On Dec. 30, the Asheville Area Arts Council closed on a deal to sell the last of their downtown properties: 13 Biltmore Ave. quietly transferred proprietorship to the owners of Cúrate, which is located next door in the formerly AAAC-owned 11 Biltmore Ave.
The building “was a great boon as a resource,” AAAC Executive Director Kitty Love told Xpress. “The monthly revenue that came from rent was great, but the responsibility of managing a building was becoming a problem. We don’t have the staff capacity to manage it,” she says.
Now, that monthly revenue will be replaced by mortgage payments. AAAC is privately financing the purchase for the new owners, securing a steady income stream for nearly 15 years. Because of the sale, Love says, “we’ll be able to self-fund our strategic plan, and we’ll have money to match grants.”
In 1987, AAAC leased 11 and 13 Biltmore Avenue from the Asheville Housing Authority; later, the nonprofit purchased the buildings. Through grants and a steady flow of donations that stemmed from an increase in fundraising, following the council-created and city-supported 1982 Cultural Action Plan, the Arts Council was able to pay off the bulk of the mortgage on both properties.
But it was in 2010 that AAAC was able to completely free itself of these debts. That spring, the board elected to close the Front Gallery, where the Arts Council had hosted exhibitions since 2006, and sell 11 Biltmore Avenue. The sale generated funds to pay off the mortgage on the neighboring 13 Biltmore and settle debts accrued by the gallery’s high overhead and mounting staff and programming costs.
Just a year later, then-interim-director Graham Hackett relocated AAAC’s offices to the Pink Dog Studios in the River Arts District. In October 2013, AAAC announced that it would again be shutting down its gallery, now known as the Artery, and ultimately moving out of the space.
While the gallery has granted the Arts Council many benefits, including a prominent locale and over two years of exhibitions enriched by the RAD’s rich artistic culture, the costs ultimately outweigh the benefits, according to Love.
The Artery, much like the former Front Gallery, functions as the organization’s aesthetic and practical facade. It’s their primary point of contact with both their valued donors and the general public. But when it comes down to it, says Love, the Arts Council’s purpose isn’t to organize and host monthly exhibitions — it’s to generate programming, raise and distribute funds to artists and to survey and respond to the county’s ever-evolving arts scene.
Despite a common misconception, the AAAC, like most arts councils in the state, is a privately operated, non-governmental nonprofit. However, the group acts as an extension of the North Carolina Arts Council, a state-run department created to distribute public funding to the arts.
But AAAC’s October announcement didn’t come to fruition. Following the announcement, Pink Dog’s owners Randy Shull, an AAAC board member, and Hedy Fischer temporarily reduced the nonprofit’s rent by nearly 60 percent, thus allowing AAAC to extend its lease through the winter and into spring.
During the next six months, AAAC has lined up a series of exhibitions that continue a months-long break from its usual single-artist show bookings. Instead, the Arts Council has been handing over full creative license to a guest curator or curators.
One of the upcoming exhibitions, tentatively slated for February, would be organized by the founders of Apothecary, a multimedia arts space that formerly leased space at the YMI center. While previous guest curators have utilized the space for juried exhibitions and group shows, Frank Meadows, one of Apothecary’s founders, sees the opportunity as a chance to transform the space and instill the experimental and creative energies harbored by the former collective. “It’s a way to encapsulate and define what Apothecary was,” he says.
Love and the AAAC are also preparing for the Creative Sector Summit, an annual conference organized in partnership with the city of Asheville. Each year the conference brings together area arts entities and organizations, nonprofits, artists and creatives to evaluate the state of the arts in Buncombe County.
This year’s conference, Love says, will draw a new focus on music, which has a creative and economic impact on Buncombe county and Western North Carolina that continues to grow each year. It’s easy to assume that an arts council’s sole purpose is to promote the visual arts. But in reality, it serves the entire arts community, and Love aims to reinforce this idea at this year’s summit.
“It’s important to me that we step into the role of representing all creative media,” she says. “We need to represent the breadth of the creative industry in Buncombe County.”