Press release from Asheville Area Arts Council:
Longtime arts advocate and local arts pioneer John Ellis is the recipient of Arts Council’s John Cram Arts Leadership Award (fondly nicknamed “the Crammy”) for his service to the area arts community. He will be honored at this year’s State of the Arts Brunch, scheduled for Wednesday, November 2 at The Orange Peel.
Ellis served as Executive Director of the Diana Wortham Theatre, now the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, for two decades. During his tenure, he created the Mainstage Series, which brought nationally renowned touring shows and artists to the theater. The space became one of the most active in Western North Carolina, and an anchor cultural resource for local and visiting creatives, serving more than 55,000 patrons; 10,000 students, teachers, and families; and thousands of artists each season.
“I was blessed to spend the final 20 years of my career in Arts Management in Asheville,” Ellis shared. “The Wortham Theatre, and now Wortham Center, was created to assist in the revitalization of downtown Asheville, and it has been fascinating to watch the growth of downtown over the years and to see the role the arts and the Wortham played in that growth. The programs created during those early years of the Wortham continue to grow and reach new audiences, which is truly rewarding.”
Ellis has also been a leader and arts advocate outside of his work at Diana Wortham Theatre. His previous roles include Executive Director of the Broome Arts Council (Binghamton, NY), Director of the Stifel Fine Arts Center (Wheeling, WV), and Manager of the Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV). For years, he has dedicated himself to supporting and nurturing arts organizations throughout the region, grounded in his conviction that arts are for everyone. His local board service includes Leadership Asheville Forum, Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Horizons at Carolina Day, Arts NC, and North Carolina Presenters Consortium. He has also been honored with the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award and the Asheville Leadership Forum Circle of Excellence Award. In 2021, he emerged from retirement to serve as interim director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.
The award’s name honors local entrepreneur and philanthropist John Cram. Cram, who passed away in 2020, founded Blue Spiral 1, The Fine Arts Theatre, and Bellagio! Art to Wear. He was also a constant supporter of Asheville and the arts, opening his gallery at a time when much of downtown was shuttered. In alignment with Cram’s passion and legacy, award recipients have contributed significantly to the arts in Buncombe County.
“John Cram embodied the arts council’s mission to keep the arts at the heart of our community,” said Arts Council Executive Director Katie Cornell. “This award is our way of highlighting the amazing work of arts leaders in our community.”
Michael Manes, co-owner and Director of Blue Spiral 1, will present the award. “I could not think of a more fitting way to honor leaders in our creative community than with an award that celebrates the attributes, values, and dedication that John Cram possessed,” he said. “This award means that the vision, potential, and hope that John saw in Asheville forty plus years ago continues with next generation leaders. This year’s recipient of the John Cram Arts Leadership Award embodies all of these same characteristics.”
Ellis will receive a plaque and select an eligible arts-based nonprofit organization or community project to receive an arts council grant of $1,000. He plans to announce his choice at a later date.
“I was delighted and surprised to receive the news of the Award,” Ellis shared. “Recognition from peers and colleagues is meaningful in so many ways, and to receive an award named in honor of John Cram is even more meaningful. I guess it means that my contributions to the field, even in retirement, are having an impact, and for that I am grateful.”
Last year’s award went to DeWayne Barton, arts entrepreneur, activist, and founder and CEO of Hood Huggers International.
Learn more and reserve your seat for the State of the Arts Brunch at: ashevillearts.com/brunch