Buncombe County Commissioner Candidate Arts Survey

Last week, we shared the results of our Asheville City Council Candidate Arts Survey. Now, in this second edition, we are asking Buncombe County Commissioner candidates their thoughts on arts-related issues. Remember early voting starts this Thursday!

Arts Council staff sent all six Buncombe County Commissioner candidates a five-question survey, asking their positions on Buncombe County’s creative sector. Sadly, Comissioner Mike Fryar passed away suddenly last week. All of the five remaining candidates – Terri Wells (D), Nancy Nelson (D), Anthony Penland (R), Parker Sloan (D), and Donna Ensley (D) – responded. See their full responses below.

The March 3rd primary will determine which candidates will move forward to represent their party in the November election. Incumbents Brownie Newman (D), Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (D), and Joe Belcher (R) are running unopposed for their respective party nomination and will move straight to the November election.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing Buncombe County's creative sector? What do you propose to do to address these issues?

District 1

Nelson: Access to affordable, connected studio/living space. Continue to work toward making the entire county viable for working/living. Currently, digital infrastructure is not reliable outside of Asheville. In this day and age, working artists need access to reliable digital access for everything from vendor control to actual production download to marketing services.

Wells: For those living or trying to work in the city, one of the main issues is affordable studio space and housing. For those living in our more rural areas, a key issue is broadband access which is necessary to run a business. Both are economic issues that impact many of our residents. I have been leading the efforts to get high quality broadband to our entire community; it is a top priority. We must also ensure that we are able to have a diverse and thriving creative community and, thus, must look at innovative solutions to address the affordability issues that challenge our residents.

District 2

Penland: The biggest issue that I believe is facing the creative sector is the same issue that I believe others are faced with, the affordability of housing and work space in Buncombe County.

Each year there are numerous requests that come before the commission asking for assistance. While each request being presented is of the utmost importance to the presenter, the commission has to look at each request with an open mind and do what is best for the county. My proposal to address the issues is to work with others to see what the commission can do all the while making sure that we are good stewards of the people’s money who has elected us to do what is right for Buncombe County.

District 3

Ensley: The arts are a significant reason Asheville has been visited by millions of people, they have played a role in our past, our present and will be part of the fabric of our future. I believe that accessing affordable housing and affordable work space are some of the greatest challenges facing our artists. Unfortunately few artists are able to own their own spaces and rents continue to climb as gentrification takes place. I support a living wage for all workers and will advocate for using TDA funds to help market our local artist economy.

Sloan: I am a musician and I performed regularly in downtown Asheville for years, while working in planning and then in community organizing. I heard concerns about our environment, affordability, transportation, and quality of life from fellow musicians, patrons, friends, and work colleagues. These conversations have been happening for years, still happen today in all parts of our community, and the issues have intensified. All of these issues stem from growth and climate change. I am running for Commission because I am experienced in responsible growth, community planning, and renewable energy policy through my education, professional experience, and public service, and I am ready to lead our county with well-considered, well-crafted policies that permit only responsible growth that meets our needs. Policies that create housing connected to recreation connected to jobs, schools, and other essentials, all serviced by good infrastructure. Through skilled, thoughtful planning, we can increase quality of life, protect this environment that we cherish, and reduce the impacts of poverty on daily life. That will benefit our creative sector and our entire community.

What role do you see the arts sector playing in Buncombe County?

District 1

Nelson: Historically, a major role. Currently, a major role. Tomorrow, a major role. It is the primary reason I relocated to Buncombe County. My late husband was a potter and I am still producing oil paintings and teaching studio art at UNCA’s College for Seniors. I was a board member and exhibiting artist with the Weaverville Art Safari for many years. This biannual studio tour is one of the oldest, most impressive collection of artists in WNC.

Wells: Our arts sector provides both economic and cultural benefits to our county. Artists are small business owners who provide direct economic impact and investment in our community. Our county also benefits from our rich and diverse culture which we can continue to promote and encourage throughout the county in order to engage and inspire our citizens. We have a history of being makers, and that is worth promoting and investing in for the future.

District 2

Penland: The arts sector can impact the community in three major ways. One, by creating works of art that our citizens appreciate in a variety of ways and improves their quality of life. Two, by creating an economic opportunity that grows local business and continues to be a valuable part of tourism and attraction to our area. Three, by creating ways that more citizens, students and anyone can find a source to help grow their creative abilities. While there are other impacts, I would like to see how these artists can positively impact school art programs and promote other local interactions for people to learn and grow their abilities.

District 3

Ensley: When I moved to Buncombe County 32 years ago, I realized that the arts are a vibrant part of our history, our culture and our future. Our county’s investment in the Diana Wortham Theatre so many years ago was wise beyond its years. I’ve participated in and watched the River Arts District arts tour expand into our more rural communities. The arts have a huge impact on our local economy and culture and they expand our vision, thinking and understanding even as they bring tourist dollars into our community and support our local economy.

Sloan: The arts have been an essential component of our culture for generations. Musicians, crafters, writers, architects, landscape architects, decorative artists, visual artists–pretty much every art form has a place in the history of Buncombe County, and many artists and their art are represented, recognized, and celebrated here today. I see the arts sector continuing to play a major role in helping our community define itself and helping our community be creative and open minded, formally and informally.

Do you feel the new Buncombe County Commissioner Districts will impact the arts sector? Why or why not?

District 1

Nelson: New Commissioner districts will improve the focus on the county-wide arts sector. The Board realizes how important this issue is from border to border. The issues I believe are important are not centered in one area. Other entities may have different priorities (TDA, Asheville CoC), but the Commissioners understand this jewel in our crown encompasses the entire area.

Wells: It is beneficial that each of our new districts represents a diverse part of our county, from the city to the more rural areas. It is important for our commissioners to be aware of and responsive to the varied needs of our county, which includes the city. We are fortunate to have a thriving arts community, both in the city and outside the city such as the Come to Leicester Studio Tour and the Weaverville Art Safari. As Commissioner, I will work to ensure that our arts are able to thrive.

District 2

Penland: It is my belief that the new commissioner districts will not have an impact on the arts sector. The districts may have changed which commissioner may or may not represent a person but those new districts did not change Buncombe County. Buncombe County has a diverse culture and those who enjoy and support the arts will continue to do so, no matter the district they call home.

District 3

Ensley: I think the County Commission Districts could have impacted the arts sector in a negative way years ago, but the future I see expands the arts into every sector of our county – rural, urban, wealthy and poor. One of the issues we must address is access to broadband so that artists living in every area of our county have the ability to use the internet as a promotional tool. We also must expand reliable public transportation and affordable housing options so that artist can afford to live and support themselves.

Sloan: The lines were drawn fairly arbitrarily to divide up the county into three parts, for the intended purposes of ending the gerrymandering that the Republican legislature enacted. The Republican legislature had stacked the deck in favor of Republicans, and also stoked city versus county sentiment through their gerrymandering and campaigning. Fortunately, nonpartisan groups sued and won, after years of efforts, to end the gerrymandering. As a community I believe we must now end the culture of city-county division, and I’ll lead on that as commissioner. We’re all in this together and will accomplish more together. Given that the county is now mostly evenly divided and each district includes a portion of Asheville, the new districts could encourage collaboration between the county government and the city of Asheville on all issues, including the arts. Every district now has a significant city-of-Asheville-resident population, and Asheville has the greatest prevalence of art performance spaces, galleries, and the like in the entire county.

Do you support the proposed renovations to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium? Why or why not?

District 1

Nelson: As a performer with the Asheville Symphony Chorus and the Asheville Choral Society, I can’t wait for Thomas Wolfe to be renovated! That said, this project has been on the books for over 10 years. It remains to be seen if the recent bump in media attention will carry it through this time.

Wells: Yes, though we will need more funding partners to afford the high price tag for this project. I think this is a great opportunity for a public/private partnership. Serious infrastructure needs must be addressed so that this venue will meet the needs of our community and support the arts.

District 2

Penland: It has been reported that the proposed cost of renovating the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium will cost nearly $100 million dollars. That burden should not be placed on the county taxpayers and I cannot support renovation of an 80-year-old facility at that price. I ask you is that being good stewards of the money from Buncombe County citizens. It has been reported that the manager might asked the TDA to help with the cost of renovations. I ask again is that being good stewards of the TDA money. Can the TDA money be used to assist with other issues that our county is faced with? As a lifelong resident of Buncombe County, I understand the heritage of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and I have attended many events, my high school graduation was held there but we have to take a good hard look at all the options and base our decision on what is best. $100 million dollars is a lot of money.

District 3

Ensley: I absolutely support the renovations to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. We must invest in our infrastructure now to provide for the future. TWA is an amazing space with historical value as well as a location that promotes further investment in our city center that is enjoyed by locals and tourists. The economic benefit of such an investment is justification alone – but there are so many other reasons that this it the right thing to do.

Sloan: The price tag has increased each time a renovation plan has been mentioned, and the announcement this winter includes the highest price tag yet. I need to know a lot more about this plan before stating support, partial support, or opposition.

The City of Asheville's Public Art Masterplan was created in 2001. Would you be supportive of a new city/county public art masterplan? What would you like to see included in this plan?

District 1

Nelson: There have been joint master plans in the past of varying success. I would work on the working/living issue first and partner with the state cultural entities to widen the vision of all art. That said, the return to supporting film, tv, media production in our state would bring more work to graphic designers, production artists and support personnel. We are losing business to surrounding states. This trend needs to be reversed.

Wells: Yes, I believe a collaborative effort for the Public Art Masterplan will benefit all of our community. We have a rich cultural heritage that inspires and informs who we are, and we have the opportunity through public art to engage people in reflection and conversation around varying perspectives. Powerful public art not only inspires and creates community pride and a sense of place, but can also challenge, heal, and empower a community.

District 2

Penland: As elected officials it is the responsibility of the Buncombe County Commission to work with all the municipalities in Buncombe County on master planning of all kinds. We need a plan that is deep rooted in maintaining the heritage of Buncombe County as we embrace new growth. As we continue to move forward with new growth and new ideas, we must never forget the reasons why we call Buncombe County home. Working with the municipalities and communities all across the county in a collaborative effort that gives way to new ideas, new plans, but all the while being mindful of each community’s unique history.

District 3

Ensley: I support updating all of our plans. This is one of the reasons that I am running for County Commission. I believe it is past time that our county collaborate with the city and all our municipalities to address strategic priorities for growth and development. I would like to have such a plan engage community members in the early planning stages (as we did as we planned Pack Square Park – a project I worked on) so that whatever the plan is reflects the needs and desires of our entire community. This takes time, however the results will have a long lasting positive effect if done correctly.

Sloan: I like a good plan. I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Community Planning, a Bachelor’s of Science in Geographic Information Systems, worked as a County Planner for years, for several years now serve as Senior Community & Economic Development Manager with Cypress Creek Renewables, and am in my fifth year of service on the Buncombe County Planning Board. I support a joint master plan both because it could help strengthen collaboration between the City of Asheville and county government and because it just makes sense to have a plan that includes our entire county. I would need to become familiar with the existing City of Asheville plan and all community input requested and collected to date by the city, county, and other municipalities before making specific recommendations. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this survey.

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