All thirteen candidates running for County Commissioner were invited to the Candidate Forum held at the Flood Gallery on October 9th. Of the thirteen: Ellen Frost, Carol Peterson and David Gantt sent regrets because of a commitment to another event, but David Gantt sent his Campaign Manager, Carmen Ramos-Kennedy to represent him. Brownie Newman, Holly Jones, Terry Van Duyn, David King and J.B. Howard attended the event with over 150 concerned citizens present. There was no response at all from the other candidates. Written responses were requested for publication from all candidates and sent to them two weeks before the event. Below are the responses sent by David Gantt, Holly Jones, Brownie Newman, Terry Van Duyn and Christina Kelley G. Merrill. None of the other candidates cared to respond.
Flood Gallery Candidates Forum on the Arts Questionnaire
1.As noted in Americans for the Arts, 2012 report of the “Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in Buncombe County” the total non-profit arts economic impact on Buncombe County is over $43.7 million a year, provides over 1,400 FTE jobs, and generates almost $2.3 million dollars in local government revenue. Taking into consideration that Buncombe County’s non-profit arts sectors’ numerical data is nearly double the amount found in other counties with a similar population base, have or would you research policies that have been put into place by other cities around the country that value their art communities, (i.e. Minneapolis, MN as well as other cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) and if so, have you given any thought to what Buncombe County can do to protect and encourage the arts organizations that are providing these jobs, incomes, and government revenues?
David Gantt: Buncombe County is blessed with a very strong and vibrant arts community. I would value and give strong consideration to programs and incentives that nurture our good and economically powerful non-profit arts community.
Holly Jones: I was one of two elected officials who attended a presentation about this survey this summer and have reviewed its findings. I was not surprised to read the results nor was I surprised that Buncombe County arts organizations outpaced other communities. Clearly, arts organizations play a valuable role in making Asheville the incredible community and destination that it is today. Policymakers should approach support of local arts organizations as it does other investments in local infrastructure, which means determining the return on investment as it relates to community economic viability and quality of life. This support should be determined by merit and ability to document measurable outcomes. I look forward to this conversation and learning more about other communities’ successes.
Brownie Newman: I have looked through the links provided here. I do not have any specific policy proposals at this time for how Buncombe County can protect and strengthen arts organizations, but I am open to hearing ideas, proposals and suggestions.
Terry Van Duyn: Absolutely. For example, The Community Foundation of WNC has chosen “protecting natural and cultural resources” as one of it’s three focus areas. We are partnering with Handmade in America to fund a position that will identify grant sources, provide technical support for grant applications, and track outcomes associated with that work. We have also set aside some funds for matching dollars to help small, rural communities qualify for grant funding. Buncombe County could do something similar in collaboration with the Asheville Area Arts Council.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill: First of all I want to start by saying that I very strongly support the Arts culture of our County and if elected to the BC Commission, I hope to be a BIG part of shifting support to help grow and nurture our Arts community! I would absolutely be interested in researching policies in other areas of our Country and think it is extremely important to restore the reputation our County and the city of Asheville to an “Arts and Artist Haven” vs what it has become.
2. A strong arts sector is an economic asset for Buncombe County that stimulates business activity, attracts tourism revenue, and retains a high-quality work force. For each non-profit arts event attended in Buncombe County an average of $35 additional dollars (not including ticket or admission revenue) per person are put back into the local economy. The arts have also been shown to be a successful strategy for revitalizing rural areas and inner cities. What impact, in your opinion, does the local arts community have on the quality of life for the citizens of Buncombe County, and how important do you consider that to be? Do you think there should be policies that minimize the displacement of artists if the greater good of the city and county is served by the services provided by these artists?
David Gantt: The local arts community has a huge impact on Buncombe County’s quality of life and job offerings. I would like to review and consider a coordinated policy recommendation customized to our County that minimizes displacement of artists during development and growth cycles.
Holly Jones: My opinion about art’s contribution to our community’s local quality of life is best answered by a look at our family’s calendar and checkbook for the last two months. Our activities included: shopping excursions for art in the RAD, attendance at NC Stage’s latest performance of Buckminster Fuller; visits to the Artery for a poetry performance and an opportunity to see photographer Ralph Burns’ exhibit; ballet rehearsals for the Nutcracker with Asheville Ballet Conservatory at Diana Wortham Theater as well as tap classes; piano instruction with Asheville Music Center and auditions for the Asheville Children’s Chorus and a week at art camp at the Asheville Art Museum. These activities depict how our family’s quality of life is greatly enhanced by our local art community and I believe this to be the case for thousands of Buncombe County citizens. Furthermore, our daughter, as a student in our community’s public schools, greatly benefits from the many contributions of art through her public education. The richness of this is in large part due to the foundation that has been built by the artists in our community. I am open to a conversation about artist displacement and learning about viable options. I think the idea of cultural district is an interesting one. Any solution to this problem will clearly need the cooperation of state and city officials. However, prior to making any decisions I would want to continue conversations with the artists that have made investments (in the RAD for instance) in order to understand all the dimensions of this issue.
Brownie Newman: I think the arts community is very important to Asheville and Buncombe County for the reasons you outline above. I understand that the need for affordable spaces for artists to work. While the County government is not in a position to dictate to private property owners what they charge to lease their space for, if some of the arts organizations have specific policy recommendation for how we can encourage or create affordable space for artists, I am open to considering it. I am not aware of any specific proposals that have been made at this time.
Terry Van Duyn: When I moved to Buncombe County 20 years ago we had a population of about 120,000, an Art Museum, a Symphony, the Diana Wortham Theatre, ACT, a ballet company, and thriving art galleries, to name just some of our cultural treasures. There is no doubt about the impact the arts have had not only on our economic vitality, but on our quality of life. We need to acknowledge the importance of the arts and recognize the fact that that economic engine is able to move elsewhere. I am certainly interested in looking at ways to mitigate the ill-effects of artist displacement in creative ways, like collaboration with non-profits that already work to support artists.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill: I absolutely agree with the statement above about the benefits of a strong art sector, however I am not sure I understand what is meant by “displacement of artists”.
3. “Artists are the advance guard of what’s hip and cool,” says Bert Sperling, founder and president of Portland (Ore.)-based Sperling’s Best Places and compiler of BusinessWeek.com’s list of the Best Places for Artists in America, because creativity leads to growth. A vibrant community of art and culture attract and encourage not only tourists, but also the creative class who are essential to the design innovation that is spurring the tech and eco industries that are and will continue to shape urban centers of the 21st century. Artists and designers in the creative class are willing to take risks to achieve success, but they need affordable housing, living wages, and affordable creative spaces to work in. How would you propose that Buncombe County value, support, advocate and create affordable space for artists and others in the creative sector?
David Gantt: We must continue to work hard on workforce (affordable) housing for artists and all other residents. I am very open to consider other targeted policies to create and retain affordable space for artists to live and work in.
Holly Jones: While I am in complete agreement with the value that the creative class brings to our community, my advocacy for affordable housing and living wage is neither limited to or prioritized for artists. The affordable housing deficit we experience in our community cuts across all economic sectors. All workers in Buncombe County should be able to find safe, attractive affordable housing. The addition of the Glen Rock Depot to the River Arts District has been a recent driver to the area’s vitality. This successful housing development has contributed to an increased opportunity for artists and their businesses as more people have discovered the area. I have been a long-time advocate for the creation of affordable housing throughout our community and will continue to push hard for this if re-elected. Promoting a living wage is important. However, data tells us that workers making a living wage would still require monthly rents to be between $525-575. Safe, attractive housing stock in that range, in our community at this level is inadequate. My policy ideas for increasing the availability of affordable housing include: identifying a dedicated funding stream for the development of safe, attractive affordable rental units as well as the promotion of inclusionary zoning.
Brownie Newman: I don’t have any additional comments to add beyond my response to question #2. If the arts community has a proposal to address this concern, I am open to considering it.
Terry Van Duyn:
Buncombe County has a long track record of working with non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and Mountain Housing Opportunities that seek to address the issue of affordable housing. We have a long way to go, but we have good partners to work with. Identifying the arts community specifically in objectives around affordable housing and workspaces would seem to make a lot of sense.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill:
As far as the Buncombe County board of Commissioners providing affordable housing for just one particular group or industry it is difficult to separate the need verses all who need affordable housing.
4. In light of the 8.5 million dollar incentive package the City of Asheville gave to New Belgium Beer to build its brewery in the River Arts District, are there other incentives that can be offered to artists and business owners in general to stay or come to Buncombe County?
David Gantt: Our current economic incentive policy involves benchmarks of total investment dollars, job creation numbers, mandatory health insurance benefits for employees, and other easily measurable figures. Since I have been on the Commission, this policy was amended to include expansions of existing businesses as well as new relocated businesses. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that most artist and other small businesses are unlikely to meet the parameters of our current policy.
Holly Jones: For the record, Buncombe County provided $8.5 million in tax incentives for New Belgium and the City of Asheville provided $3.5 million. I am not a fan of the tax incentive game. However, it is a necessary evil local policy-makers must engage in if our community is going to be able to compete. The tax incentives that were recently granted to New Belgium were based on: # of jobs created paying a living wage with benefits; the amount of investment in the tax base; and the commitment to revitalize a Brownfield area. Artists and businesses that can bring these benefits to our community are currently encouraged to approach Buncombe County to discuss incentives. I am also open to discussing new ideas that promote such ends.
Brownie Newman: Artists are mostly small business owners or people who work for small businesses. One of the ways that Asheville provides financial support for small business owners (or people who have an idea to start their own business) has been through funding of Mountain Bizworks, which offers both a small training program as well as start-up capital. The Mountain Bizworks program has helped hundreds of small business owners in Asheville and western North Carolina start successful small businesses. I would like to learn more about how beneficial this type of program has been specifically for artists and the arts industry. Is this a successful model that we can build off of, or are the needs of artists sufficiently different from other types of small businesses that something different is necessary?
Terry Van Duyn: Gentrification of the River Arts District seems to already be driving artists out of their studios. Perhaps some kind of tax abatement, possibly around artist co-ops, would make it more attractive to maintain existing studio spaces.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill: I have said throughout my campaign that I do not think it is fair and it causes resentment to offer incentives to outside industry and not offer the same to our hard working Entrepreneurs and local businesses already established in the County. If there are going to be incentives for any business than they should be offered across the board.
5. Currently Buncombe County provides little to no support to the local creative sector. A couple of options for the County to consider in shaping its support for the arts locally, is to initiate a 2 to 1 match for the Grassroots Grant that the N.C. Arts Council gives to Buncombe County for local redistribution, (currently approximately $50K annually), and partnering with the City of Asheville’s Cultural Arts Division to expand programming to the rest of the county. What are your feelings about this?
David Gantt: I would consider such an allocation. I do not recall a specific request or vote on this idea, but would favorably consider it after getting a consensus from the arts community on the desirability of this. I feel matching Arts Council money would be a good investment in a valuable part of our economy and local employment picture.
Holly Jones: I am very supportive of the proposed matching approach. I would initially support a 1:1 match requiring accountability through measured outcomes. My understanding is that the current grassroots grants are available to all of Buncombe County, so it should not require an expansion of service area.
Brownie Newman: I need to be better educated on the program to provide a meaningful response. I would like to sit down with folks from the organizations that are involved in the NC Arts Council funding process to better understand how their funding process works, how the funds are utilized, what funding (if any) Buncombe County is currently providing, and how additional funds would be used if the County budgeted matching funds as suggested. One other question is how are these types of decisions are currently made by the County? For example, what staff or department is this run through and is there currently a specific decision making role played by the Commissioners?
Terry Van Duyn: I would whole-heartedly support working with the Asheville’s Cultural Arts Division around programs like the Grassroots Grants. We need to look at ways to grow the amount of dollars we have for investments like these.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill: We need to look at the over 200 non profits already receiving money from the County first,. There needs to be a reduction and redistribution of these funds, we can not put any further burden on our Tax payers.
6. In what ways can the art community reach out and connect to the greater community beyond financial impact and numbers, and how can we improve/expand on what is already taking place? How would you like to see the arts bring different communities together?
David Gantt: I would love to meet with you and discuss programs and offerings tailored to Buncombe County. I do not have sufficient knowledge of what is available and possible for our goals. I will make myself available when asked to meet. We should strategize on the best way to obtain maximum “bang for the buck” on behalf of the arts community.
Holly Jones: I believe the arts can bring communities together and profound opportunities exist. Our community is experiencing renewed divides as it relates to the newly drawn and unnecessary political boundaries in our county. Helping to reject that false division and find ways of working together would be very important. I also believe that the arts community would do well to continue to bring itself together and begin determining clear, defined and strategic initiatives. Continuing the political conversation and advocacy will require a united and committed front.
Brownie Newman: When I was in high school, I was very involved in arts stuff, especially creative writing. I attended Interlochen Arts Academy in the creative writing department in Michigan my Junior year of high school. I attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts as a creative writing student. My Senior year of High School, I attended the Greenville Fine Arts Center, also in the writing department. While I did not specifically pursue being a “writer” after school, the things I learned in my writing and art classes had a larger influence on my life and had a more useful impact on my future professional career than any other parts of my educational background.
In terms of how the arts community can be more engaged with the larger community here in Asheville, I certainly do not have all the answers. I think public art is a great investment for the community, and I will support that for our county properties and facilities, including the use of artists from Buncombe County. I also like the idea of connecting the artists in our community with our young people, both in school settings and outside the schools. I am especially interested in ways we can help connect the most disadvantaged kids in our community with arts. In so many ways, these kids need the arts more than anyone. One of my favorite arts groups in Asheville is the Evergreen Charter School Marimba Band. How do we give more kids in Asheville the chance to be a part of something like this?
Terry Van Duyn: In an effort to get to know my district even better, I did the Leicester studio stroll and was blown away by the quality of the art that was being produced by that community. We need a way to identify, link, and market our regional artists in a way that is countywide and celebrates that countywide heritage, much like ASAP does for farmers. I don’t want to reinvent the Asheville Cultural Arts Division, but I’m wondering if we could work together to brand it so that the Leicester Arts community and the River Arts District, Handmade in America and the Southern Highland Craft Guild can support and promote each other.
Finally, we need more arts education in our early childhood development, K-12 schools, and institutions of higher education, like AB Tech. Ensuring that the arts are an educational priority in the face of the huge state-wide budget cuts to education will be a challenge, but one that’s worth taking on.
Christina Kelley G. Merrill: Buncombe County has it’s own TV Channel – Charter Ch 3 BCTV and production budget. This is a huge missed opportunity to have an on going “Artists showcase” style show, where we can promote local Artists and businesses throughout WNC! I would be willing to head up this project.
Running for County Commissioner in November, 2012:
David Gantt (D)
J.B. Howard (R)
District 1: (2 seats)
Holly Jones (D)
Brownie Newman (D)
Don Guge (R)
District 2: (2 seats)
Ellen Frost (D)
Carol Weir Peterson (D)
Mike Fryar (R)
Christina Kelley G. Merrill (R)
District 3: (2 seats)
Terry Van Duyn (D)
Michelle Pace Wood (D)
Joe Belcher (R)
David King (R)
Where can I find out where I vote and what district I am in?