Commissioner Al Whitesides

Doug Brown

Asheville City Council

Q 1: What is your personal background and experience in the arts?

Instrumental, Theatre, Photography, Literary | Have seen myself more of a jock than an artsy guy, but a walk down memory lane shows some hope: in college – played harmonica for a recorded radio ad; acted in two plays: a Shakespeare and a German play; taught English in Mexico via producing a Christmas play where the Wizard of Oz was Santa Claus; ran a school photography business; loved a tour of the “City Art” in Buenos Aires that tells the struggles and city’s history; attended the Kenilworth Art Walks; my niece is a ballerina; a friend has an art booth in Woolworth; grateful that Journeymen was awarded 2k in funds as I have volunteered for them in Enka middle school and their Rights of Passage weekends.  Not bad for a sports guy, (but I was an English major with an emphasis in creative writing and author of two books on Amazon).  Maybe I should drop tennis and get into art?   hmmm 

Q 2: What arts activities have you attended, participated in, or supported in the last year?

Music, Visual Arts | Love to read.  Was a Toastmaster participant for two years for public speaking – kind of an art performance in itself.    

Q 3: Would you support a plan to increase local government funding to the Asheville Area Arts Council to at least match the state arts funding awarded to Buncombe County ($61,447 or $.23 per capita) to support community arts programs for all Buncombe County residents? This would bring the combined state and local arts investment up to $.46 per capita.

Background: Americans for the Arts reports Buncombe County nonprofit arts organizations generate $3.5 M in local government support annually. However, the NC Arts Council’s 2019-20 report shows Buncombe County ranks last among tier 3 counties for local government funding for local arts councils at just $.02 per capita. Average for tier 3 counties is $.73 per capita.

Undecided | Admittedly, the Arts Council is new territory for me.  My agreement or disagreement would be shallow at best.  I do however believe that arts, drama, music must be part of K-12; must be.  I went to Germany and worked on a farm largely because my older brother sang German beer drinking sons and told old folklore tales.  My brother could have been any teacher, and if students don’t have those arts, literature, music exposures then a world of curiosity and imagination is left on the table.   How to do this…where to raise the money…what awareness efforts are needed and who pays…  Would I be happy to explore this?   You bet.   

Q 4: Would you support additional relief aid for arts businesses to support recovery and revitalization of the creative sector?

Background: Buncombe County’s 74 creative industries were responsible for over 14,000 jobs and $1.6 B in industry sales in 2019. By 2020, over 1,300 jobs were lost in the Arts & Entertainment industry alone– the greatest % of job loss from any industry in Buncombe County as reported by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Many arts businesses experienced up to 14 months of closure, and artists/arts organizations are still facing significant pandemic related expenses and revenue losses.

Agree | Yes. When I see $6.5M going towards a hotel for 85 addicted and mentally ill, I’ve got to believe there just as an important need to help industrious artists in business.  

Q 5: Do you support using this funding to support the maintenance and creation of local arts projects?

Background: Legislation changing the county’s occupancy tax is likely to be introduced in the NC Senate this session. It would potentially reduce the funding dedicated to marketing from 75% to 67%, increasing funding available for community projects to 33%. Expanded funding flexibility included non-capital projects, option for bonding funding, administration and maintenance of TPDF approved projects, and funding for local arts projects.

Agree | I need to study and research more about the integrity of this reapportionment of tax money since it is largely the hotels that pay this tax; they should therefore have a say in where their money goes.   It seems, as your statistics show (68% tourists come for creative arts…50% would go somewhere else if the creative arts were not offered) to make sense that hotels would not fill up if we didn’t have such a vibrant art and music presence in Asheville.

Q 6: Would you support an initiative to create affordable artist housing and/or studio space within Buncombe County?

Background: Affordable Housing is the primary reason for Buncombe County’s rising cost of living index (now 106). This is having a large impact on the local creative community, forcing more artists to move their residence and business outside of the county. The 2018 Keep AVL Creative survey, taken by 1,265 individuals and 170 organizations, found that a majority of artists (86%) and arts organizations (78%) need affordable artist housing and/or studio space. 424 responded that they have considered leaving Asheville due to cost of living.

Undecided | That is a very interesting, creative housing approach.   With the right criteria for Bonafide artists and apprenticeships (so that the program serves its intended purpose and artists, with probably some “term limit” to allow new artists to circulate in and benefit from the artist housing, then yes I would support an initiative.  I believe the River Arts District has the space for such housing.  Perhaps in exchange for affordable housing these artists could donate some city art on buildings or sculptures…

Q 7: Would you support the creation of Asheville- Buncombe County’s first Cultural Plan to support the preservation of our cultural assets, and the equitable recovery and sustainable growth of the creative sector?

Background: According to a 2019 report by NeighborWorks America, 80% of individuals’ health is determined by the social and environmental conditions in which they live, work and play. We need a shared vision for Asheville- Buncombe County’s cultural future that improves the lives of all residents with arts education, neighborhood revitalization, art in public spaces, economic development, and more.

Undecided | Words like “cultural” and “equitable” are politically packed.  I heard that Stevens-Lee high school had the best band in town and would march downtown during holidays, such as Easter I believe I was told.   Let’s bring it on today.  All music and drama performance are forums to bring race and cultures together.  Without political-speak, let’s encourage organizations and schools to show their color, talent, vibe.  We budget for music in the summer at Pack’s Square, why not keep the groove going year round with street fairs, or band performances.   With some creativity, this could fund itself and more.