Going beyond the card: Go Local gets learning

The beginning of December marks the third season of Go Local — a little card with a big ambition. Distributed by Asheville Grown Business Alliance, the loyalty program offers discounts and deals at participating local businesses as a way to encourage shoppers to support the local economy. But more than that, $10 of the $15 card cost goes to support Asheville City Schools, with the remaining $5 going to Asheville Grown Business Alliance projects.

Card sales will be used to support teacher grants, which are used for classroom supplies and technology, field trips, artist-in-residence programs and teacher professional development, says Kate Pett, director of the Asheville City Schools Foundation. Now more than ever, Pett says, the card sales are making a critical difference in the schools.

“Teacher professional development used to be something that was supported by the state, but now with the state budget, there’s zero funding for professional development,” says Pett. “This is such a key piece, this training our teachers.”

For Pett, the card is all about the slogan “Our Community, our economy, our schools.”

“This card will really close this loop between schools and the local economy,” she adds.

For information on where to purchase a Go Local card visit ashevillegrown.com.

Hall Fletcher Elementary’s mural, coordinated by Ian Wilkinson, is currently Asheville’s largest mural. (Carrie Eidson/ Mountain Xpress)

Look up: ‘Go Local’ scales the wall

To see Go Local in action, look to Hall Fletcher Elementary and the mural that covers the school’s entire front exterior. You can’t miss it. It’s not only the largest project ever undertaken by Asheville City Schools and its Teaching Artists Presenting in Asheville Schools (TAPAS) program — it’s currently the largest mural in Asheville.

“We’re the highest poverty concentration school in the district, but it doesn’t look like it,” says Hall Fletcher Principal Gordon Grant. “When you look around this school, it’s beautiful.”

The mural began as a collaboration between the TAPAS program and Roots + Wing’s Community Design Lab, which is affiliated with UNC Asheville. Artists Ian Wilkinson and Alex Irvine worked with Hall Fletcher’s then fourth-grade class to design and implement the mural and a mosaic that surrounds the school’s entrance.

Wilkinson, a 15-time TAPAS collaborator, came up with a way to make sure the students’ ideas were incorporated into the final product: He gave the students a blank line drawing of the school for them to draw on and fill with colors and shapes. The kids made more than 200 drawings that were weeded down, with the students’ input, into a final design.

“We really did not want to finalize the design without input from the kids,” Wikinson said. “The important thing for us was to let them be a major part of the design.”

The finished mural draws on elements of nature, including a three-dimensional tree trunk, and includes supersize portraits of some of the student artists themselves. The project expanded to include the mosaic, overseen by Irvine, that frames the school’s entrance. The piece incorporates ceramic tiles created by students from the fourth grade class, Asheville Middle School’s after-school program and UNCA. Parents, teachers, faculty, Asheville artists and other students also volunteered their time.

“It’s hard to describe the validation of working with kids on a project like this,” Irvine said. “It’s art at its best where it’s really transforming the school into a more desirable place for the kids to be.”

Though the project generated a lot of excitement, another thing it did was go over budget. Initially funded by a grant from the N.C. Arts Council, the mural and mosaic grew to a larger scale and complexity than was originally estimated, according to Pett. And that was where Go Local came in.

“Literally at the week where I was saying, ‘Oh no, I think we’re $4,000 over budget,’ the proceeds from the card exceeded our expectations by almost exactly the amount we were short,” said Pett. “It was amazing serendipity in that it really felt like this last bit of the proceeds was able to help fund a great community project.”

Fine Arts Theatre will partner with Asheville High for the 2014 Go Local season. (Courtesy of Asheville City Schools Foundation)

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

This year, for the first time, the Go Local card is creating partnerships between area schools and area businesses.

It works like this: If you buy a card at one of 13 participating business, $5 of the $15 you spend will go to the business’s partner school. According to Asheville Grown Business Alliance founder Franzi Charen, the idea was born as a way to put a face on the Go Local card, to show kids that local businesses are personally invested in their futures.

“The hope is that the connections started by the Go Local card will grow and foster deeper relationships between schools and businesses,” Charen said. “We want business owners to say, ‘That’s my school!’”

One of these partnerships is between Asheville High and the Fine Arts Theatre, owned by Neal Reed, who became involved because he was worried that education wasn’t getting the financial support it deserved.

“It doesn’t seem like education is as big a priority at the state level as it should be and needs to be,” Reed says. “Education is very important. Since we’re a big part of the community in Asheville, we just want to support our local school system.”

Chris Lenderman, head of the PTO for Asheville High and the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences, mentions that many in the community may not realize how crucial the money from card sales can be to Asheville schools.

“With the amount of budget cuts, so many things we take for granted are gone,” Lenderman says. “People think these funds the PTO oversees are to fund enrichment and enhancement. But we’re also funding fundamental needs for the classroom.”

The relationship between Fine Arts and Asheville High is already moving beyond filling the school’s budget gaps. Reed has donated passes for movie tickets and refreshments to the school’s teachers, and for the spring semester, the PTO is planning a series of events featuring documentaries or informational speakers that address education-based themes. The proposed series would screen at the Fine Arts Theatre as a way to raise community awareness about issues that affect education.

“We really want to go above and beyond the card and the money raised from the card sales,” says Reed.

Though this month-old partnership is in its early stages, Lenderman believes it will continue to grow and be mutually beneficial for both the school and the Fine Arts Theatre.

“It’s the first time we’ve had Go Local partners, but once we have our events in the spring, I think we will see benefits to both the school and our local businesses,” Lenderman says. “It’s a way to get people downtown, not only to support the Fine Arts Theatre but to support our other businesses as well.”

Other business and school partnerships include:
• Asheville Middle with Malaprop’s and Planet Art
• Claxton Elementary with BlackBird Frame & Art, Homegrown and Rosebud Video
• Hall Fletcher with Short Street Cakes and BattleCat
• Ira B. Jones Elementary with Relax Rujvenate
• Isaac Dickson Elementary with Second Gear
• Vance Elementary with West End Bakery and French Broad Chocolate Lounge
• Asheville High with its second partner, Hip Replacements.

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Katuah Market, The Hop and The Hop West are also selling Go Local cards, though they are not partnered with specific schools.

View the video to learn more about the collaboration between Asheville City Schools and Asheville Grown Business Alliance (Industrious Productions/ Courtesy of Asheville City Schools Foundation)

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About Carrie Eidson
Multimedia journalist and Green Scene editor at Mountain Xpress. Part-time Twitterer @mxenv but also reachable at ceidson@mountainx.com. Follow me @carrieeidson

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