New faces in local arts

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.

Asheville Area Arts Council Executive Director Angela Martinez.

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.

The city of Asheville’s cultural arts superintendent, Diane Ruggiero. Photos By Jonathan Welch

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.]

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25 thoughts on “New faces in local arts

  1. “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. …”

    Oh come on! Here we go again — for the umpteenth time bringing in outsiders when any number of current residents could have done both of these jobs better and for less money! How many starving are there already in Asheville who would have GLADLY filled these two art-related positions?

    It’s a disease, that’s what it is … Outsideritis, the symptoms of which include a fever to constantly insult locals and a propensity to consistently spend more money for less results.

  2. conbostic

    Ralph, I too remember when Deb Austin was in charge at the arts council: she knew every painter, poet,dancer,actor and musician in town. She knew what they did, and why they did it. Those were the good old days. The good old days are gone. We might as well face that and move on as best we can.

  3. That’s sounds reasonable, Connie, but I still would like to see folk look locally first.

    The Arts Council used to. I remember back in the early eighties I even applied for the position and was one of the three finalists, all of us locally. Forgot who won it (wasn’t me).

    I would not be interested in it now, but there’s plenty of people locally who know the currents arts scene who could do it. That’s all I’m saying.

  4. Rob Close

    ralph’s right here…i know we aren’t going to hire locals for EVERYTHING, but there is a serious trend of ignoring local talent it seems.

    and for these 2 posts…c’mon! we obviously have this type of talent in spades…and with not enough jobs for our current population as it stands, this just seems like a poor, rushed decision, regardless of the individual qualifications.

  5. dystopia

    I agree, Ralph. This is a position in which it is important to know the local arts scene and its players, large and small. While it is impossible to have as comprehensive a knowledge of the scene as Deborah Austin did, it is quite possible to have more knowledge of this sort through a few years’ immersion experience. That is, I think it’s best that the leader of such an organization participate in the arts community for a while rather than be an imported leader.

  6. Ken Hanke

    As someone who has only been in Asheville for eight years, I probably ought to stay out of this. I’m sure in some quarters, I’m looked upon as an interloper. But really, whatever became of that fine old phrase “Southern Hospitality?” A lot of people who make up the art scene here are transplants — a few I know for a fact have been here fewer years than I have, so I’m not real sure what the point is.

    Near as I can tell everyone is rushing to judgment on these women based on little to nothing except they’re not from here (I know in Ralph’s mind that’s at least a misdemeanor). Has anyone here even met either of them? I’ll confess I’ve met Diane Ruggiero, and she strikes me as a sensible and savvy person — not someone I see running blindly into something without first getting an understanding of it.

    Then again — and I’m sure I’ll only get cries of “outsideritis” for this — am I the only person who sees the potential value in an outside viewpoint that isn’t mired in personal connections, friendships, and other prejudices — pro and con?

  7. dystopia

    I do not personally think being locally-born or having as much as eight years living experience here is important to holding these positions, but to be in town and involved in the arts community for even just a little while – about a year or so, give or take a few months – seems crucial and a way to avoid a sharper learning curve. It is fantastic, if you ask me, that outsiders such as myself and others come here and stay and, in doing so, contribute to the artistic fabric of the area. It is common for all sorts of organizations to bring out-of-town directors in, but that might not always be the best practice. I don’t intend to be disrespectful to Martinez and Ruggiero.

  8. Ken, I would be delighted if YOU were to take over either of these positions… you’ve been around Asheville long enough to know the scene… it’s going outside, grabbing someone cold, and tossing them into the pond without even knowing if they can swim that I object to.

    Think locally! There are plenty of folk already living here just as qualified and already a WHOLE lot more acclamated to Asheville then these two ladies. And I’m not dissing them but rather the idiots who went outside when it was both unnecessary and insulting to our community. It’s that kind of thinking we need to change.

    So… when can you start, Ken?

  9. Ken Hanke

    Good Lord, I wouldn’t want take such a position on a dare! I mean, I know movies and can hold my own on music (as long as we confine it to classical, rock, and 1920s-1930s jazz and pop) and literature (within limits), but this is much more broad-based than that. I may know the pond — sort of — but I know when not to swim in it.

    In any case, the fact remains that they’re here. See what they can do before you assume they can’t.

  10. Oh, I wish them well but it’s time we all started making a fuss about this type of madness.

    Look local first, it’s just good common sense.

    so… Ken… what about revamping and reviving the Asheville Film Commission (whatever happened to it anyway?) … I KNOW you could do that. ;-)

  11. Ken, I answered my own question… they still exist, the latest minutes of the Film Commission board are at:

    http://www.ashevillenc.gov/uploadedFiles/Government/Mayor_and_City_Council/City_Council/Boards_and_Commissions/Film_Commission/Minutes%201%2014%2008.pdf

    I had assumed they were defunct since their website was down, but obviously not.

    Note they have a board opening but you need to apply quickly. I’m committed to the URTV board, so I’ll leave that one to you. ;-)

  12. Ken Hanke

    This really isn’t my line of country. I’m not that involved with local film production, though I’m always glad to watch a local film if asked and to write about it if it gets a public screening. (One of the things I’m proudest of with the movie reviews in the Xpress is our commitment to reviewing special screenings and not limiting ourselves to what’s playing at the theaters.)

    The thing is just because I know about film and filmmaking, it doesn’t follow that I have the organizational skills needed for this kind of thing. As for having the time to devote to it, that’s an entirely separate issue. I’m already on the Film Festival committee.

  13. Patty Simcox

    Great article, Connie. This was a very nice introduction to these two new advocates for art in Asheville.

    Let me just say welcome to Asheville, Angela Martinez and Diane Ruggiero, since I know you might be reading this blog. (Ralph Roberts may not have given you a very kind welcome, but I don’t believe he’s representative of everyone here.)

  14. I’m not against these two ladies, Patty, just the idiots who thought it was a good idea to go outside instead of using our plentiful local talent. And I would say most of the people in Buncombe County agree.

  15. conbostic

    I think maybe we should welcome these women to out community and make them a part of it. True they aren’t “from here”, but if we all pitch in and show them the ropes they just might become one of us.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Ralph, do you know they didn’t try to recruit locally? My understanding is that the positions being available weren’t secret. So who applied locally? Do you know of someone who did and was passed over? And if you do, do you know why? Maybe no one who applied from the local side was really qualified? Just because someone local might be qualified, doesn’t mean they wanted the job. So would you be happier if someone less qualified got the job for no other reason than because they were local? Sounds kind of like affirmative action to me, and I can’t think you condone that.

  17. Come on, Ken… look at all the talented artists working in Asheville currently and tell me no one was qualified? Look at the many fine folk who serve on nonprofit boards and tell me none was qualified? Look at the moving expenses normally paid to outside hires and tell me these organizations came out ahead? Look at the time it will take these ladies to learn the local scene and come up to speed… and tell me this is the most efficient way? Look at all the artists and artlovers in Buncombe County and Asheville and tell me THIS best serves their interests?

    I think not. It’s just common sense. MOUNTAINX should be investigating things like this, not supporting them, not encouraging.

    In short, no one locally was recruited because of this mental sickness among many that only outsiders have expertise.

    I say that attitude is very wrong and needs to be reconsidered.

  18. Ken Hanke

    “Come on, Ken… look at all the talented artists working in Asheville currently and tell me no one was qualified? Look at the many fine folk who serve on nonprofit boards and tell me none was qualified?”

    Ralph, you keep making assumptions and leaps with this. Just because a person is a talented artist doesn’t mean they’re going to be a brilliant administrator. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. And what working artist is going to want to put his or her career on hold to help promote other people’s art? And however great someone’s motives might be for serving on a non-profit board, it doesn’t follow that they’re qualified for these positions. It also doesn’t follow that they’d have the time or the inclination to turn what they do now into a full-time job.

    “In short, no one locally was recruited because of this mental sickness among many that only outsiders have expertise.”

    You know this? You know for a fact that no attempt was made to recruit anyone locally? As I asked before do you know of anyone local who even applied for these jobs? It’s very easy to sit there and draw conclusions without knowing the whole story.

    I grant you that I’ve been appalled in the past — and not just here — by people who come to a place and approach it with an “amateur night in Dixie” mindset and a determination to show folks “how it’s done in the real world.” (And I’ve seen that just as much on non-profit boards, come to that.) But I’m not getting anything like that vibe from these ladies.

  19. Okay, if you think I’m wrong, how about you guys investigating… or at least ask these two organizations to justify why they went outside?

    but I simple cannot believe no one locally could have done the job.

    and, again (as I told Connie) the point is not the ladies chosen but HOW they were chosen.

  20. Ken Hanke

    “Okay, if you think I’m wrong, how about you guys investigating… or at least ask these two organizations to justify why they went outside?”

    Well, first of all, you’re making another leap here. There’s no “you guys” involved where my comments are concerned. There’s just me — and I am not an investigative reporter or a reporter of any kind. I’m a columnist. That makes me no more qualified as a reporter than being an artist makes someone automatically qualified for an administrative position.

    “but I simple cannot believe no one locally could have done the job.”

    But you don’t know this — and you don’t know that anyone locally who could have done the job even wanted the job. The two things are not interchangeable. Until such time as you do know that a qualified local was passed over in favor of someone from the “outside,” all you’re really doing is fuming over “outsiders.”

  21. Now don’t get cranky on me, Ken. ;-)

    I’m fuming not over outsiders per se but rather the dogma shown by far too many newcomers to Asheville that locals are yokels and only another outsider can do the job.

    I believe this is a reasonable and legitimate concern that needs some sort of redress. Yes, I do not know the specifics of the arts organization hires but I do know a lot of times this has happened before with locals getting a fair chance. And I do not mean nativeborn along but also folks like yourself who have been here enough years to have some knowledge of the area.

    If not out and out discrimination, it’s certainly not the height of fairness.

  22. Ken Hanke

    “I’m fuming not over outsiders per se but rather the dogma shown by far too many newcomers to Asheville that locals are yokels and only another outsider can do the job.”

    OK, but I’ve seen nothing that suggests either of these newcomers are taking such an attitude.

    “Yes, I do not know the specifics of the arts organization hires but I do know a lot of times this has happened before with locals getting a fair chance.”

    But you don’t know that here, you’re merely assuming it. That’s not the height of fairness either.

  23. Nancy Nesbitt

    Asheville Area Arts Council take a look, you will be inspired by Mrs. Carrie Wagner.

    THE BACK GALLERY
    Journey
    Carry Wagner

    March 7-29, 2008, 2008
    Opening Friday, March 7, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

    “Carrie Wagner is also a photographer. Her journey took her to Uganda 15 years ago. She recently rediscovered the pictures she took there and realized that the images were as vivid in her mind as they were at the time she experienced them.”

    “While they represent a place and time as all photographs do, on a broader scale they speak about the incredible richness of life that co-exists in extreme poverty environments. Our assumptions about miserable, deplorable conditions are proven wrong as we witness joy and gratitude in the faces of those who have not been spoiled by the material world,” she says.”

    Look at the image of the smiling round faced child, you will not be able to help feel your own smile widen with the sunshine this child exudes with her simple lovely smile captured by Carrie.

    The first time I laid eyes on Carrie’s work was in her living room and I was amazed at how she captured the essence of these beautiful people.

    You will not be disappointed.

    Nancy

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