Arts Coalition


The Creative Economy in Buncombe County spans over 8 supersectors and supports 14,000+ jobs. In order to better serve the many diverse arts professionals and businesses in our community, the Asheville Area Arts Council formed the Arts Coalition in 2021 to drive policy in key focus areas, including: Arts Education, Arts Equity, Manufacturing, Nonprofits, Performance Venues, Professional & Business Services (Design, Advertising, and Photography), Public Arts, Festivals, and Community Events, Recording, Publishing & Film, Sole Proprietors/ Independent Contractors, Trade/ Retail. 

Each focus area is led by a committee chair, who holds quarterly focus area meetings and serves on the leadership team–which is comprised of all the committee chairs and the arts council Executive Director. Any member of the arts council is welcome to join one or more of these Arts Coalition committees. Committee members help provide valuable insight and expertise as we consider issues impacting different segments of our creative community. Committees will vote to elect a new committee chair at the annual Creative Sector Summit (we will skip the 2021 election since this is still in development).

With input from the Arts Coalition committees, the leadership team crafts a list of annual policy goals for the creative sector (see below) and is actively involved in the planning of the Creative Sector Summit.

Arts Coalition

2021-2022 Meeting Schedule

Arts Education
Aug. 23, Nov. 22, Mar. 3, June 2

Arts Equity
Sept. 27, Nov. 15, Mar. 1 @12pm, June 7 @ 12pm

Sept. 8, Dec. 8, Mar. 9, June 8

Aug. 25, Dec. 8, Mar. 7 @ 12pm, June 6 @ 12pm

Performance Venue
Sept. 15, Dec. 15, Mar. 16, June 15

Professional & Business Services
Sept. 20, Dec. 20, Mar. 21, June 20

Public Art, Community Events, & Festivals
Sept. 13, Dec. 13, Mar. 14, June 13

Recording, Publishing, & Film
Sept. 29, Dec. 6, Mar. 7, June 6

Sole Proprietors & Independent Contractors
Sept. 9, Dec. 9, Mar. 10, June 9

Trade/ Retail
Sept. 23, Nov. 17, Feb. 15 @ 10am, May 17 @ 10am

All meeting take place at 6pm on Zoom, unless otherwise noted.

Committee Chairs

Laura Mitchell
Laura Mitchell
Arts Education Chair
Buncombe County Schools Arts Education Specialist
Stephanie Hickling Beckman
Stephanie Hickling Beckman
Arts Equity Chair
Executive Director, Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collection
AAAC - Gar Ragland
Gar Ragland
Manufacturing Chair
Owner & CEO, Citizen Vinyl and Producer & President, NewSong Music
Jessica Tomasin
Jessica Tomasin
Recording, Publishing, & Film Chair
Founder, Connect Beyond Festival and Studio Manager, Echo Mountain Recording
Rae Geoffrey
Rae Geoffrey
Nonprofit Chair
Managing Director, Wortham Center for the Performing Arts
AAAC - Liz Whalen Tallent
Liz Whalen Tallent
Performance Venue Chair
Managing Partner, The Orange Peel & Rabbit Rabbit
Reggie Tidwell
Reggie Tidwell
Professional & Business Services Chair
Owner, Curve Theory
Justin Rabuck
Justin Rabuck
Public Art, Community Events, & Festivals Chair
Owner & Co-Founder, Horse & Hero and The Big Crafty
Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith
Sole Proprietor & Independent Contractor Chair
Craft Your Commerce Program Director
Michael Manes
Michael Manes
Trade Chair
Gallery Director, Blue Spiral 1

2021-2022 Arts Policy Agenda

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. 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 ($61,447 or $.23 per capita). This would bring the combined state and local arts investment up to $.46 per capita.

Status Update: Local Government Funding increased from $.01 per capita in 2019-20 to $.07 in 2021-22 ($.26 including American Rescue Place funding).

American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan (ARP), is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the ongoing recession.

As part of this plan, Buncombe County ($50.6M) and the City of Asheville ($26.1M) are receiving an unprecedented amount of federal stimulus funding. Now is the time to let our local officials know that investment in the arts is crucial for small business and job recovery and to foster community healing from the trauma we have experienced over the past year.

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. 

Status Update: Asheville Area Arts Council received $50,000 of its $250,000 request for American Rescue Plan funding from Buncombe County to regrant to local arts nonprofits to support local jobs in 2022. The Arts Coalition will continue to push for additional aid. 

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. 

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. 

For Arts Sake, Wear a Mask

More than 30 organizations have signed on to the Asheville Area Arts Council’s pledge to require masks indoors and strongly encourage masks outdoors. Learn More>>

Status Update: The County mask mandate is set to expire on February 16. Commissioners will vote on whether or not to extend the mandate at their meeting on February 15. 

Arts ARE Education

As a result of the pandemic, arts education in school districts across the state are facing budget shortfalls that may lead to arts spending cuts, a remedial focus on other subjects to combat learning loss and a need for personal protective equipment (PPE) that is specific to the arts classroom. The Arts ARE Education. Learn more>>

Though Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools are generally supportive of arts education, there is still a need to increase arts programming and materials in several of our local schools. 

Status Update: The arts education committee is currently exploring additional funding support for school arts programs and local teaching artists. 

Buncombe County Comprehensive Plan

In 2021, Buncombe County will begin the process of creating a new 20-year comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan is used by local governments as a broad, long-range planning tool for the community. This plan will look at the relationships between land uses, infrastructure, and key community needs. A successful comprehensive plan will guide growth and address community needs and priorities through a series of objectives, strategies, and goals. Help us ensure that arts and culture are not left out of this strategic plan! Learn more about the plan here

Status Update: The County is currently taking public input that will help shape this plan. Learn more about how you can share your thoughts here.


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: There is currently a push for a cultural asset inventory for Buncombe County. This is an important first step to creating a more comprehensive cultural plan for Buncombe County.

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: A study to determine opportunities for growth and implementation strategies has already begun and will likely be completed this fall. 

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: Proposed changes to the occupancy tax legislation are likely to be introduced in the NC Senate this spring.

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.