Looking into the future

The Asheville Area Arts Council's Crystal Ball picks up where its famous color balls left off. That is, expect a gala affair, pared down to one venue and packed with fabulousness, and all for the cause of supporting the local arts community.

Smooth grooves: Southern Silk Duo will bring its blues-and-jazz duo to the event, along with pianist Brian Curtioff and surprise "pop-up" performances throughout the night. Photo by Bob Pazden.

But if you'd asked Tom Hayes to look into a crystal ball last fall and predict the future of the Asheville Area Arts Council, he likely wouldn't have seen this month's event.

Hayes assumed his current role as AAAC board chairman in September — after serving as vice chairman — on the heels of a major administrative shakeup. The organization's executive director and previous chair both stepped away from their positions in August, leaving the small board scrambling to keep the doors open. Planning and orchestrating a public event was the last item on their pressing to-do list.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Arts Council, which provides long-term organizational assistance for arts professionals, and the help of Sandie Rhodes, an Asheville-based event coordinator, the Crystal Ball moved into sight. In November, the arts council began working with a consultant provided by the grant to re-evaluate their mission and operation. In doing so, they realized their disappointment about not hosting a fundraiser in 2009 — more specifically, not throwing the annual Color Ball, which has been a hit with Ashevilleans for nearly a decade.

Prior balls were held over the summer at a trio of venues all decorated in the year's chosen color. This month's Crystal Ball has been scaled down to one, the fourth floor of the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village, to offer what Hayes describes as a "more intimate" experience for attendees. Only 175 tickets will be sold.

The Grand Bohemian, which has its own art gallery and is decorated with the work of local as well as national and international artists, recently formed a partnership with the AAAC and generously donated the use of their space, tables, glassware and other necessities as an event sponsor.

Rhodes settled on the crystal ball theme after seeing the Bohemian's ballroom, which boasts numerous crystal chandeliers. But the double meaning of the theme isn't lost on her. "We're viewing this as the stepping stone into the future," she says.

Rhodes decided to keep the Color Ball tradition alive by using three different fourth-floor locales for the event. In addition to the luminous ballroom, event-goers can spend time outdoors on a winter wonderland-themed terrace or in the gold velour-draped salon complete with a zany psychic and tarot-card reader.

This fundraiser will also be the council's first to feature a silent auction with work by local artists, an addition the new board hopes shows the public their commitment to the AAAC's mission. As they went into the arts community to solicit donations, Hayes and the board members found an outpouring from local artists previously helped by the council. They plan to highlight them at the auction to "reinforce the organization's deep roots," Rhodes explains. She reminds that the AAAC is one of the oldest arts councils in the country. 

Attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on arts experiences, such as a chance to watch an Asheville Ballet performance from the director's chair or tickets to a N.C. Stage Company show.

Board members recently had a "building bridges" lunch with area arts groups, who will be represented beyond their donated experiences. A dancer with the Asheville Ballet will pop up in the crowd and entertain, along with a vocalist who will perform a song from Asheville Community Theater's upcoming Little Shop of Horrors and a few other surprises. Area musicians will be represented, too. Pianist Brad Curtioff will get the evening started, followed by a performance from the jazzy, bluesy Southern Silk Duo.

"We really want it to be a creative, fun night," Hayes says. "We want to create some goodwill, because we've had our difficulties in the past. To me, it's about showcasing the talent here in town, including that of local chefs and restaurateurs. It's about us and for us, but it's also to benefit everybody."

Funds raised by the event will go toward the organization's operating costs, like keeping the lights on at their 11 Biltmore Ave. gallery. In return, the AAAC pledges to stay focused on their future and work advocating for and supporting the local arts community.

In addition to helping keep the organization open, Crystal Ball-goers will have the opportunity to direct its future. The council hopes to again host their Color Ball, with a few changes, either in the fall or next year. And, attendees can vote on the next event's color using a specially crafted original piece of artwork. "You don't just leave your signature event out," notes Hayes. "We're ready to get the ball back in our court."

[Maggie Cramer is an Asheville-based freelance writer.]

who: The Crystal Ball
what: Asheville Area Arts Council's annual fundraising event
where: The Grand Bohemian Hotel
when: Friday, March 26 (7-10 p.m., $65. www.ashevillearts.com. Dress code is classy and attendees are encouraged to have fun with the crystal-ball theme.)

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One thought on “Looking into the future

  1. AvlResident

    A nice piece promoting the upcoming event. Readers interested in the well-being of the arts/arts organizations/artists in our community would be interested in a more analytical article about what happened to bring the Arts Council to near extinction and more about the consultant who is working with the group to help them figure out who they are and what they should be doing. Who is the consultant, for example? What was the amount of the grant from the NC Arts Council? How is the process proceeding? Can a reporter (or a member of the community sit in on the meetings?

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