an unfolded map and a book of field notes

Field notes: Jeff Bell's visit to western North Carolina

Author: Jeff Bell

In our new series, “Field Notes,” Executive Director Jeff Bell will relay his experiences as he travels the state, meeting the constituents and peers who make North Carolina the artistic hub that it is. These face-to-face visits are a chance for Jeff to get to know whom the North Carolina Arts Council serves and also to see the impact of our service firsthand. Here, Jeff describes a recent trip to western North Carolina, where he visited Asheville and surrounding counties.

I began my trip by visiting the N.C. Stage Company, a theater celebrating 20 years of producing high-quality productions with professional, Actors Equity-member performers. I was shown around the theater by Charlie Finn-McIver, the company’s founder, and the staff. They have just begun their first full season since the pandemic, and will stage comedies, dramas, and new works centered on what it means to be human. 

After enjoying my time with Charlie and his staff, I joined board members of Arts North Carolina for a tour of the Asheville Art Museum. We were guided by Pamela Myers, the museum’s executive director. It’s been a few years since I visited. It was great to see the new building and the remarkable collection.

Afterward, we walked to the Center for Craft for the Arts NC board meeting. That was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with all of the members. I gave them a snapshot of the North Carolina Arts Council’s grant categories and explained how we intend to distribute $15 million this year.

On Tuesday, I began my day by visiting DeWayne Barton, a board member of the North Carolina Arts Council, who introduced me to two organizations he leads: Peace Gardens and Hood Huggers. These are transformative neighborhood projects that are doing important work in the Burton Street Community, a historically African American neighborhood in Asheville.

I then drove out to the western office of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, for a tour of the building and a meeting with, Zoe Van Buren, the North Carolina Arts Council folklife director. We had a chance to discuss her work in advising the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area on the development of the “Fine Tuned” project, a product of the Blue Ridge Music Trails inspired by ongoing efforts to support emerging traditional artists. Coordinated by BRNHA program manager Brandon Johnson, Fine Tuned is matching a diverse group of Appalachian musicians with mentors and peers for professional development, a compilation album release, and accompanying public programming that showcases the breadth and development of traditional music in the hands of next-generation artists.

The entrance to N.C. Stage Company's theater
The entrance to N.C. Stage Company's theater. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.
Jeff Bell doing an imprint rubbing on a mural in downtown Marshall. This mural project was funded in part by the N.C. Arts Council's SmART Community initiative.
Jeff Bell doing an imprint rubbing on a mural in downtown Marshall. This mural project was funded in part by the N.C. Arts Council's SmART Community initiative.
Hood Hugger International's bus
Hood Hugger International's bus. Hood Huggers is a community outreach and educational organization based in Asheville's Burton Street Community, a historically African American neighborhood.

I traveled back to downtown Asheville to meet Rae Geoffrey, managing director of Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, for a tour of the building and to learn more about the center’s performances, programs, and facilities. Wortham features national and international artists while also providing important support for local theater, music, and dance.

Tuesday afternoon I drove to Marshall to meet with Staci Meyer, the NC DNCR deputy secretary, and Laura Boosinger, the Madison County Arts Council executive director. I learned about their building renovations and saw a new public art project by Stonecloud Studio. It is a combination of large circular murals and cast-metal medallions located throughout downtown. The murals feature images tied to the history, culture, and natural elements of the area. Visitors are encouraged to grab a piece of paper and a crayon and do an imprint rubbing of the medallions. This project is an N.C. Arts Council SmART Community initiative and has received additional support from the NC DNCR and Hometown Strong, a state government initiative to hear and respond to the needs of rural counties.

My last stop, on Wednesday morning, was a visit to the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. There I met another Jeff: Jeff Arnal, who is the executive director there. I also got to meet Alice Sebrell, the director of preservation, and other staff. They have two compelling exhibitions on display--one by the artist Jo Sandman and another about the development and design of Black Mountain College.

I truly enjoyed my time with these folks in and around Asheville and learning about the important work their organizations do. I look forward to connecting with more organizations in the state.

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