Commissioner Al Whitesides

Bill Branyon

Buncombe County Commissioner District 1

Q 1: What is your personal background and experience in the arts?

Instrumental, Vocal, Literary | I’ve written over 150 articles for the “Mountain Xpress” over 30 years, had four books published (see for summaries. My sci-fi book, now entitled “Billy Graham in Heaven” was the 13 best seller at Malaprops in 1995. I’m presently marketing “Advanced Romance: Transforming 16 mating rules that are no longer true.”  See for summary.) I’ve taught guitar on and off over the years. In one of my books, “Asheville NC, Circa 2000 AD” I have scenes that depict Asheville’s art world with several, almost identifiable characters. 

Q 2: What arts activities have you attended, participated in, or supported in the last year?

Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Dance, Literary Arts | I love going to art gallery openings, art walks, music-dance-theater performances, and book readings.  I’ve given three book readings myself, always to overflow crowds at Malaprops and around WNC. Many of my best friends are visual, musical or literary artists. 

Q 3: Would you support a plan to increase local government funding to the Asheville Area Arts Council to at least match the state arts funding awarded to Buncombe County ($61,447 or $.23 per capita) to support community arts programs for all Buncombe County residents? This would bring the combined state and local arts investment up to $.46 per capita.

Background: 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.

Strongly Agree | Buncombe County Commissioners, including my opponent Al Whitesides, unanimously voted to subsidize the new Pratt and Whitney plant that makes parts for the devastating fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning, by almost $100 million. Not only will the F-35 cause global increases in arms spending as other countries try to catch up to the Lightnings killing abilities, but the US fleet of 2,500 Lightnings can carry nuclear weapons that can kill almost everyone and everything on Earth. And Jack Cecil, the instigator of the P & W deal hopes to recruit more weapons factories. Is that the economy you want for Buncombe County?

At least a good portion of that $100 million could have been used to subsidize the arts. Subsidize art, not war! Subsidize sustainable plants, not killing machine factories. So yes, I think we should cultivate the arts in every way possible including financially. It is a big reason people visit Buncombe County. I’d also freeze property taxes on art studios, and lower-and-middle-income housing, as well as institute rent controls in select areas such as the River Arts District.   

Q 4: Would you support additional relief aid for arts businesses to support recovery and revitalization of the creative sector?

Background: 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.

Strongly Agree | Again, some of the almost $100 million in subsidies given to the P & W plant could have been given to the arts. And yes, the arts should receive a significant part of the about $17 million in Covid relief funds whose distribution is now being considered. Art is what makes life worth living. And Buncombe County is on the verge, if not already in an arts Renaissance that could achieve even greater national prominence. 

Q 5: Do you support using this funding to support the maintenance and creation of local arts projects?

Background: Legislation changing the county’s occupancy tax is likely to be introduced in the NC Senate this session. It would potentially reduce the funding dedicated to marketing from 75% to 67%, increasing funding available for community projects to 33%. Expanded funding flexibility included non-capital projects, option for bonding funding, administration and maintenance of TPDF approved projects, and funding for local arts projects.

Strongly Agree | Yes. The Tourist Development Authority should use much more of their millions to support Buncombe County arts directly, and local public arts projects, instead of supporting huge amounts of advertising. The Biltmore Estate gets people to come to Asheville with their immense advertising budget. The TDA could create immensely greater tourist spending by making sure the local arts are subsidized so they can survive, market and sell to tourists, and to each other. 

Q 6: Would you support an initiative to create affordable artist housing and/or studio space within Buncombe County?

Background: Affordable Housing is the primary reason for Buncombe County’s rising cost of living index (now 106). This is having a large impact on the local creative community, forcing more artists to move their residence and business outside of the county. The 2018 Keep AVL Creative survey, taken by 1,265 individuals and 170 organizations, found that a majority of artists (86%) and arts organizations (78%) need affordable artist housing and/or studio space. 424 responded that they have considered leaving Asheville due to cost of living.

Strongly Agree | As stated, I’d freeze property taxes in lower-and-middle-income neighborhoods. Why are we trying to tax people out of their homes? I’ also impose rent controls in selected areas such as the River Arts District so artists won’t be hounded out of there by ever increasing rents, as they were hounded out of downtown Asheville. The arts create a popular neighborhood. then rents go up and push artists out. Enough of that cat and mouse game. And yes. use money from the TDA, weapons factories subsidies and other sources to build deeply affordable housing whose rents stay affordable forever, not just for a few years. 

I realize that NC state government prohibits rent controls, but also realize it is controlled by mostly treasonous Republicans who want to overthrow our democracy. Why let them, who even in their non-treasonous best days want to exploit NC’s people and land for maximized profits regardless of how it affects us citizens. We already disobey them by having a sanctuary city and by lax enforcement of marijuana laws. It’s not such a big deal to by pass their other brutalities such as their $7.50 minimum slave wage, and other atrocities that they impose on us. WNC has always had a problematic relationship with the eastern portions of the state, and even more so now that they believe we are a Cesspool of Sin. Much of these humane and artistic goals can be accomplished without directly violating Raleigh dictates, through community funding and pressures.   

Q 7: Would you support the creation of Asheville- Buncombe County’s first Cultural Plan to support the preservation of our cultural assets, and the equitable recovery and sustainable growth of the creative sector?

Background: According to a 2019 report by NeighborWorks America, 80% of individuals’ health is determined by the social and environmental conditions in which they live, work and play. We need a shared vision for Asheville- Buncombe County’s cultural future that improves the lives of all residents with arts education, neighborhood revitalization, art in public spaces, economic development, and more.

Strongly Agree | Great idea! As noted, I believe the arts are central to human happiness. A Cultural Plan would recognize this and, once basic survival needs are met, make the arts front and center in everyone’s lives. Buncombe County has a great start at becoming the Paris of the South. We could expand that and increase the Asheville-Nashville music connection, as well as the Thomas Wolfe literary heritage. I’ve reviewed many local arts events in the “Xpress,” including the plays of Honor Moor and the books of David Hopes and others and wrote an “Xpress” obituary for John Cram. As well as published in Rapid River, the arts magazine. So yes, I’ll work with the Asheville Area Arts Council, the Arts Coalition, Arts Are Education, Center for Craft, local theaters, Lake Eden Arts Festival, the Asheville Arts Museum, private galleries and any other arts non-profits to make this happen.