With a key position still vacant after six months, major changes could be in the works for how the city of Asheville deals with the local arts community and tries to facilitate growth in the creative sector.
Last week, some organizers of the Creative Sector Summit expressed dismay that the city of Asheville’s superintendent of cultural arts position has been vacant since last September, when Diane Ruggiero left the job in favor of a similar position in Alexandria, Va.
Since then, “we don’t have a designated staff person at the city” to function as a liaison with the arts community, notes Kitty Love, executive director of the Asheville Area Arts Council.
Meanwhile, Debbie Ivestor, assistant director of the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, reports that the future of the entire program is in question. “We are evaluating the role and the focus of the city’s cultural art program,” she says. Although it will be funded through at least June, after that, “We don’t know the outcome,” she adds.
As those discussions continue among city staffers and elected officials, volunteers with the Public Art and Cultural Commission are recommending that the superintendent position is morphed in to a “Creative Economies Director” position serving under the Office of Economic Development. According to handouts circulating at the Creative Sector Summit, the commission wants the new director charged with “fostering economic development, urban regeneration, small business growth, the visual and performing arts” as well as “enhancing artistic growth in the community using tools like grant opportunities.”
The commission is urging those active in the local arts sector to attend the Asheville City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 12 and voice support for the changes.
The nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $43.7 million in economic activity in Buncombe County last year, according to the commission’s handout.
The debate over the future of the cultural arts department is playing out as City Manager Gary Jackson has undertaken a major staff reorganization.