By Harley Nefe
Amber Bateman officially took over as the new executive director of the Watauga County Arts Council, after Cherry Johnson retired Aug. 1.
Bateman said she really enjoyed working with Johnson over the past month during the transition between directors. Due to COVID-19, they weren’t able to work in the office together in person. Instead all the training took place via Zoom. Johnson also made short videos for Bateman, explaining things about the building and some of her processes, and as Bateman said, “It was a wealth of information!”
About a year ago, High Country Press announced Johnson’s retirement in the August/September 2019 magazine, and Bateman saw the article.
“It kind of piqued my interest, and I kept thinking about what I would love to do with the community and with the arts, and I really wanted to see some fresh programs rolling out and maybe a more unified, cohesive front for the arts in our community,” Bateman said.
When the Watauga County Arts Council posted that they were going to start accepting applications, Bateman jumped on the opportunity.
“To me, it’s really a lot less about the position and a lot more about wanting to be an agent of change for the arts in the community,” Bateman said.
As the facilities director of the Blue Ridge ArtSpace, Bateman will now help oversee all of the projects that happen and act as a liaison to the community for the Watauga County Arts Council and making sure the arts are present in the community.
“I have enjoyed meeting various members who have come into the Blue Ridge ArtSpace,” Bateman said. “It is exciting to see all the talent that the organization represents. I am eager to meet more of our members and patrons of the Watauga County Arts Council. I am also eager to make connections with artists and art lovers that aren’t yet involved with our organization.”
Bateman’s goal for the future is to build upon the work Johnson has already done through the Arts Council and to branch out more into Watauga County, but also using the building of the Blue Ridge ArtSpace as a hub for creativity, education and community.
“For me, I really would love to start to see more community engagement outside of the Blue Ridge ArtSpace building and start to see more art shows and ways for artists to present their work that is not directly tied to this building, and I would love to see the Blue Ridge ArtSpace engage in more classes and offer more opportunities for community groups to come in here,” Bateman said.
Bateman also said they are working on adding more members to the Board of Directors and their goal is to find board members who have skill sets and expertise in areas that can help propel the organization forward.
“We are in a place of questioning everything and taking the time to reevaluate goals,” Bateman said. “The board is excited and energized. Be looking out for good things in the future!”
Bateman also said she wants to start networking with Appalachian State University, the county commissioners and the Town of Boone to start to find out what the community wants and how they can begin to collaborate to serve those wants and needs.
“I am eager to start building relationships with community partners in order to achieve the goal of making the arts a presence in our community,” Bateman said. “I am excited to be able to combine my love of the High Country — my home — with my experience in community organizing and my passion for the arts. I want to see the arts be a destination of the High Country.”
Bateman has always been an art dabbler herself, as she reflected on growing up with her mom and always doing art projects or drawing at the kitchen table. She went through high school and took pottery classes before taking a gap year and working as a photographer. She has interests in pottery, clay carving and sculpture, but most recently, she has been playing around with painting and inks.
Bateman also worked with Quiet Givers and the Back 2 School Festival, where she poured her creative energy. In years since, Bateman helped with the High Country Beer Fest, where she directed it a couple of times. In all, she has a lot of experience with community organizing.
“I know a lot of the community around here, and so that is where my passion for wanting to support them and to show the great talent that I know is already here comes from,” Bateman said. “I think what I love about this job and another reason why I dreamed of getting it is it combines my love for the arts and my desire to want to see the arts really be a core part of what Watauga County is.”