Business & Economic News

State Pushes Arts Council to Improve

Ryan Hanchett

Oct. 11, 2017

The results of a community assessment of the arts completed by the North Carolina Arts Council were made public for the first time at the Macon County Public Library on Thursday night.

While the assessment acknowledged many accomplishments of arts-related programs conducted by the Macon County Arts Council, it also shed light on some areas that need improvement. Leighann Wilder with the N.C. Arts Council reviewed the findings with more than a dozen art enthusiasts.

“Each year the N.C. Arts Council provides grants to the 83 local councils across the state and during the grant scoring process the last two years we found that Macon County scored below expectations,” Wilder said. “The goal of this assessment, and we have done these in several counties, is to find ways to improve the local arts council’s efforts and get them to where they are back to being satisfactory.”

Wilder noted that arts and culture is a $2.1 billion business sector in North Carolina and that Macon County has the assets in place to grow itsarts-based economy, but those resources are being “underutilized and/or not properly promoted.”

Alongside staff members from Leslie Anderson Consulting, Wilder completed 27 in-person interviews, four focus groups and analyzed 101 surveys that were returned regarding the state of the arts locally. Many of the responses noted that there was no common thread linking independent arts-focused groups like Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center, The Bascom, Highlands Performing Arts Center and Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts.

“That is what an arts council should do,” Wilder noted. “There needs to be brand building, promotion and the arts council offerings need to be diversified and enhanced.”

The need for more active board members and increased community engagement also caught Wilder’s eye in the assessment’s survey responses. She noted that the arts council is not regularly at the table with town and county elected officials.

“Our local board is very active in the schools and a lot of our funds go toward those school programs,” Macon County Arts Council volunteer Claire Suminski said. “I get that there is room for improvement, but it seems like an awful lot of the negative responses were from only a few people who completed the survey.”

Wilder reaffirmed that the purpose of the assessment, which was funded jointly by the N.C. Arts Council and Macon County Arts Council, was not to bring up past shortcomings but to learn from experience as a way to improve local arts programming.

Macon County received $14,113 in grants from the state earlier this year to continue its Grassroots Arts Program.
“Our agency’s job is to ensure that there is a strong arts council representing each of the state’s 100 counties,” Wilder said. “For example, if you Google the Macon County Arts Council you are led to a website that is working now, but was down for more than two years. It’s things like that, where an outlet for coordination and promotion is not being used that need addressed.”

Macon County Arts Council Executive Director Bobbie Contino noted that the website is functioning currently and that the page is being redesigned by volunteer Marty Greeble.

“Marty is working on changing the site to be more user friendly,” Contino said. “We also have had a lot of help from the Franklin Chamber of Commerce in promoting our events on their site. We understand the need for a more cohesive informational and promotional effort.”

Wilder stressed the importance of seeing the arts from a broader perspective and gave several examples of towns and counties that have made arts programming part of their economic development strategy. Asheville has long been a leader in arts programming and is recognized by government officials for its importance to the economic fabric of the community.

“In so many counties we hear the same thing, ‘art is a luxury or art is non-essential,’” Wilder said. “Does anyone think the arts are a luxury to Buncombe County or the City of Asheville? Because I can assure you that they are vital to both.”

Macon County Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins encouraged the crowd of art buffs to think of the state’s assessment as a way to regroup and emerge bigger and better than ever before.

“When you get down to it there is an opportunity here to take the recommendations put forth in the assessment and go in some new directions,” Jenkins said. “I don’t see this report as a critique of the arts council, its volunteers or its programs. I see it as a clear way to build on what we have in place and to make the arts more prominent across the county.”

Over the remaining months of 2017, Wilder will continue to meet with the Macon County Arts Council board to see what improvements the board decides to implement based on the assessment data.

Access the Macon County Arts Community Assessment Here (PDF Format)