For the love of public transportation
During his 16 years as a board member for the Asheville Transit Authority (now the Asheville Transit Commission), Tom Tomlin — who served under four different mayors and assorted City Councils, as well as three transit-system managers — saw the bus fare go from 50 cents to 75 cents, the acquisitions of a brand new fleet of buses and the construction of the new Transit Center.
Tomlin had the unusual honor of serving four terms — most members serve only one or two — before retiring last December. He was invited back to a board meeting in January where he received a resolution of appreciation as well as an award of gratitude for his extensive service, which included one year as vice chairman and 10 years as chairman.
Says Tomlin about his time on the board: “I am very appreciative of all the board members I have served with. They all have had an input in operations of transit, in some form or fashion. I’ve enjoyed working with [them] and with City Council.”
Tomlin’s desire to serve on the board reflected his lifelong interest in public transit. As a teenager, he used to ride around town with some of the city bus divers.
“I enjoyed meeting people and seeing the people that rode the bus all the time,” he explains.
When Tomlin turned 21, he obtained a chauffeur’s license. “I started working for what used to be the White Transportation Co. … doing school runs and charters, and sometimes I would fill in on regular [city bus] runs,” he recalls.
Not surprisingly, Tomlin majored in transportation at college. He continued to work as a driver part-time until he became a full-time insurance adjuster in 1971. But Tomlin couldn’t get his love for public transit out of his system, so in 1985 he applied for a seat on the Transit Authority board.
“I guess [once] you get it in your blood, you just can’t get it out,” he jokes.
“I hope the system keeps operating and keeps growing,” adds Tomlin. “Asheville is a place that you need transit. There’s between 4,000 and 4,500 people that ride the bus every day.”
High Country Art & Craft Guild faces financial crisis
Last month, the High Country Art & Craft Guild sent out letters to all its friends and supporters informing them that the organization was on the brink of bankruptcy. According to Administrative Director Gail Gomez, it was only by borrowing money that the group was able to pay its rent this month. “That’s where we are at this point,” she said.
The Guild’s present financial difficulties trace back to Hurricane Floyd, explains Gomez. Because the hurricane hit North Carolina a week before the 1999 Kituwah Festival, attendance to that event was much lower than anticipated. On top of this, the Guild lost $50,000 in support for the next year’s festival, promised by the N.C. General Assembly when legislators redirected those funds to hurricane relief.
Another factor contributing to the Guild’s financial troubles is the severe economic decline that Gomez says has taken place in the arts-and-crafts market over the last 18 months. She attributes this decline to a number of causes, including Y-2K confusion, election-year jitters and the recent slowdown of the economy.
All these factors have curtailed discretionary spending by both individuals and businesses, says Gomez. “Arts and crafts are not … considered necessary. It’s not just this area; trade shows all over the country are hurting.”
And due to lower sales at recent Guild shows, exhibitors have found themselves “cash-short” and unable to commit to future shows and festivals, says Gomez. But that’s bad news for the Guild, which largely relies on its constituents for operating capital. As Gomez puts it, “They get a cold, we get pneumonia.”
Citing the recent Winterfest Craft Show held at the Asheville Mall as an example, Gomez said: “Usually we go in with 70 to 80 craftspeople … with 25 on standby. This year we [went] in with only 30.”
The Guild was founded in 1975 to help producing artisans earn a living from their art. Originally known as the High Country Crafters, the organization was a pioneer in downtown revitalization. In 1976, the group opened the High Country Crafters Gallery in downtown Asheville, then largely deserted. The gallery remained in operation for nearly 20 years.
Besides working closely with the city in the early years of the Bele Chere festival, the Guild has also established seven large annual craft/trade shows, including the High Country Christmas Art & Craft Show at the Asheville Civic Center, the Kituwah American Indian Celebration and thrice-yearly Art & Craft Shows at Asheville Mall.
“Our shows provide artists not only with marketing opportunities,” explains Gomez, “but an opportunity to learn the skills of marketing. We do consultation on merchandising, pricing, booth design, goal setting. … We take people who are just starting out or established artists trying to earn a living from their art.”
The Guild maintains a working data base of over 5,000 art-and-craft exhibitors from across North Carolina, east Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, plus another 2,000 artists nationally. Says Gomez, “We’re a national organization which a lot of people don’t realize.”
Together, says Gomez, Kituwah and the six regional High Country craft shows pump in $15.7 million into the Asheville economy each year, as well as generating between $1.5 and $2 million in income for crafters. These figures are based on the results of questionnaires filled out by artists and customers using a formula approved by the state to calculate the results.
The Guild also facilitates several Arts-In-Education programs, which places professional artists, storytellers, dancers, musicians and other visual and performing artists in local public schools to give children hands-on arts experience and to teach them about the region’s arts-and-crafts heritage.
Through these programs, explains Gomez, more than 80 artists visit 18,000 children in 120 schools throughout the area each year. “That’s a heck of an impact,” she says.
People wanting to support the Guild can do so in a number of ways, says Gomez. Because the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations are tax-deductible. There’s also the option of becoming a Guild member. The basic membership fee starts at $35 for individuals and $100 for businesses.
Says Gomez, “Contributors don’t have to be artists to support the Guild . … They can just support the purpose of the Guild. We’re open to any effort they’d like to make.”
To contact the Guild, call 254-0072.
Spring is a time of hope and renewal: Flowers bloom, gray winter skies brighten and senses pique. This coming spring also promises another beginning: that of the Swannanoa Playhouse. The new performance venue, scheduled to open on April 5 in Swannanoa, will feature a flexible staging and seating area to accommodate audiences of 96 to 192 persons. The 2001 season is shaping up to be an eclectic mix of plays and musicals as well as live music, comedy and cabaret.
Playhouse Artistic Director Keith Landon notes, “The Asheville area is filled with performers who deserve more opportunities to showcase their talents. We hope to become an asset to a broad range of the cultural community in Asheville.”
The Swannanoa Playhouse was created with a grant from the Constance M. Cramer Foundation, a local nonprofit organization established by the late Ms. Cramer’s estate. A former actress in San Francisco and Miami, Cramer had wished to retire to Asheville and become an active part of the local cultural community. After her death last October, her husband, Scott Shannon — an Asheville-area actor and director — created the foundation to carry out her dream.
Productions for the 2001 season will include Death Trap; The Apple Tree; Private Lives; Camelot’ Rodeo and Juliette (described by Scott Shannon as a “country/western take” on the Bard’s classic); Kings, Madmen, Fools and Lovers of William Shakespeare; and Corpus Christi (a modern retelling of the story of Christ).
Opportunities will abound at the Swannanoa Playhouse. Besides auditioning actors, the theater will also be hiring a technical director, a costumer, a house manager, a box-office manager and a choreographer, as well as guest directors for some shows.
Call 686-8990 for information about interviews and auditions. Interested performers are also invited to send a photo and resume to Landon at 294 Patton Cove Road, Swannanoa, NC 28778. For additional information, visit www.swannanoaplayhouse.com or call 779-2799.