By Jesse Wood
May 15, 2012. After months of uncertainty, the Watauga County Arts Council (WCAC) finally moved out of the Jones House Community Center in downtown Boone last night at 11:30 p.m.
This comes after the organization decided not to accept the Town of Boone’s three-month extension to lease the Jones House into September, after which the WCAC would have had to find a new home, and comes a month after the Town of Boone created in April the Cultural Resources Board, which will take over managerial duties of the Jones House.
“It’s been a rough year. I’ve been at the Jones House for 20 years, the Arts Council [has been at Jones House for] 25. It’s a major part of our history and my history as an individual,” WCAC Executive Director Cherry Johnson said. “I dearly love that building, and I always will, but it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.”
This Tuesday morning, Johnson and WCAC President Mike Wise were moving stuff into their new home inside the Appalachian Enterprise Center at 130 Poplar Grove Connector.
“We are filling this building with not only art but action,” Johnson said, adding that artwork will fill the walls of the entire center.
The Committee of 100, which consists of 100 people who annually pledge $1,000, donated a three-room suite inside the Enterprise Center, leased from Watauga County, to the WCAC. The timeline of the donated lease is unknown as of right now, but Johnson “suspects it’s a good long time.”
Johnson said the WCAC also has donated gallery and retail space in an “excellent location” in downtown Boone. She wouldn’t give exact details until the deal is finalized. The grand opening and celebration is expected to happen at a “very soon” date. She added that storage space for artwork has been donated and is located at the same place Cheap Joes stores items. Also, she said that WCAC has leads for studio spaces for artists, who need a place to create and showcase artwork.
“We are extremely fortunate that we have a community that believes in the Arts Council and what we are doing,” Johnson said. “There are so many different directions [we can go in].”
The Jones House and the WCAC has been synonymous for at least two decades. When people would go to see events hosted or presented by the WCAC, people automatically just said, “I am going to the Jones House.” Johnson said that by moving out of the Jones House, it would allow the WCAC a chance to clarify its mission and serve outlying parts of the county more.
“Even though we had good intentions, being in that space has us serving more in Boone than other places,” Johnson said. “We are real excited about wanting to go out into the county and doing more. I want to serve Foscoe, Deep Gap, Cove Creek, Mable and Blowing Rock.”
The Concerts on the Lawn, which is property of the WCAC, is still kind of up in the air. Though, Johnson did say that the WCAC has had an offer for one indoor space to host the summer concerts and an outdoor setting is possibly in the works. Any announcements regarding the music series will come in a couple weeks, Johnson said. The series starts June 1.
Mark Freed, the folklorist who ran the music programs for the WCAC, is no longer employed by the WCAC. Funds for his position were provided through the Town of Boone via “TDA money,” Wise said. Freed was seen meeting with the Town Manager Greg Young last week at Town Hall.
J.A.M. (Junior Appalachian Musicians) program is evolving as well. Most likely, the program will move into area schools and community centers as an after-school program, Johnson said, adding that the program had outgrown the Jones House before the move.
After months of the uncertainty and the unknown looming, members of the WCAC are excited at the chance for a fresh start.
“We are excited and energized and want the community to jump in and be a part of it. We are looking forward to a big bright future,” Johnson said. “We are 31 years old and what will the next 30 years hold? You know, it feels like we just got started and are heading down a real rosy path.”
Looking out into the parking of the Appalachian Enterprise Center on Tuesday morning, Watauga County Arts Council President Mike Wise said, “There’s nothing here on Saturday’s except football games. Can you see a [art] festival? Anyway, our creative juices are flowing.”
This morning, the galleries of the Jones House were empty, and multiple construction workers were sanding the interior walls of the building and performing other odd jobs and very minor renovations. An employee of the town sat at the front desk of the Jones House. She wouldn’t give her name, but she did say, “We are trying to see where we are. We want to get the community involved and get this going again as soon as possible.”