Smarter spaces: Diane Ruggiero (far left, pictured with artists Sean Pace, at top, Jeremy Russell, at right, and Melissa Terrezza, center) helped bring the three artists to unoccupied space in the Pioneer Building for a paid residency and public art show.
Diane Ruggiero oversaw Bele Chere, the Nature Center and much more
The city is losing a key player in its cultural arts community. Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of Asheville’s Cultural Arts Division, will be leaving for a new position; her last day of city employment will be Sept. 15. Ruggiero has accepted a position with the city of Alexandria, Va., as deputy director for the Office of the Arts, which she’ll start in mid-October.
“It was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Ruggiero told Xpress.
As superintendent, Ruggiero’s oversaw Asheville’s public art board and the Urban Trail program. She also oversaw cultural development programs, street festivals (including Bele Chere), street performers and the WNC Nature Center.
Since stepping into the position in 2008, Ruggiero has implemented the Easel Rider Mobile Arts Lab, program she cites on the “top of her list” of personal achievements with the city. Ruggiero claims another personal success to be the re-installation of the Energy Loop, a public art sculpture in downtown Asheville.
While serving as Asheville’s Superintendent of the Cultural Arts Division, Ruggiero often looked to national arts organizations and programs to inspire models of opportunities for local artists. Her 2010 Art in Transit program, where artists were invited to design wraps for city buses, is currently cited on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website as one of seven national projects that “creatively utilized federal funding into their capital projects."
In January of this year Ruggiero implemented the smART Space Residency program, which was informed by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Commission, an NPO responsible for NYC’s successful Swing Space residency program. SmART Space provided three local artists with studio space and a stipend to produce a collaborative body of work in an unoccupied Asheville building. Local artists Melissa Terrezza, Sean Pace and Jeremy Russell used a now-commercial space in the Pioneer Building for a residency and exhibit.
“One of the things that we’ve been able to do is pay our artists,” Ruggiero said. “It’s not a lot, but at least to be respectful of their talent and their time is something we can do. It’s taxpayer dollars, but it’s taxpayer dollars well spent. It stays in the community. These are local artists — it’s not something they can make a living off of, but I do think it’s a step towards providing some kind of support to them.”
Before coming to Asheville, Ruggiero worked as an administrator in Charlotte, for such cultural organizations as the Historic Latta Plantation, The Mint Museum, the Charlotte Public Library and the Charlotte Symphony.
“One of the biggest challenges for me when I first got here was that a lot of people didn’t know that there was a Cultural Arts Division,” said Ruggiero. “I wanted to try and figure out what our place in the community was where we were not competing with what other folks were already doing.”
Jen Bowen, who currently works with the city of Asheville as an arts administrator, will be taking over Ruggiero’s duties in managing Easel Rider’s Mobile Art Lab programs. Subsequent responsibilities will be absorbed amongst employees of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Division until the position is filled again.
“It’s always been about the community first for me,” said Ruggiero. “I view the artists and the art organizations as a part of that.“ Her parting advice for Asheville: “I encourage everybody to steal,” she said with a laugh. “Steal ideas! If folks here can focus on the community overall, they will be successful.”