Commissioner Al Whitesides

Nina Tovish

Asheville City Council

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

Instrumental, Visual, Photography, Literary | The arts are in my blood. My parents were both professional sculptors; art museums were places of worship for us. I was fortunate to see masterpieces of human creativity all over the world before I turned twelve. My parents made sure I saw live performances of music, dance, and theatre. I studied flute and played in a youth symphony orchestra. I read and wrote avidly.

My first professional job was as a writer and editor, with the consulting firm Arthur D. Little. After that, I worked freelance in communications. Eventually, the call of the visual was impossible to resist: I studied at the New England School of Photography and became a professional photographer. A few years later, I earned an MFA at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY (SUNY/Brockport). My thesis show of handmade artists books included an interactive computer piece—the first of its kind for that program.

I went on to become the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s first New Media Producer. I produced their first interactive kiosk, first exhibition web pages, first “digital atelier” exhibition, and the Museum’s international award-winning collection CD-ROM. Later, I started my own web design and development business (Lucid Design). One signal accomplishment was creating standalone interactive kiosks for the Folger Shakespeare Library—a dream assignment for me, calling on all my skills and combining my love of art, design, and language.

I’ve continued as a writer and an artist ever since in a variety of different media and professional capacities. Since moving to Asheville, I even put together three small craft show events — entitled “The Well-Crafted Gift” — which showcased local artists and craftspeople.  

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

Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Literary Arts | The pandemic has sadly curtailed much of what I would ordinarily have participated in the past two years. I moved to Asheville in large part because of its lively, eclectic arts scene. The River Arts District, with its lively communities of artists reclaiming disused industrial spaces for their creative lives, reminded me of my parents’ studios in then-ungentrified areas of Boston. I was inspired by the great variety of work being done and celebrated here.

I look forward with hope to a time when attending indoor concerts will be comfortable again, when I can share my poetry at open-mic nights and hear others perform again, and when all the creators who make this city so vibrant will once again be able to thrive.

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.

Strongly Agree | Great cities support the arts—support their *artists*. Artists of every kind make cities lively and livable. Supporting the arts is an investment in quality of life, and yields a great return!

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.

Strongly Agree | Absolutely. Artists are often self-employed or contract employees. During the pandemic, these are the folks who’ve been hurt the worst, especially because of the great difficulty many have had actually obtaining unemployment payments.

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 | I would love to see TDA funding more equitably distributed in the Asheville community, including to artists. (I hope your optimism is borne out.) I think it’s important to point out that funding directed to local artists *stays in our community*—unlike the marketing money (estimated this year at $30 million), which is essentially entirely exported out of our economy.

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 | Affordable live/work space is essential for creative workers. (The myth of the starving artist does a terrible disservice to actual working artists who can’t make ends meet. Creativity doesn’t flourish with hardship, it gets crushed.) The reality is that artists have been reclaiming less desirable properties and making them hip, chic, popular, and economically viable since… forever. Let’s identify some prospective possibilities and help them do it again!

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.

Strongly Agree | Even as the arts sector took a disproportionately huge hit during the pandemic, its contribution to the GDP only dropped by 1/10 of 1%—showing the tremendous resilience of the creative community. But with the expiration of the CARES act, self-employed folks are once again without a safety net. Government should invest in identifying, preserving, supporting, and sustaining cultural assets and the people who make them. (Data from this article:

Equitable access to arts education and programs ought to be a cornerstone of every Asheville resident’s well-being, starting in pre-school. Children who grow up surrounded by beauty and creativity are more likely to be optimistic and to believe that, as adults, they have a meaningful contribution to make to the future. Participation in the arts is every citizen’s birthright.