Buncombe County’s 74 creative industries were responsible for $1.6 B in sales in 2019, and supported over 14,000 jobs– an increase of 48% since 2015. Since 2020, the creative sector has experienced severe revenue and job losses. The Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (A,E,and R) sector was the top creative industry, growing 53% from 2015-2019— double the growth rate of Buncombe County’s Construction industry over the same time period. But, in 2020, A,E, and R made up 61% of the creative industry employment loss in 2020. Recovery and sustainable growth will require local government support through both funding and policy. 

Prolonged closures and other mandated health restrictions made it impossible for these jobs to rebound quickly, resulting in loss of talent as workers were forced to find work outside of the cultural sector and/or move out of the area. Now, sustained financial losses and talent shortages are making it difficult for the creative industries to recruit and retain employees in this new highly competitive job market. 

This problem is further aggravated by the growing gap between creative wages and the cost of living. A study of 71 creative occupations in BC revealed that in 2020 earnings were 14% below state averages and 22% below national averages– meanwhile the cost of living index was the highest in the state at 106. Core arts occupations such as Craft Artists, Fine Artists, Painters, Sculptors, Illustrators, and Camera Operators also fell below the Just Economics’ 2020 living wage rate of $15.50/ hr. 

Diversity of creative workers is an area of concern. A higher percentage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) workers are “gig” or contract workers– 60% vs. 30% for White workers. Many are working multiple jobs while trying to break into the market. There is also a shortage of local BIPOC workers with training for careers in creative industries. “High barrier to entry” is the leading cause limiting success among emerging (especially BIPOC) creative workers. 

The arts council is working to provide more relief aid, help close the wage gap, and mitigate barriers to entry. 

Join Us

Our mission is to keep the arts at the heart of our community.

Since 1952, the Asheville Area Arts Council has been supporting the arts in Buncombe County. We are the second oldest arts council in the state of North Carolina and one of the oldest in the United States. We fulfill our mission by supporting arts organizations and artists in Buncombe County through:

Advocacy: data collection, reports, policy initiatives, education, representation, partnerships, and special events

Public Art: free, inclusive, and accessible art for all

Services for Creatives: professional development, grants, job and opportunity listings



Nonprofit Arts Organization ($350-$500/ year)
Forprofit Arts Organization ($500-$650/ year)