Asheville’s artists have two new advocates: Diane Ruggiero relocated from Charlotte to be the new arts czar—or, if you prefer, cultural arts superintendent—for the city of Asheville; and Angela Martinez, formerly of Washington, D.C., recently took the reins at the Asheville Area Arts Council.
Ruggiero could be the Barack Obama of local art, filled as she is with unabashed enthusiasm and optimism. She has 12 years of experience in different and varied nonprofits, and has a highly community-oriented perspective. She says that partnerships and collaborations are important to her new role, adding that she’s interested in meeting as many artists as possible while she settles into her new job.
And, if that weren’t enough, she seems to have a keen understanding of the issues important to the local arts community. For instance, she remarks that she wants Asheville to be an arts destination for artists, not just for tourists.
“Asheville’s City Council actually offers funding for the arts,” Ruggiero says. “This is not true in most cities.”
Ruggiero says that government should set the tone for arts funding, and that Asheville’s government seems to take that responsibility seriously. One such example is the fact that she’s here at all, working in a position funded by the city. The local government, she says, seems “to know the added value the arts provide to this city for those who live here and for visitors.”
Ruggiero’s responsibilities will include overseeing public art projects. One element of this, as she sees it, would include taking members of the public art board on field trips to see how other cities are handling the changes and growth in their arts communities.
What about public art? Does Ruggiero have a favorite piece of civically funded art? Not yet, she says, noting that she hasn’t been in town long enough to decide on a favorite. And, to her credit, she doesn’t seem particularly interested in imposing her taste on the community at large.
“Everybody won’t like everything,” she says of the public works. “But there should be something for everyone. I would like to see the collection expand and grow in a meaningful way. It’s wonderful that there is so much support here.”
One of her first projects will be to work with the staff at the W.C. Reid Center for the Creative Arts in an effort to use art as a means of reaching out to the largely underprivileged community it serves. Another of Ruggiero’s goals is to make donated works of art less of a financial loss for the contributing artists, noting that the current structure only allows tax deductions for the materials used—such as paint and canvas—but nothing for the artist’s time.
Meanwhile, Angela Martinez, the new executive director of the Asheville Area Arts Council, is getting to work on bringing that group’s administration to a new level. Although a touch less animated of a personality than Ruggiero, the thoughtful and contemplative Martinez brings some 25 years of arts-administration experience to the AAAC, much of it coming from working with national and international arts organizations.
And, like Ruggiero, she says she’s deeply impressed with the quality of work coming from the local arts community.
“It is amazing to find so many world-class artists in such a small geographic area,” Martinez declares.
Fittingly, Martinez sees Asheville as a regional hub for the arts, and considers government support as crucial to that community. Part of her role will be to work as an advocate, making certain that artists have access to resources and that “everyone’s voice is heard.”
For those of us who lived through the near-disastrous reorganization of the AAAC in the 1990s, these are welcome sentiments.
The future for Asheville’s arts community seems to have gotten just a little brighter with the addition of these two new administrators. These are talented and intelligent women; let’s hope Asheville can live up to their expectations.
Angela Martinez can be reached in her office at the Asheville Area Arts Council at 258-0710. Diane Ruggiero’s office is in Asheville City Hall, where she can be reached at 259-5815.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]