Arts Coalition


The Creative Economy in Buncombe County spans over 8 supersectors and supports 14,000+ jobs. In order to better serve the many diverse arts professionals and businesses in our community, the Asheville Area Arts Council formed the Arts Coalition in 2021 to drive policy in key focus areas, including: Arts Education, Arts Equity, Manufacturing, Nonprofits, Performance Venues, Professional & Business Services (Design, Advertising, and Photography), Public Arts, Festivals, and Community Events, Recording, Publishing & Film, Sole Proprietors/ Independent Contractors, Trade/ Retail. 

Each focus area is led by a committee chair, who holds quarterly focus area meetings and serves on the leadership team–which is comprised of all the committee chairs and the arts council Executive Director. Any member of the arts council is welcome to join one or more of these Arts Coalition committees. Committee members help provide valuable insight and expertise as we consider issues impacting different segments of our creative community. Committees will vote to elect a new committee chair at the annual Creative Sector Summit (we will skip the 2021 election since this is still in development).

With input from the Arts Coalition committees, the leadership team crafts a list of annual policy goals for the creative sector (see below) and is actively involved in the planning of the Creative Sector Summit.

Arts Coalition

2021-2022 Meeting Schedule

Arts Education
Aug. 23, Nov. 22, Feb. 28, May 23

Arts Equity
Sept. 27, Nov. 15, Feb. 21, May 16

Sept. 8, Dec. 8, Mar. 9, June 8

Aug. 25, Dec. 8, Mar. 2, May 25

Performance Venue
Sept. 15, Dec. 15, Mar. 16, June 15

Professional & Business Services
Sept. 20, Dec. 20, Mar. 21, June 20

Public Art, Community Events, & Festivals
Sept. 13, Dec. 13, Mar. 14, June 13

Recording, Publishing, & Film
Sept. 29, Dec. 6, Mar. 7, June 6

Sole Proprietors & Independent Contractors
Sept. 9, Dec. 9, Mar. 10, June 9

Trade/ Retail
Sept. 23, Nov. 17, Feb. 16, May 18

All meeting take place at 6pm on Zoom, unless otherwise announced.

Committee Chairs

Laura Mitchell
Laura Mitchell
Arts Education Chair
Buncombe County Schools Arts Education Specialist
Stephanie Hickling Beckman
Stephanie Hickling Beckman
Arts Equity Chair
Executive Director, Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collection
AAAC - Gar Ragland
Gar Ragland
Manufacturing Chair
Owner & CEO, Citizen Vinyl and Producer & President, NewSong Music
Jessica Tomasin
Jessica Tomasin
Recording, Publishing, & Film Chair
Founder, Connect Beyond Festival and Studio Manager, Echo Mountain Recording
Rae Geoffrey
Rae Geoffrey
Nonprofit Chair
Managing Director, Wortham Center for the Performing Arts
AAAC - Liz Whalen Tallent
Liz Whalen Tallent
Performance Venue Chair
Managing Partner, The Orange Peel & Rabbit Rabbit
Reggie Tidwell
Reggie Tidwell
Professional & Business Services Chair
Owner, Curve Theory
Justin Rabuck
Justin Rabuck
Public Art, Community Events, & Festivals Chair
Owner & Co-Founder, Horse & Hero and The Big Crafty
Gwynne Rukenbrod Smith
Sole Proprietor & Independent Contractor Chair
Craft Your Commerce Program Director
Michael Manes
Michael Manes
Trade Chair
Gallery Director, Blue Spiral 1

2021-2022 Policy Focus Areas

American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan (ARP), is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the ongoing recession.

As part of this plan, Buncombe County ($50.6M) and the City of Asheville ($26.1M) are about to receive an unprecedented amount of federal stimulus funding. Now is the time to let our local officials know that investment in the arts is crucial for small business and job recovery and to foster community healing from the trauma we have experienced over the past year.

Arts Equity

There are many systemic changes that need to take place across the creative sector. Some major focus areas include diversifying arts leadership, supporting the creation and development of BIPOC owned businesses, and making racial equity programs more affordable for arts organizations. 

As the Creative Jobs Report highlights, creative leadership occupations were held by 82% White non-Hispanic, 9% Black non-Hispanic, and 3% Latinx workers. Leadership roles are held mostly by White non-Hispanic males, with an increasing number in the 25-34 and 65+ age ranges. Though the report reflects positive growth in female workers’ leadership roles from 2015-2019, growth has not been as high among Black non-Hispanic and Latinx workers. More work is needed to increase diversity among leadership and create support systems for the development and growth of BIPOC owned creative businesses.

Equity audits cost between $10,000- 60,000 based on the size of the organization and REI workshops cost around $12,000-20,000. The cost of these programs has been identified as a barrier for many creative organizations, especially after the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that we find ways to make these resources accessible for arts organizations across Buncombe County.

Arts ARE Education

As a result of the pandemic, arts education in school districts across the state are facing budget shortfalls that may lead to arts spending cuts, a remedial focus on other subjects to combat learning loss and a need for personal protective equipment (PPE) that is specific to the arts classroom. The Arts ARE Education. Learn more>>

Buncombe County Comprehensive Plan

In 2021, Buncombe County will begin the process of creating a new 20-year comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan is used by local governments as a broad, long-range planning tool for the community. This plan will look at the relationships between land uses, infrastructure, and key community needs. A successful comprehensive plan will guide growth and address community needs and priorities through a series of objectives, strategies, and goals. Help us ensure that arts and culture are not left out of this strategic plan! 

Learn more about the plan here


Buncombe County Occupancy Tax Funding

he arts sector supports the proposed change in the Buncombe County occupancy split from 25/75 to 33/66 as presented in 2020. This means $8.3 million each year available for parks, sports facilities, cultural arts, heritage, and history projects, and city and county infrastructure through the Tourism Product Development Fund, administered by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. This legislation also expands the flexibility of the Tourism Product Development Fund to go beyond the current limits of only “brick and mortar” capital projects, which would mean more funding for arts and cultural programs, especially the performing arts which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

History of the Buncombe County Occupancy Tax

Creative Manufacturing
Land of Sky Regional Council has partnered with Asheville Area Arts Council and WNC Arts on the Cultivating Creativity Project. This is an exploratory process to discover expanding manufacturing in WNC to better support the creative sector. Creative manufacturing grew 23% from 2015-2019 in Buncombe County, and our region has a growing number of creative sector talent that could be poised for scalable growth to create authentic quality jobs.
For Arts Sake, Wear a Mask

More than 30 organizations have signed on to the Asheville Area Arts Council’s pledge to require masks indoors and strongly encourage masks outdoors. Learn More>>

Increased Local Government Support for the Arts

In 2019, the local creative sector was responsible for 9,636 local jobs and generated $1.6B in industry sales. However, the NC Arts Council’s 2018-9 report shows Buncombe County ranks last among tier 3 counties for local government funding for local arts councils at just $.01 per capita. The average for tier 3 counties is $.70 per capita. Additionally, neither the City nor County have any designated staff for arts and culture resulting in the arts being overlooked in policy and funding decisions. Learn More>>

Increasing Creative Wages & Setting Wage Standards

The cost of living in the Asheville Metro area is higher than the national average and the second-highest in the state in 2019. This is further compounded by the fact that average wages for jobs in Buncombe County were 16% lower than state and 30% lower than national averages in 2019.

A comprehensive analysis of all creative jobs is needed to better understand the creative occupations with the highest discrepancies, as well as to determine how earnings are impacted by education, race and ethnicity, gender, and age.

See AAAC’s Creative Jobs Report to learn more.

Noise Ordinance

On July 27th, Asheville City Council passed a new Noise Ordinance which will go into effect on Sept 15th. It includes curfews, decibels levels, new enforcement staff, and the formation of a Noise Advisory Board. Learn More>>>

Public Art Masterplan

The City of Asheville’s Public Art Master Plan is 20 years old, and the Public Art & Cultural Commission (PACC) has stated that updating the master plan is one of their top priorities. The Asheville Area Arts Council supports this initiative and would like to see equitable creative placemaking incorporated into the plan to enhance community engagement and overall positive benefits as a result of the city’s Public Art Program. Taking an equitable creative placemaking approach to public art means “the strategic integration of arts, culture, and community-engaged design into comprehensive community planning and development.”

Visit the City of Asheville’s Public Art Program page to view the current Public Art Masterplan.