Stefanie Gerber Darr understands that when people think of the Asheville Area Arts Council and its services, music may not be the first thing that comes to mind. In identifying sources for that misconception, the organization’s executive director points to the AAAC’s Coxe Avenue building and its tendency to feature exhibitions of visual and craft arts instead of musical works, and the behind-the-scenes nature of the organization’s grants, many of which support local musicians.
But, with the recent study by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Coalition measuring the impact of the music industry on the local economy, efforts of the AAAC and other arts and culture groups are gaining more prominence. Fortified by data that Buncombe County’s music industry grew 52 percent between 2010 and 2016, that corner of the arts is the logical focus of the AAAC’s eighth annual Creative Sector Summit on Friday, April 20, at The Grey Eagle.
“We’re such an artistic and culturally rich city and county, and we have a lot of growing pains right now,” Gerber Darr says. “Being able to talk about the health of arts and culture and what they mean both to everybody’s well-being, as well as the economy around here and making sure that artists have their place and have their support is really important … so they’re not lost in the growth of the city.”
The summit, titled Rhyme or Reason: Measuring Patterns of Growth and presented by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, begins with a keynote address from Bob Boilen, creator and host of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” and “Tiny Desk Concert.” Gerber Darr says Boilen was the first person she and her board of directors thought of once the event’s core topic was set.
AAAC board member David Feingold, general manager and CEO of Blue Ridge Public Radio, used his NPR connections. The numerous local and national music business contacts of fellow board member Gar Ragland, through his company, NewSong Music, sweetened the deal and solidified Boilen’s participation. Factor in the significant media attention that Asheville’s music scene attracts, and Boilen’s informed perspective on the ebb and flow of the industry and his pointers on what to expect as the city’s musical offerings grow become especially vital.
“He’s involved and knowledgeable about artists who maybe haven’t hit the mainstream yet but are working hard and are supertalented, and he features them on the ‘Tiny Desk Concert,’” Gerber Darr says. “It made a lot of sense for him to talk about his knowledge of the national music scene and what he’s done.” Boilen is familiar with Asheville, as well. He’s attended both the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College and Moogfest.
Boilen’s talk will be followed by a pair of panel discussions. The first, A Composition of the Local Music Scene, focuses on the county’s diverse musical makeup and will be moderated by Blue Ridge Public Radio arts and culture producer Matt Peiken. The panel will spotlight the perspectives of individual artists with industry connections, such as pianist Andrew J. Fletcher, who’s also an advocate for the Asheville Buskers Collective; local gear manufacturers Kelly Kelbel and Tony Rolando of Make Noise; and artist manager Danielle Dror of Sabra Music.
The afternoon panel, Understand Your Impact on the Local Economy, is composed of organizations with which the AAAC has partnered to purchase a Creative Vitality Suite, a creative economic data tool. Gerber Darr, AAAC grants manager Janelle Wienke and representatives from the city of Asheville (strategic development office director Stephanie Monson Dahl), The Center for Craft (assistant director Mike Marcus), the Chamber of Commerce and EDC (director of research Heidi Reiber) and River Arts District artists (Wendy Whitson of NorthLight Studios) will present the findings of the EDC’s study.
Before moving to the city’s River Arts building at 14 Riverside Drive for a Resource Happy Hour, the group will welcome audience feedback and discuss how residents may become more involved.
With an overall goal of informing individual artists and elected officials about the economic impact of the arts, Gerber Darr and her collaborators have invited all elected officials from the city and county, as well as state representatives to attend the summit. A handful have confirmed they will attend, and efforts are being made to increase that number.
“I think we’re on a precipice, so the more we can do to support the arts, I think it makes us a stronger community and ensures we keep this rich artistic community at the core of everything,” Gerber Darr says. “In addition to the natural beauty, that really is what draws people to this area. If we don’t put focus on making sure local artists can stay here and afford to live here, we’re digging a big hole for ourselves.”
WHAT: AAAC’s Creative Sector Summit
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Friday, April 20, 9 a.m-4 p.m. $25 AAAC members/$35 general public