Commissioner Al Whitesides

Maggie Ullman

Asheville City Council

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

Vocal, Dance | I danced in Lisa Zahiya’s Bhangra Dance Troupe for several years and LOVED it. Bhangra is such a joyful form of dance!

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

Music, Comedy | Art can be such a private experience AND I deeply love experiencing and participating in art while in community with others. As such, we all experienced the withdrawal from community life in the pandemic these last two years. The two arts public experiences I braved the pandemic for last year were dance and comedy.  Dancing with Ashevillians at my favorite local DJ’s show, DJ Marley, was life giving. Seeing a traveling comedian at the Thomas Wolfe was equally thrilling to be among so many to experience laughter. 

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.

Undecided | Supporting the people that propel our art communities is key to keeping Asheville Asheville. The only reason I hesitate on marking “strongly agree” is that while in principle I agree there is a strong role government should play in supporting the vibrancy of our arts community, it is hard for me to commit X amount now to just one of our many arts focused organizations in our community without context and without doing due diligence.

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 | Yes. Our work on recovering from the pandemic is not over. 

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 | I believe flexibility is an essential part of us succeeding with legislative change in this arena. 

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 | Absolutely! Addressing affordable housing needs a multitude of strategies. I love the idea of targeting specific communities with solutions to meet their specific needs. 

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 | Yes, and. I say this having been deeply involved with many planning efforts in our community, we need to ensure any planning effort is tied to commitment to follow through.