Crossing the line

When Mountain Xpress staffer Steve Rasmussen received a press release last month from the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, “a potentially very controversial item caught my eye,” he says. The release listed a variety of activities offered by Asheville Parks & Rec for school-age children during spring break, including a field trip to the Back Yard Bible Camp at Shiloh Center.

Rasmussen sent an e-mail inquiring about the legality of a publicly funded agency sending kids to a Bible camp. He also asked how this activity fit with the department’s stated policy that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion in its programs and services.

In a reply e-mail, Recreation Division Superintendent Butch Kisiah wrote: “Upon further review … we have determined that you are probably correct with your concerns about the religious nature of the program. While [it] is intended to bring volunteers into the center to provide arts and crafts activities along with snacks for the children, we understand that there is a story time offered by the volunteers that may have religious connotations. We are therefore canceling the camp.”

Kisiah further clarified the matter in a later telephone interview. While the department doesn’t have a specific policy on sending kids to such a camp, he said, “We’re a government unit, and there’s obviously a separation of church and state.”

Kisiah said his original understanding had been that the camp was a group of teen and young-adult volunteers sponsored by the Baptist Association to serve as instructors and provide supplies for arts-and-crafts classes.

About the time Rasmussen sent his e-mail, Kisiah explains, he found out that the camp would also involve a story time featuring Bible stories. Although program staff informed him that parents were required to sign a permission form for their kids to participate in this activity, Kisiah says he “felt like, from my perspective, that kind of crossed the line between church and state, and so I canceled the class.” An alternative arts-and-crafts program was developed for the kids, he explained, with Parks & Rec staff as instructors.

When asked why the camp’s name hadn’t raised a red flag for him initially, Kisiah answered: “To me, it’s more … what does the program entail? It’s what you’re going to do once [the kids] get there is what I was more concerned with.

“It’s a fine program; I don’t have any problem with it,” Kisiah added. “But because of the story time, I felt that [it] probably crossed that line [separating church and state]. If the department were to allow this particular program, he explained, “then we would obviously open that Pandora’s box to say, ‘OK, everybody, you can come in and here’s an audience of kids for you to give … your message [to].’ And that’s not what we want to do. We just want the kids to have a good time during spring break.”

Celebrating our folk heritage

It’s the 75th anniversary of the venerable Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. To help mark that milestone, the Folk Heritage Committee is presenting a Folk Heritage Celebration Series to explore the rich cultural traditions that gave birth to the nation’s first folk festival. The free series will include evening performances and discussions with some of Southern Appalachia’s finest musicians, dancers and scholars.

The first event, “Field Recordings & Fiddletunes of the Swannanoa Valley: The Legacies of Artus Moser and Marcus Martin,” will take place Saturday April 20, 7 p.m. in Warren Wilson College’s Bryson Gym, in conjunction with the college’s daylong Appalachian Music and Folklife Festival.

The program will sample the invaluable collections of musician/teacher/ballad collector Artus Moser (1894-1992), who worked to record, document and preserve the music of the Swannanoa Valley and Western North Carolina. In doing so, the program will also highlight the style and influences of one of Moser’s primary sources, renowned fiddler Marcus Martin (1881- 1974).

In the 1940s, Moser became the first Appalachian native to record mountain performers for the Library of Congress. He also worked closely with Bascom Lamar Lunsford, founder of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. As lead scholar and facilitator for the program, Steve Weiss of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Center will give a multimedia presentation on Moser and his field recordings of ballad singers, fiddle players and other musicians, including those collected at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1940s.

In addition, Artus’ daughters Joan and Irene Moser will discuss their father’s life and work in the Swannanoa Valley and screen segments of the 1985 documentary Artus Moser of Buckeye Cove. Local musicians Bruce Greene and Don Pedi will demonstrate Martin’s fiddle tunes and discuss his style and impact on other fiddlers throughout the country. Martin’s son, Wade Martin, will be on hand to discuss his father’s life and music.

Other events in the series will include “The Past, Present & Future of Southern Appalachian Dance Traditions” (Thursday May 2, 7 p.m. at Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee); “A Celebration of the Musical Families of Madison County” (Saturday May 18, 7 p.m. at Mars Hill College’s Owen Theater); and “Ballads to Bluegrass — A Mountain Music Sampler” (Monday May 27, 7 p.m. in the John C. Campbell Folk School’s Keith House in Brasstown, N.C.). This year’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival takes place Aug. 1-3 in the Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place in downtown Asheville.

For more information, call 258-6101 ext. 789, or visit the committee’s Web site (

Art auction to build Claxton School endowment

Since 1993, the children of Claxton Elementary School have enjoyed hands-on arts experiences during what might otherwise have been idle afternoons. Almost 75 percent of Claxton’s student body takes advantage of the school’s After School Arts Program, learning from such disciplines as movement and dance, clay, puppetry, cartooning, quilting, stamp-making, storytelling, guitar, chess and drumming, as well as participating in theater workshops that help prepare them for staging a major production.

Although the program has been a success, “The program costs are not completely covered by the fees involved,” explains Principal Linda Ferguson. The registration fees ($15 per class) and scholarships provided by the PTO cover just one-third of the staffing expenses. Other costs include materials, curriculum development and promotion, and theater-production costs

“We want to create a self-sustaining source that will fund the program for years to come,” says Ferguson. To that end, fund-raising began a year ago to establish a Claxton After School Endowment Fund. Almost $20,000 has been raised so far toward a goal of $50,000. The endowment fund will be administered by the Asheville City Schools Foundation.

Hoping to make more headway toward that goal, Claxton is holding its second annual Evening for the Arts on Thursday April 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the school’s gymnatorium (241 Merrimon Ave.). Works by local artists, including both Claxton students and area professionals, will be displayed and auctioned in an open-outcry format. Between bidding periods, a lively showcase of multitalented performers from Claxton’s after-school program will entertain the crowd. The event is free and open to the public.

Among the art up for auction are works by potters George Handy and Lee Heminger, glass blower Richard Crisp, painter James Cassara and sculptor Jonathan Gilbert. Also featured will be a hand-carved walking stick by Tom Godleski, a hand-painted jewelry box by Jane Robinson, and donations from Seven Sisters and Grovewood galleries.

Says Ferguson, “Arts are really important at Claxton Elementary, and we want to make sure that the after-school programming is available for students year after year.”

For more information about the event, call Ferguson at 255-5367.

Dining for a cause

Whether your taste in dining runs to black tie or blue jeans, an outdoor barbecue or the finest haute cuisine, you can help make it happen as part of the Western North Carolina AIDS Project’s seventh annual “Night to Remember” benefit.

WNCAP is asking friends and supporters to host dinner parties in their homes between now and May 4. Dinner guests will be asked to make a donation to WNCAP, and both they and their host will receive tickets for the “Night to Remember” gala at Shotzy’s (in the historic S&W Building in downtown Asheville) on Saturday May 4 at 9 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by Stephanie’s Id and Ms. Ruby Mayfield. In addition, more than 30 of Asheville’s finest restaurants will donate their favorite desserts. The celebrity guest will be WLOS-TV anchorperson Tammy Watford.

Those not hosting or attending parties can dine at participating restaurants — The Savoy, the Charlotte Street Pub (upstairs), The Golden Horn and John Henry’s — on May 4 and have a portion of the check donated to WNCAP. Restaurant diners and others wishing to attend the gala may make a donation at the door.

WNCAP provides client services to more than 300 men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as conducting AIDS education-and-prevention training throughout WNC.

For more information or to host a dinner, call WNCAP at 252-7489, ext. 25.

Recalling Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College was one of this country’s most innovative experiments in art-based education. Communal living; small, informal class settings; class discussions that were continued in the dining room and into the evening hours; and a lack of grades (paired with rigorous examination of students before certification) were all hallmarks of the educational experience at Black Mountain (1933-1956).

The college’s unique approach attracted an extraordinary mix of distinguished scholars and creative artists, many of whom were refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. BMC evolved into a center for disseminating European avant-garde ideas to young Americans, many of whom went on to become leaders in the arts and education.

The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center has organized a series of BMC alumni gatherings to enable people who were actually there to help tell the complex story of Black Mountain College.

The fourth in the series, “Points of View IV: The Black Mountain College Experience,” will happen Saturday April 20 at Camp Rockmont (the BMC campus from 1941-56.) The event will begin with a tour of the campus at 4 p.m.; a screening of the documentary film Black Mountain College: A Thumbnail Sketch by Monty Diamond at 5 p.m.; and a panel discussion with BMC alumni at 5:30 p.m. Admission for the tour, film & panel is $15 ($10 for members and students); and for the film & panel only, $10 ($5 for members and students).

The six participating BMC alumni are: actress/art researcher Leslie Paul Symington, who wrote to her father in September 1940, “No matter what anyone else thinks, it is a great privilege to be able to come to a place like this while there is still such a place in the world”; humanities Professor Alma Stone Williams, the first African-American student to attend the college, who has called it “an exhilarating, unforgettable 11-weeks experience that helped shape my life”; theater lighting designer Nick Cernovitch; artist Dorothea Rockburne; editor Marie Tavroges Symington; and artist Susan Weil.

For more information, call 299-9306 or visit the BMC Museum & Arts Center’s Web site (

Downtown-revitalization pioneer to speak

Nationally known downtown-revitalization expert Mary Means will kick off a free, three-part series titled “Building an Economically Healthy Downtown: The Basis for a Prosperous Community.” In Asheville, Means will speak on Tuesday April 23, 10:30 a.m. at Asheville Community Theatre (35 E. Walnut St.). She’ll also give presentations on Monday April 22 in the Swain County Arts Center in Bryson City (9:30 a.m.) and at the Broyhill Conference Center on the ASU campus in Boone (7 p.m.). All presentations are open to the public.

Means is best known as the creator of the Main Street Program, a national organization that has helped hundreds of downtowns across the country find new life by rehabilitating old buildings, encouraging new development and marketing these traditional downtown districts to customers, potential investors, new businesses, residents and visitors. Her firm, MaryMeans & Associates, helps communities with visioning, civic engagement and planning.

Other speakers in the series will include seven-term Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joe Riley (July 18-19) and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tom Hylton (Sept. 19-20).

For more information, call 251-6914.

And the winning artichoke is …

The ninth annual Organic Growers School last month not only offered dozens of workshops but also hosted 36 exhibitors who showcased a variety of locally and/or organically grown products. These were judged in a number of different categories, and winners were announced at the end of the day.

Here are the first-/second-place winners, respectively. Best Locally Grown Plant: Jake’s Farm (for their artichoke)/Oliver Organics (for their nasturtium); Best Value-Added Non-Food Product: Arthur Morgan School (heirloom seeds)/Red Moon Herbs (Pregnant Goddess Kit and Power Pack); Best Value-Added Food Product: Yancey County Farmers’ Market (Masoni goat cheese)/Open Sesame (chocolate-chip cookies); Best Packaging for a Local Product: Herbworks and Everlastings (flower lamps)/Yancey County Farmers’ Market (oils); Best Local Produce Product: Jake’s Farm (mesclun)/Good Earth Organics (red oak leaf).

The Organic Growers School is a joint project of Blue Ridge Community College, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

For information on exhibiting at the March 2003 Organic Growers School, call Elly Wells at 258-3387.


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.