Enclosed pool coming to Highlands

A $1.1 million donation from residents Art and Angela Williams of the Old Edwards Inn will net the town of Highlands a retractable roof for its new swimming pool, a new floor and bleachers for the civic center gym and a jumpstart toward a revitalized recreation program. And, possibly, a half-cent property tax increase to fund it.

The big screen comes to a small town

By Colby Dunn • Correspondent

For residents of Highlands, the list of things to do in town, depending on the season, can be pretty short and “go to the movies” has never been on it. But the town is filmless no more, thanks to a new program at the Highlands Playhouse that’s bringing in the blockbusters four nights a week. 

Highlands soccer complex gets a green light

fr soccerMacon County has it sights set on building a new soccer field in Highlands, one of the few mountain communities where the sport is king of the fall season, not football.

Building freedom through mobility

fr wheelchairIt was a moment that forever stuck with Don Schoendorfer.

While on vacation in Morocco several years ago, the southern California engineer/inventor witnessed a disabled woman dragging herself across a busy street. She had no wheelchair. Nobody seemed to even notice her, let alone provide her assistance. 

Philanthropic streak runs deep with patients of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital

Smaller, independent hospitals across the nation have increasingly sought partnerships with larger hospitals in recent years, a trend largely driven by financial challenges.

For Highlands-Cashiers Hospitals, the latest hospital in the region to jump on board with Mission Hospital in Asheville, cost savings were certainly a large motivator, although not the only one. While Highlands-Cashiers Hospital loses money on operations every year, that doesn’t mean it is in the red.

Highlands-Cashiers hospital to jump on Mission affiliation train

fr highcashHighlands-Cashiers Hospital will soon join the growing number of small hospitals in Western North Carolina to come under the management of Mission Hospital in Asheville.

Highlands roadwork troubles some merchants

fr highlandsRepaving of the steep, windy, two-lane road from Franklin to Highlands has many merchants worried about whether this heavily tourism-dependant town will find itself choked off financially.

The Bascom puts a twist on art, craft exhibits

Hearing The Bascom being called a world-class facility might seem a stretch until you pay a firsthand visit to the six building, six-acre campus in Highlands. Then, however, the words seem entirely appropriate and scaled to reality.

The Bascom is a center for the visual arts created in 2009. The nonprofit doesn’t have a large private collection of works; the center instead focuses on providing top-notch exhibitions primarily garnered from across the Southeast. Six exhibitions were held last year. These included shows featuring glass artist Richard Ritter, painter and printmaker Frank Stella and ceramics maker Ben Owen.

The advantage to artists showing in this well-heeled, upscale Highlands market is huge: The Owen’s show, featuring the Seagrove potter’s signature pieces, almost completely sold out, The Bascom’s Ezra Gardiner said.

That kind of track record helps The Bascom lure a caliber of artists few other similar-sized facilities can boast of attracting.

Some of the highlights this year include an exhibition of paintings by Art Rosenbaum and the large-scale, kinetic sculpture of suspended ceramic discs that are mounted and hung from the ceiling by artist Tim Curtis. There also will be an exhibit titled “Her Impressions” featuring paintings by women during the Impressionism movement using works on loan from a number of Southeast museums and institutions.

There’s one important point about The Bascom that people working at the center are eager to make. The center takes great pride in putting what Executive Director Jane Jerry calls “The Bascom twist” on exhibits while they are displayed here.

“You can only do that with a small institution like this,” said Jerry, who has led The Bascom for about a year.

What does “The Bascom twist” entail? For his part, Gardiner described the twist as “putting a spin on it” by showing artists’ pieces in a manner that is unique and design rich — from the manner in which the pieces are placed and lighted for viewing to drawing on the attributes of the facility itself. Most of the shows are curated in-house by staff, and during the summertime are displayed for eight-week periods at a time. Big exhibitions are in the main gallery, smaller ones in a loft gallery upstairs from the primary viewing area.

Much of “The Bascom twist” is truly the setting of the facility itself: you enter the center through an 87-foot by 14-foot, 53-ton covered bridge transplanted to WNC from New Hampshire.

Once on campus, the main building is 27,500 square feet of museum-quality space made of hand-hewn, post-and-beam barn pieces accentuated with modern stone and glass. Even the floors are unstained white pine re-purposed from several historic barns. There also is a studio barn, a rebuilt rough-hewn barn complete with studio spaces for pottery and three-dimensional arts instruction.

So much of “the twist” is the fact that the paintings, ceramics, metal work and glass pieces are shown in a backdrop that is truly unique.


Understanding the community

Setting up and running The Bascom probably wouldn’t be possible in WNC outside of a venue such as Highlands, where the residents are affluent and visibly supportive of the arts. In addition to The Bascom, this is a community that can boast of the Highlands Playhouse, the Highlands Cashiers Chamber Music concerts, the American Museum of Cut and Engraved Glass and the Instant Theater Company, featuring improvisation.

“Highlands and the whole plateau area is different from other communities,” Jerry said. “I’m so new, it has taken me a while to understand the profile of donors and funding sources here.”

The Bascom, in becoming The Bascom, has successfully tapped more than 800 sources — corporations and foundations but mainly individual — in paying about $9 million of the $13 million in its construction campaign. Fundraising continues for this new facility, and for a separate educational and exhibitions program endowment.

Jerry said The Bascom, in comparison to most galleries and art centers featuring the caliber of artist being exhibited here, is so small “we just haven’t had a lot of government support — mainly individual.”

The Bascom has a mortgage on the property that the nonprofit is in process of paying off. And with a board of directors totally committed to offering free admission to the arts, fundraising is key to the facility’s current and future wellbeing.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat the idea that this isn’t an ongoing challenge. We are raising money all of the time,” said Jerry, adding that fundraising “is the job” for any manager of a nonprofit.

Jerry was most recently the project-planning director for Exploration Station, the Republic of Ireland’s first interactive science center. Prior to her stint in Ireland, Jerry was the president and CEO of Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville, Tenn. She’s no stranger to fundraising challenges: During her tenure at Cheekwood, Jerry led a capital campaign that resulted in an $18.5 million investment in the garden and facilities, and the Cheekwood Museum of Art attained accreditation by the American Association of Museums.

The Bascom has three main benefit events: a wine festival in May; a garden festival in July; and an art, design and craft show in October. It also has an extensive membership of 946 people, plus 300 or so volunteers who provide a veritable army of help to the 10 paid staff members.

Jerry said that she has spent this first year trying to be “a really good listener, and to understand The Bascom and its place in this community. And to work as hard as I can to begin to define a vision for the future that is a reflection of what this community wants.”

One thing the community clearly wants is a tangible connection with The Bascom. Outreach programs make that connection, plus appeal to donors, Jerry said. Among the upcoming programs this spring is a partnership with the Highlands Literacy Council’s after-school art program. This focuses on sea life and will result in an “Underwater” exhibit being installed in the fall.

The Bascom also partners with the local food pantry and with other groups as part of its outreach programs, plus provides scholarship money and free family memberships to the facility.


The Bascom history

The Bascom exists because of artist Watson Barratt, a part-time Highlands resident who died in 1962, who wanted to establish a permanent gallery in his seasonal home to display works by regional artists. His bequest made exhibition space at the Hudson Library in Highlands possible starting in 1983. The then Hudson Library building incorporated proceeds from the estate and included a dedicated space for the Bascom-Louise Gallery.

In 1999 the two entities separated. The art center attained nonprofit status, formed a board of directors, wrote bylaws and hired staff. In 2009, The Bascom moved to its new campus.

Source: The Bascom


At The Bascom

• “Chick’s: It’s All Gone to the Birds,” March 31-June 17.

• Alex Matisse: “Ometto,” May 12-Oct. 1.

• “Green Art:” May 17-July 8.

• “Her Impressions:” June 23-Sept. 16.

• “Bascom Members Challenge, Couples:” Aug. 18-Oct. 14.

• Art Rosenbaum: “Voices,” Sept. 1-Nov. 10.

• American Craft Today: Sept. 22-Dec. 29.

• “Giving Trees:” Nov. 17-Jan. 1.

www.thebascom.org for additional details. Admission is free.

Macon planning board member from Highlands gets GOP nod for commission seat

Macon County GOP leaders on Monday selected a Highlands landscaping company owner as their pick to fill a vacant slot on the county’s board of commissioners.

James “Jimmy” Tate will replace Commissioner Brian McClellan who resigned after receiving his second driving while impaired charge in two-and-a-half years.

Tate is likely to receive the obligatory — but required — thumbs’ up next week from the Macon County Board of Commissioners. Since McClellan is a Republican, the local party gets to recommend his replacement.

Commissioners Kevin Corbin and Ron Haven, also Republicans, expressed their support for Tate’s nomination immediately following the closed-door GOP meeting. The two commissioners joined 20 other Macon County Republican Party executive committee members in casting unanimous votes for Tate, who is the vice chairman of the Macon County Republican Party.

“I think he’ll do an outstanding job,” Corbin told news reporters after the GOP meeting.

Tate, 38, last year mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge against incumbent McClellan, who went on to win his second term in office representing the Highlands area of Macon County.

McClellan had served as chairman of the board, a leadership role the commissioners decide amongst themselves. Corbin is likely to be the new chairman.

Tate, who has served for the past year on the Macon County Planning Board and for 14 years as a part-time, county-employed emergency medical services worker, said he knew there was a steep learning curve ahead for him. Tate expressed confidence in his ability to work across the aisle with the board’s two Democrat commissioners, Ronnie Beale and Bobby Kuppers.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity,” Tate said.

Corbin said he did not believe Tate’s newness to the commission board would slow county business. The most critical upcoming item, Corbin said, is preparation for the county’s 2011-2012 fiscal-year budget.

As Jackson heads toward alcohol vote, bar owners lament their loss of monopoly

When Dale McElroy plunked down $100,000 to expand Mica’s Restaurant & Pub in southern Jackson County last year, he was banking on the status quo staying the status quo: a dry county remaining dry.

McElroy, like other savvy business owners in the area, have used numerous loopholes in the state ABC law to legally sell alcoholic beverages in “dry” Jackson County. McElroy can legally sell alcohol as a semi-private club.

At Mica’s, patrons are knocking back plenty of beer, wine and even liquor. McElroy is counting on that continuing — it’s how he plans to pay for his new outdoor deck, fire pit and remodeled dining room.

McElroy also sells beer and wine from a small to-go shop adjacent to the restaurant. To keep it legal, he sells lifetime memberships for $1 and piggybacks on the golf course and country club to help qualify for the status as a private club.

It’s the beer and wine sales from that shop that help subsidize his restaurant.

But take away the corner on the market he currently enjoys, and suddenly his investment doesn’t look very rosy.

That’s the case, too, for Jacqueline and Joel Smilack, who spent what she described as “a lot” to build two, full-sized asphalt tennis courts. That transformed JJ’s Eatery along N.C. 107 in the Glenville community into a sports club, legally entitled to sell alcohol.

McElroy, for one, doesn’t mince words. If the sale of booze becomes legal for every business — not just the ones such as his and JJ’s that invested big bucks to earn the right to sell alcoholic beverages — then he’ll be forced to shut his doors. The upfront investment has been too great to suddenly have to compete with every Tom, Dick and Harry who owns a service station or restaurant in the Cashiers area being allowed in the game.

The way it works now is that each week, McElroy must call in his order to Sylva’s ABC store detailing the amounts and types of liquor he needs, wait until they call back and say it’s ready, then go pick up the filled order.

So, he must be happy that Jackson County Chairman Jack Debnam wants a vote, too, on opening an ABC store in Cashiers? Wouldn’t that be convenient?

Well, no, as a matter of fact, he’s not happy at the news.

“I’d rather spend $1,000 a week to go down to Sylva than $300 to go into Cashiers,” McElroy said.

In other words, he’s making money because of the exclusivity and inconvenience of the situation as it stands now. The referendum passes, “and I wouldn’t continue running this place,” McElroy said flatly.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.