In February, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory’s office issued a brief statement announcing eight new board appointments for the North Carolina Arts Council. None of those eight were from any of Western North Carolina’s 28 counties. What’s more, only three of the board’s existing members are from the region, prolonging the age-old divide between Raleigh and the western part of the state. How does this impact our arts community?
Basics of the board, briefly
The NCAC board is one of approximately 400 boards and commissions that the Governor’s office is responsible for appointing members to. The board meets four times per year, each time in a different region of the state. The positions are unpaid; travel expenses and accommodations are reimbursed. Terms last three years and are tiered to allow eight new positions to rotate on and off the board each year.
Current WNC representatives include Allen Huffman, a Hickory-based pottery collector and craft festival organizer; Marie Junaluska, an educator and cultural consultant from Cherokee; and Jean McLaughlin, the executive director of Penland School of Crafts.
“The governor makes appointments to boards and commissions, like the N.C. Arts Council, based upon recommendations he receives from leaders in that specific issue area,” said Ryan Tronovitch, McCrory’s deputy communications director.
Appointees are recommended to McCrory by Charles Duckett, the director of Boards, Commissions and Personnel Appointments. The director, in turn, receives recommendations from a variety of public and private sources, such as the state’s applications web page, which allows anyone to apply for a board or commission position. Recommendations also come from public officials and private individuals across the state who act in the interest of constituents, friends and neighbors alike.
So who can be appointed?
“Just about anybody who has a passion for the arts and is qualified is eligible for board membership,” says Wilma Sherrill, former N.C. House representative for the 116th district (1994-2006). Sherrill also served as the director of Boards, Commissions and Personnel Appointments under Gov. Martin from 1985 to 1993.
An ideal candidate, she notes, is a state resident who is an active participant and/or supporter of the arts and is unlikely to use the position to politically or personally challenge the governor. “If I had a constituent who wanted to serve on a board of commission, I would contact and connect them with that particular office,” she says. As Gov. Martin’s director, Sherrill looked to such congressional representatives, local governmental members and the leaders of various arts organizations to recommend as potential NCAC board members or to apply themselves. A list of those who had been recommended or applied on their own was compiled and submitted to the governor, who made the final selections.
Is WNC being overlooked?
“It’s not likely,” Sherrill says. “[NCAC] board appointments are hard to find. And if there’s someone who has the passion and is qualified, then I’m sure they’d take the recommendation.”
But to find out whether or not WNC’s arts community is in fact being overlooked by Raleigh, one would need to have the entire list of persons recommended for this appointments cycle. A public records request was made for a list of names for those persons considered for board membership but ultimately not chosen. That request was denied by the Governor’s office, which cited NC General Statutes 126-5(c1)(4), which lists board member as exempt from public records requests, and 126-22, which defines “state employee” and details privacy exemptions.
The Governor’s office also declined a separate request for comment on the selection of those recent appointments and on the board’s apparent geographic disparities. The process, according to Tronovitch, is held to the same standard as the appointments process for a judicial chair. As such, he says, “We do not comment on the appointments process.”
Furthermore, NCAC executive director Wayne Martin did not return phone calls or respond to emailed requests for comment concerning the NCAC’s impact in the board’s appointment process or their political relationship to the arts council.
These decisions, however, come in spite of an integrity and transparency clause in NC General Statute 126-24, which permits the governor or any department head, including the Director of Boards, Commissions and Personnel Appointments, to make public such records that “inform any person or corporation of any … nonemployment of any applicant … whose personnel file is maintained in his department and the reasons therefor and may allow the personnel file of such person or any portion thereof to be inspected and examined by any person or corporation when such department head shall determine that the release of such information or the inspection and examination of such file or portion thereof is essential to maintaining the integrity of such department or to maintaining the level or quality of services provided by such department.”
Is WNC being underserved?
According to the NCAC, the Asheville Area Arts Council and several WNC arts administrators and organizations, the answer is a resounding “no.”
“The NCAC ensures that our state legislature is constantly aware of the needs of the communities across the state for cultural experiences, arts education and more,” says Kitty Love, executive director of the AAAC.
Grants play a huge role in this relationship between Asheville, WNC and Raleigh. Buncombe County arts organizations received a total of $324,099 in direct grants from NCAC during the fiscal year 2014-2015. The total amount from state allocation and the National Endowment for the Arts to be used for grants during that fiscal year was $6,449,345. Many of those grants, which range from $3,000 to $51,069 each, will be redistributed to area artists.
But it’s about more than just grants, Love says. “When I first took the position at the AAAC in December 2011, we were in a relationship with a consultant, paid for by the NCAC, who was put in place to help the AAAC understand how to better serve its role in the community, and the ideal role of an arts council generally.”
Additionally, Love says, “The NCAC convenes the WNC arts agencies quarterly to discuss best practices and encourages local county arts agencies to adopt the 21st century approach of arts-driven economic development, to be in alignment with national best practices and in step with funding opportunities from the National Endowment for the Arts and others.”
In essence, the board helps to ideologically and symbolically tie together the NCAC. “I have been appointed with the understanding that the board supports the arts throughout the whole state, not just where we come from,” says Jean McLaughlin.
The board’s role is primarily to advise the Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources on NCAC policies and programs, assess staff recommendations and serve as state-wide advocates for the arts and the council. Board appointments are a political necessity, thus making the appointments political in themselves. They do not, however, set policy, nor do they vote on the council’s budgetary actions or make decisions in the grants process. They are managed by NCAC’s 26-person staff.
For Andrew Glasgow, an Asheville Art Museum board member and former director of collections at the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, the council’s role in WNC is equal to that of the other 72 counties. “There’s not that much money to start with,” he says, “but we’re clearly getting our fair share.”
He adds, “I would like to more people from WNC on the board, and I’d love for a person from Asheville to serve. But I don’t know what that person could do for us that the council isn’t already doing.”
MORE INFO: ncarts.org