Located in the historic Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Sylva, the JCAC (celebrating its 40th year in 2016) also receives funding from the North Carolina Arts Council, which is given to Junior Appalachian Musicians (Jam), Western Carolina Civic Orchestra, Western Carolina Community Chorus, Catch The Spirit of Appalachia, and the Jackson County Farmer’s Market Homegrown Art, among other programs. And for the last three years, the council has also provided dozens of grants to a multitude of artists in five counties through their Regional Artists Project. 

Collins has 2016 in her crosshairs, with new activities and continued community initiatives already in the works. 

“In April, we’re hosting our second annual Trashion Show, where we encourage members of the community and local artists to submit fashion items made from upcycled or recycled materials,” she said. “We’re also planning to start a film discussion series that will invite the community to watch films and then have someone involved with the film to speak about the process of making movies.”

But for Collins, one her deeply personal goals is to restart a community theater company in Jackson County. 

“I grew up involved in the Community Theater, and when I moved here the local theater group had just disbanded,” she said. “That’s one of the things the council would like to see come back, especially a children’s theater.”

Like the Haywood County Arts Council (and most other councils nationwide), the JCAC is also in need of new artist members and volunteers. Currently, the council doesn’t have a paid staff, so the need for volunteering and artisans is crucial to the survival of the organization. Add that into an increased effort to self-promote and display local works, and you have a council ready to turn a corner in terms of strength and endurance. 

“Exposure to the arts is so important and enriches people’s lives everyday,” Collins said. “And I believe the arts council is moving in a positive and forward-thinking direction.”


Heading west

The art councils of Macon and Swain counties are also hard at work as the New Year approaches.

• The Arts Council of Macon County in Franklin celebrated its 40th year in 2015 with some new initiatives, including assuming management of the SilverArts (heritage, literary, and visual) component of the Macon County Senior Games, a late spring “Sundays on the Square” four-concert series featuring world, Celtic, American folk, and jazz music, and a series of monthly poetry nights, held at the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub. Its mainstage concert series featured such internationally known musicians as the Richter-Uzur guitar/cello duo, organist Jack Jones, and the William Ransom-Yinzi Kong piano/viola duo, and the Land of the Sky Barbershop Chorus, among others. The council just ended the year with its annual Holiday ARTSaturday, a free workshop for children featuring make-and-take cards and ornaments, and live holiday music.

• The Swain County Center for the Arts in Bryson City continued its work to showcase and present artisans from the county and beyond. The Art League of the Smokies programs brought together workshops, art screenings and lessons. In August, the arts council hosted over 100 works by 26 Western North Carolina artists that was displayed during its Community Art Exhibit. There were also concerts, artist receptions and community fundraisers all in an effort to connect the dots of artists and residents.

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