Commissioner Al Whitesides

Grant Millin

Asheville City Council

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

Vocal, Visual, Photography, Literary, Commercial Photography and Motion Picture Production… but I drew a lot as a child, like trying singing, and write a lot in different forms. | I am going over the AAAC website. As to the Buncombe County Occupancy Tax Funding mention in the AAAC website advocacy section I believe we can dial down what the Buncombe Tourism Development Authority has been since 1983 and raise up a new Community Economic Development 3.0 (CED 3.0) entity that makes use of those same occupancy taxes. Hotel and real estate corporations have a lot of access to capital and they can use the First Amendment however without public subsidies.

I completely agree the ideas of AAAC members can get a different more equitable hearing with this new CED 3.0 organization. I talked with Lyle Rickards with Asheville Buskers Collective on Easter in front of the Merrimon Harris-Teeter. I see AAAC mentions the noise ordinance. I can imagine noise control is of interest to musicians.

That was an advocacy issue for me in the past as to illegally modified vehicles. As to public safety when APD and the rest of us can’t hear cries for help, that’s a sign things are getting to loud. Also Asheville’s connection to the rich biodiversity around us includes natural silence. Natural silence is listening to everything non anthropogenic.

We can’t take advantage of natural silence when we are overdeveloped and keep driving out nature from Asheville.

Finally, I am serious about letting the people of Asheville choose to rename Pack Square and Pack Square Park. George Pack was a purported abolitionist, but helped fund the Vance obelisk. Whatever good Pack may have done in the past, we can identify a new future through public art and a new commons.

I am happy to have this article on my Medium channel (blog):

Asheville’s Unity Future Square, Monument, and Digital Placemaking Program… and more

The Pack Square Vision project is most certainly for Asheville’s African-Americans to engage with. However, the Vance Monument Task Force introduced the obvious: Asheville and particularly that part of Downtown is connected to the Cherokee. I developed the concept for an art piece that includes the term Unity Future translated into Cherokee. I hope I get to see a prototype of this art piece but it’s relatively expensive to do so.

Along with other public art issues I thought Amanda Wray’s recent C-T commentary was important. Also an idea that can present to Asheville’s African-Americans to see what they prefer, but Urban Trail art work can also change with new insight and norms. I would say a statute of an African-American helping to build the Asheville-WNC railroad from the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains most likely with little use of explosives at the time would be one of the new art work concepts. But there are local African-American advocates, politicians, religious leaders, business owners, and other professionals no doubt to include artists that can be memorialized.

Asheville Urban Trail severely lacks representation; recommendations for change 

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

I haven’t been doing enough on the audience front I’m ashamed to say. I understand I am missing a lot and want to enjoy this part of Asheville life much more. 

I am disappointed at how much I have been missing on the Asheville arts and culture scene. I could list some pretty good reasons for that, but this is a profound question for me and I want the rest of this year and the rest of my life to be much more connected to what folks like AAAC members are up to. 

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.

Agree | Public sector issues are getting more and more costly. Just think of the Anthropogenic Climate to Climate Protection Transition (that’s my phrase). The public sector needs to intervene more and more with inflation and housing market defects. I also agree focus on the arts and culture is needed.

It may be we need to get the City of Asheville role sorted. Right now all COA departments are short staffed. So getting COA to where they can do arts and culture grants, etc, may be a another capabilities issue with city hall. 

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 | As someone who still considers himself an artist and is certainly a creative sector type thinker I will at least pay attention to this plight on council. There’s just so much the city and people of needs these days. It is at least good we have AAAC to lay it all out for all of us as to what arts and culture needs are. 

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.

Strongly Agree | Please take a look at my reference to Community Economic Development 3.0 in Question 1.

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.

Strongly Agree | I did not necessarily want to divulge this but I am a renter and my rent will have gone up over 80 percent in five years this June 1. I will look into a residential and commercial tenants union for Asheville. points out 51 percent of Asheville’s residents are renters.

Low income home owners here are advocating for property tax solutions too. But there’s also the ‘BCTDA Factor’ and Airbnb Effect that get more people from outside the area competing with locals for space than we may really want. At the same time folks from anywhere with disposable incomes are good for local artists to interact with as much as restauranteurs and hoteliers.

There’s a lot to go over when it comes to the local balance of equities. But I am personally involved in obtaining quality affordable housing for myself. If only quite wealthy folks can afford to live here and serve on city council, then that’s another reason our economic picture is less than ideal.  

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.

Agree | This fits with the CED 3.0 model my campaign platform in part represents. Tell me more! My family owned T.S. Morrison & Co. that used to be at 39 North Lexington. That was the longest continually operating retail store in Asheville until 2006. I tried to get a program rolling to turn it into the WNC Heritage Museum… obviously as to everyone’s WNC heritage.