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. However, with no designated staff at the City of Asheville or Buncombe County, arts & culture is often unintentionally overlooked and excluded from important policy decisions. Asheville Area Arts Council advocates for local arts professionals and businesses through representation, creative economy reporting, network building through the Arts Coalition, and initiatives that support policy agenda priorities.

Arts Coalition’s 2022-23 Arts Policy Agenda

Arts Equity

There are many systemic changes that need to take place across the creative sector. Some major focus areas include diversifying arts leadership, supporting the creation and development of BIPOC owned businesses, and making racial equity programs more affordable for arts organizations. 

As the Creative Jobs Report highlights, creative leadership occupations were held by 82% White non-Hispanic, 9% Black non-Hispanic, and 3% Latinx workers. Leadership roles are held mostly by White non-Hispanic males, with an increasing number in the 25-34 and 65+ age ranges. Though the report reflects positive growth in female workers’ leadership roles from 2015-2019, growth has not been as high among Black non-Hispanic and Latinx workers. More work is needed to increase diversity among leadership and create support systems for the development and growth of BIPOC owned creative businesses.

Status Update: The Arts Equity committee is working on connecting local BIPOC arts professionals and businesses through networking opportunities. 

Arts Education

A national emergency has been declared for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, and our schools are not prepared to meet this need. Students in Buncombe County need greater access to the social-emotional and multicultural learnings provided by curriculum-based artist residencies. “Creating opportunities for social and emotional learning – which research links to success in school and career – has emerged as a top priority for districts.” Additionally, “Exposure to arts opportunities allows students and teachers to engage with one another in a way that… that provides rich opportunities for social-emotional learning.While affluent families are able to subsidize children’s exposure to the arts, students living in poverty face numerous systemic barriers which make such access nearly impossible. 

Status Update: The Asheville Area Arts Council and Asheville City Schools Foundation have applied for Buncombe County American Rescue Plan funding to expand curriculum-based teaching artists residencies for K-12 students in both Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools through the TAPAAS (Teaching Artists Presenting in Asheville Area Schools) program. 

Buncombe County Occupancy Tax Funding

The arts sector supports the proposed change in the Buncombe County occupancy split from 25/75 to 33/66 as presented in 2020. This means $8.3 million each year available for parks, sports facilities, cultural arts, heritage, and history projects, and city and county infrastructure through the Tourism Product Development Fund, administered by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. This legislation also expands the flexibility of the Tourism Product Development Fund to go beyond the current limits of only “brick and mortar” capital projects, which would mean more funding for arts and cultural programs, especially the performing arts which has been hit hard by the pandemic. History of the Buncombe County Occupancy Tax

Status Update: A proposed bill filed June 1, 2022, by Senators Chuck Edwards, Warren Daniel, and Julie Mayfield passed and became law on July 1, changing the occupancy tax split from three-quarters to be used for tourism promotion and one-quarter for community capital projects, to a split of two-thirds/one-third, increasing funding for community capital projects.

Creative Manufacturing

Land of Sky Regional Council has partnered with the Asheville Area Arts Council and WNC Arts on the Cultivating Creativity Project. This is an exploratory process to discover expanding manufacturing in WNC to better support the creative sector. Creative manufacturing grew 23% from 2015-2019 in Buncombe County, and our region has a growing number of creative sector talent that could be poised for scalable growth to create authentic quality jobs.

Status Update: Land of Sky has contracted Bridgeway Capital to conducted a study of Creative Manufacturing in WNC to determine opportunities for infrastructure improvement. As part of this process, Asheville Area Arts Council is working with Riverbird Research to conduct a supplement Creative Manufacturing Assessment. The initial finding are slated for completion in October, with a final report in December. 

Creative Wages vs. Cost of Living

There is a growing gap between local living costs and creative wages in Buncombe County. On average, earnings for creative occupations in Buncombe County are 14% lower than the state average and 22% lower than the national average. Meanwhile, the cost of living index is now the highest in the state reaching 106 in 2020. See AAAC’s Creative Sector Earnings Report to learn more.

Status Update: Committees are currently exploring a number of possible initiatives to help address this issue including pricing standards, employee benefits, and tax incentives for affordable artist housing and studio space. 

Cultural Plan for Buncombe County

The City of Asheville’s Public Art Master Plan is 20 years old, and the Public Art & Cultural Commission (PACC) has stated that updating the master plan is one of their top priorities. The Asheville Area Arts Council supports this initiative and would like to see equitable creative placemaking incorporated into the plan to enhance community engagement and overall positive benefits as a result of the city’s Public Art Program. Taking an equitable creative placemaking approach to public art means “the strategic integration of arts, culture, and community-engaged design into comprehensive community planning and development.”

Visit the City of Asheville’s Public Art Program page to view the current Public Art Master Plan.

Status Update: The Asheville Area Arts Council and Asheville Greenworks are currently co-leading the creation of a natural and cultural asset inventory for Buncombe County, which is slated to be completed in late spring 2023. This is an important first step to creating a more comprehensive cultural plan for Buncombe County.

Economic Impact of Outdoor Events & Festivals

Asheville is known for its many events and festivals, many of which taking place right in the heart of downtown in Pack Square. Unfortunately, new regulations and fees by the City of Asheville are making presenting these events more difficult. Previously, the City of Asheville offered strategic partnerships through the Community & Economic Development office to reduce these burdens for local nonprofits. The program was put on hold in 2020, and in late 2022 Council is slated review this policy with the intent of possibly removing this incentive program. 

Status Update: Asheville Area Arts Council will conduct a survey of Outdoor Events & Festival presenter to better measure the impact of these programs. Our findings will be presented to Asheville City Council in late fall with the hope of preserving the incentive program. 

Increased Local Government Support for the Arts

Americans for the Arts reports Buncombe County nonprofit arts organizations generate $3.5 M in local government support annually (AEP5 Report, 2015). 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. Learn More>>

As the designated arts agency for Buncombe County, we are advocating that the Asheville Area Arts Council receive local government funding that at least matches the state arts funding awarded to Buncombe County ($86,540 or $.31 per capita). This would bring the combined state and local arts investment up to $.62 per capita.

Status Update: Our advocacy efforts are paying off! Buncombe County included $129,788 ($.50 per capita) in line item funding for Arts & Culture in the 2022-2023 budget. This funding will be awarded to the Asheville Area Arts Council to support our economic impact reporting and 88% will be regranted to other arts nonprofits.

Noise Ordinance

On July 27th, Asheville City Council passed a new Noise Ordinance which will go into effect on Sept 15th. It includes curfews, decibels levels, new enforcement staff, and the formation of a Noise Advisory Board. Learn More>>>

Status Update: You can learn more about the work of the new City of Asheville Noise Ordinance Board here.

NC Arts Initiatives

Additional Grant Funding

N.C. Arts Council grants are one of the many ways they sustain and advance the diverse and widespread network of arts organizations and artists across the state. These funds reach into all 100 North Carolina counties with more than 2,500 arts and culture nonprofit organizations creating and sustaining innovative arts programs that contribute to quality of life and to community vitality. Arts events leverage additional spending by their audiences in local restaurants, shops, and businesses. These arts activities are centerpieces of downtown revitalization and essential to attracting new businesses, as well as residents and visitors. These organizations are also critical resources for schools in providing arts experiences in and out of the classroom that enhance student learning. Increased funding to NCAC would strengthen the infrastructure of this vital industry and help build resilient communities and economies in both urban and rural areas across the state.

Expanding A+ Schools Program

A+ Schools of North Carolina is a whole-school transformation model that views the arts as fundamental to teaching and learning. Schools develop a creative culture in which the state’s mandated curriculum is taught through collaboration and multi-discipline integration, with the arts continuously woven into every child’s learning experience. Established in North Carolina in 1995, A+ Schools is a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council, and is the longest-running, arts-based whole-school reform model in the nation. There are currently 67 A+ Schools impacting over 30,000 students across NC. Three of these schools are located here in Buncombe County– Claxton Elementary School, Black Mountain Primary, and ArtSpace Charter School. Participating in A+ Schools has been proven to increase overall school performance, increase the number of students achieving grade-level proficiency by as much as 22%, show the largest and quickest gains among marginalized students, improve attendance, reduce disciplinary problems, increase teacher satisfaction, and increase levels of community and parental involvement. More funding is needed to expand this program into more NC schools.

Support for Graduation Requirement

On July 2, 2020 Governor Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 681 into law which, among other things, created an Arts High School Graduation Requirement in North Carolina. This law requires ONE arts credit (music, visual art, theatre arts, dance)between Grade 6 and 12 in order to graduate from high school, beginning with those students entering Grade 6 in 2022. While arts programs are offered to all students throughout elementary school, program offerings drop off significantly by the time students reach middle and high school and, in some cases, suffer from lack of funding. Given the challenges of the pandemic, and fact that low-income students who participate in the arts throughout high school are five times less likely to drop out, and twice as likely to achieve a college degree, this graduation requirement may be a valuable tool to make up for lost learning and support our students when they need it most.

Economic Incentive Tier Reform

The Buncombe County creative sector supports the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to disentangle state-run programs and grants from the Economic Incentive Tiers. In recent years, the tier system has been proposed as a way to limit arts funding increases for Tier 3 counties. This is not how the Economic Incentive Tier program was intended to be used when it was created in 1987. It was meant to be a tax break for distressed counties. However, the current indicators (unemployment rate, median household income, population, and property value per capita) has Buncombe,* Haywood, Henderson, Lincoln, and Iredell counties lumped into the same category as Wake, Mecklenburg, and Orange counties The Tier indicators should be adjusted to better reflect the stress/distress of a county long-term (average wage, adjusted sales/property tax base, and % population with some college) and should be limited to the purpose for which it was created.

WNC History Museum

In 2003, Congress established Western NC as one of 49 national heritage areas. The rich culture of this area deserves to be preserved and shared through the establishment of a WNC History Museum. Though there are 17 state museums in the Eastern North Carolina, Western North Carolina only has one– the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort. A funding bill may be introduced in the upcoming long session to support the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in its efforts to finally create a Western North Carolina Museum of History and Culture for all the citizens of the region.

US Arts Initiatives