Asheville City Council preview: Arts and education

Starting in a special budget session this afternoon, Asheville City Council will contemplate a possible overhaul of the way the city deals with arts and festivals.

The issue has built momentum recently, with the Public Art and Cultural commission proposing a Creative Economies Director operating under the Office of Economic Development. The director would replace the departed Diane Ruggiero as a point person for the city’s interactions with the arts community, as well as working on “enhancing artistic growth in the community using tools like grant opportunities.” The city froze Ruggiero’s position after her departure, and the fate of the Cultural Arts Division — which also handles the city’s festivals — remains uncertain.

At Council’s retreat yesterday, March 11, staff laid out the city’s financial situation, a structural imbalance between revenues and expenditures that, according to Financial and Management Services Director Lauren Bradley, requires an overhaul of the way the city deals with festivals and the arts. Staff (and Council members) notably pointed out Bele Chere’s cost ($450,000 a year, if you were wondering) and emphasized looking for partnerships that could fulfill the city’s goals, perhaps with a Creative Economies Director overseeing grant funds and acting as a liaison instead of a more traditional arts administration staff.

At today’s budget session, beginning at 2 p.m., staff will present some of its proposals on the matter. The commission, which also has a presentation during the formal meeting, has urged members of the community to show up and speak in favor of the proposal for the new director’s job.

At the formal meeting, beginning at 5 p.m., Council will appoint members to the school board, review bylaws for the Downtown Improvement District (the current incarnation of the BID), and consider relaxing the city’s rules on massages and bodywork.

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