Xpress asked seven local members of the arts community to ponder the biggest issues facing the creative sector in 2022 and the movers and shakers who rose above the rubble. Featured below are reflections from Stephanie Hickling Beckman, managing artistic director at Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective; photographer Heather Burditt; hip-hop artist and voiceover actor Michael “Foul Mouth Jerk” Capra; actor Ariel Casale; Robb McAdams, assistant manager at The Orange Peel; John-Paul Miller, founder and guitarist of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band; and Jessica Tomasin, Echo Mountain Recording studio manager and Asheville Music Professionals co-founder.
What local arts initiative deserved greater recognition than it received this year?
Hickling Beckman: Everything that ArtsAVL [formely the Asheville Area Arts Council] initiated this year, particularly the Creative Sector Series. Its Town Hall Candidate Forum served to educate and benefit Asheville’s arts and artists by facilitating a moderated platform to put arts issues front and center prior to this year’s local, county and state elections. Unfortunately, the series did not receive sufficient press coverage to bolster attendance.
Burditt: It’s not really so much an initiative as it is an exhibit, but This Skin I’m In: A Visual Narrative of Self at Revolve Gallery. In the LGBTQIA+ community, personal identity is often a more significant part of life than usual. Considering current events, even a wonderful and inclusive space like Asheville can benefit from deeper understandings of queerness.
McAdams: SoundSpace@Rabbit’s Music Rehearsal Studios has been around for over a year, but I just love the concept of giving local musicians an affordable dedicated space to hone their craft. I used to live in the South French Broad neighborhood, and I always thought that property was very interesting and hoped someone would give it new life.
Miller: IAMAVL.com is a great service to the Asheville community, and they deserve proper funding from the city. The sheer number of shows they stream brings Asheville’s live music to anyone with internet access, and that could be used to increase music tourism if promoted properly.
Tomasin: ArtsAVL’s initiative to increase funding from Buncombe County. The county was just funding the arts at $.02 per capita when the average funding for counties of our size is $.73 per capita. Thanks to the advocacy work of ArtsAVL, that number has increased to $.50 per capita for the 2022-23 budget. We have a ways to go, but it’s definitely a big step up from where we’ve been.
As an artist/arts professional living in Western North Carolina, what keeps you up at night when it comes to your line of work?
Burditt: This is an easy question with a not-so-easy answer. I’m sure it will surprise exactly zero artists just how much I’m asked — or expected — to provide for free. It’s a huge source of personal conflict, and I often don’t know how to approach it. Photography is an oversaturated art form. So long as people will show up for free (and they definitely will), if I want a certain type of gig, I’ll probably have to show up for free as well. It’s a problem that just feeds itself.
McAdams: It is a big topic in the media world at the moment, but the resale [i.e., scalped] ticket debate hurts my heart. Watching big-money entities taking advantage of people’s love of music for financial gain is especially infuriating. The artists and independent venues don’t benefit when someone pays a 300% markup on a ticket; only the scalpers and major ticket companies see the reward for their unethical behavior. It’s one of the most disgusting practices in our industry and makes me thankful that local independent venues still offer fans a fair price for a magical night of live music.
Miller: I see a lot of talented artists that don’t know how to properly market themselves. Some of my favorite acts don’t know the ins and outs of the business side of the industry, and that definitely holds them back from achieving next-level stardom. As we all know, talent doesn’t equal success. It’s a business, and just because you play really well doesn’t mean you know how to push your brand.
Tomasin: Seeing artists get priced out of Asheville as the pace of the growth of this city continues to increase. There are no designated staff members in city or county staff for art and culture, so the creative community unintentionally gets overlooked. With tourism being our main industry in Asheville, it’s imperative that we support our creators who are all entrepreneurs.
What public art project raised the most significant or challenging questions for our community this year?
Hickling Beckman: ArtsAVL’s Arts Coalition committee on art equity. This committee took a thorough and honest look at the need for a more racially equitable lens in regard to artistic opportunities and representation in Buncombe County. On several occasions, the coalition publicly addressed long-standing contributors to racial inequity in Asheville and challenged our arts leaders to make authentic and systemic changes in the area of racial equity and inclusion in the arts sector.
Burditt: Art in the Heart. Pack Square Plaza has been the site of so much conflict in recent years. Public spaces are for all of us, and art has a way of igniting conversations. I hope the future of Pack Square Plaza continues to be a space for community and for communication.
Capra: That’s hard to answer because one of art’s purposes is to be challenging. There’s a mural in West Asheville by [Donnie] Destro and Ian Wilkinson that’s of birds flying toward a beautiful sunset and says “Reparations … Cut the check.” I find that comforting, knowing it’s pissing a lot of people off. That probably counts as significant or challenging, right?
Casale: All of them. The arts are fighting for survival. All mediums are valid and significant at this point.
As an artist, what is it about Asheville that keeps you here?
Hickling Beckman: Asheville has a vibrant and artistically diverse arts community, and I have strong roots here. Additionally, I’m inspired by various opportunities to creatively and representationally advocate for the change that I would like to see in the world.
Burditt: I’ve had a few places I’ve called home — New England, San Francisco and Seattle. I’m not sure my art ever found a home until Asheville. The artist community here is vast, diverse and uniquely tied together. There are a lot of photographers here, but I’ve never felt like I was in competition with anyone. I adore this particular group of image makers — they’re some of the most supportive and encouraging people I know.
Capra: The community. I’ve been lucky enough to work with exceptionally talented musicians who enjoy contributing to each other’s projects in whatever way possible, whether studio sessions or support at live shows, filming videos or photography. I wouldn’t be able to operate on the level that I get to without the help and support of a whole lot of people that see the creation and support of art in a very interconnected and unselfish way. I’m grateful to have had the chance to build relationships with people like that. It’s one of the main things that keeps me in the ’Ville.
Casale: I love Asheville in general, but truly my job — by day, I’m a probation officer — and the “framily” my husband and I have here are a huge reason to stay. There is always something cool happening here and so many cool folks. Neither of us are from here, but we’ve made it our home.
McAdams: The political and social climate help create a place where you can live a less restrictive lifestyle than in other cities in the South. An abundance of wonderful food, music, art and the truly unique offerings of the mountains just makes this area a joy to live in despite the ongoing challenges of affordability. Even the exponential increase of tourism is really just showing that we are curating a way of living that people want to be a part of, even if it’s just for a weekend.
Miller: There is something magical and inspirational about this area. After a run to the West Coast and back, I will have seen a thousand beautiful sites. But the minute I drive over that hill and catch my first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I feel a true sense of home and the happiness that exists here for me.
Tomasin: I love how supportive the community is of one another. I stay because I love being a part of this community and want to do my part to help all artists not just survive but thrive.