John Cram Arts Leadership Award

John Cram

The award’s name honors local entrepreneur and philanthropist John Cram. Cram, who passed away in 2020, founded Blue Spiral 1, The Fine Arts Theatre, and Bellagio! Art to Wear. He was also a constant supporter of Asheville and the arts, opening his gallery at a time when much of downtown was shuttered.  In alignment with Cram’s passion and legacy, award recipients have contributed significantly to the arts in Buncombe County. 

The award is sponsored and presented by Michael Manes, co-owner and Director of Blue Spiral 1. “I could not think of a more fitting way to honor leaders in our creative community than with an award that celebrates the attributes, values, and dedication that John Cram possessed,” he said. “This award means that the vision, potential, and hope that John saw in Asheville forty plus years ago continues with next generation leaders.”

In addition to being presented with a plaque, the winner gets to select an eligible arts-based nonprofit organization or community project to receive an arts council grant of $1,000. 


2022 Award Recipient

Longtime local arts advocate, John Ellis served as Managing Director of the Diana Wortham Theatre for 20 years before retiring in 2017– though he briefly emerged from retirement to serve as interim director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra from February to July 2021. Prior to moving to Asheville, John served as Executive Director of the Broome County Arts Council in Binghamton, NY – Director of the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, WV – and Manager of the Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV. Current or prior board service includes Leadership Asheville Forum, Horizons at Carolina Day, Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Arts NC, North Carolina Presenters Consortium, the Alliance of New York State Arts Agencies, and the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.  He has served on several grants panels including the North Carolina Arts Council. John Ellis is the recipient of the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award for leadership in the Asheville area tourism industry, and the recipient of the Asheville Leadership Forum Circle of Excellence Award.

John Ellis
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2022 Grant Recipient

Ellis will select an eligible arts-based nonprofit organization or community project to receive an arts council grant of $1,000.


2021 Award Recipient

DeWayne is a native of Asheville, N.C. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and is a Gulf War Veteran. He has been involved in community improvement and youth development for over 20 years.  As a visual and performing artist, he is involved in environmental justice issues—both through his art and his community involvement.  His mixed-media, found-art installations have been featured at Duke University, Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of African American History and Culture, Upstairs Gallery, Asheville’s Fringe Festival, August Wilson Museum as part of Affrilachian Artist Project, and the Hillcrest Mural Project. He is co-founder of the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens, a unique destination that has garnered national recognition. He is the founder and CEO of Hood Huggers Intl. and Hood Tours, building communication, connection, and wealth using the arts, environment, and social enterprise. DeWayne was recently appointed by the governor to sit on the board of the NC Arts Council.

DeWayne Barton
Asheville Creative Arts logo


2021 Grant Recipient

Asheville Creative Arts is an Asheville-based arts and arts service organization, providing high quality, professional theatre, performance, and arts experiences to Asheville audiences of all ages. ACA uses theater to reflect and elevate the communities they represent and serve, and as such they are committed to presenting the stories of all their participants.