By Harley Nefe
Executive Director Cherry Johnson of the Watauga County Arts Council officially retired Aug. 1. Johnson has been with the organization since 1992, making her time there exactly 28 years, which is an important number for her.
“I was born on the 28th, married on the 28th, and my last child was born on the 28th, so 28 seemed like a good number of years,” Johnson said.
During the days leading up to Johnson’s final day, she was working on putting together a photo essay of different pictures from the past years.
“Going through that, I was overwhelmed with how awesome it all was, and I was overwhelmed with, ‘Look at how much we did.’ It blew my mind,” Johnson said. “And several of the years, I would look and something would be dated that year and another thing would be dated that year and another thing. And I’m like, ‘How did we do all that?’ But we did!”
Johnson said she enjoyed looking through the photos over the years and being taken back to those moments.
“And seeing faces I haven’t seen in so many years, it was just fantastic to do that,” Johnson said. “That was the really great part of going back.”
Continuing to reminisce, Johnson said she wants to make sure history and all the things the Watauga County Arts Council has done over the years does not get lost, because the staff has worked really hard.
“I’m honored and awed that I was a part of all the things that had happened over the years,” Johnson said. “I am proud and amazed at the amount of talent and arts enthusiasm that we have in this community, and I feel like the Arts Council was a major part of helping that happen.”
Johnson further said when she traveled for the Arts Council and people would find out she’s from the High Country, they would know the area for the arts.
“You got this incredible array of artists that surround us in this community; we’re just such a rich community when it comes to the arts,” Johnson said. “And I’m just proud that I could be a part of it.”
During her retirement, Johnson is going to be traveling with her husband in a motorhome, which she said she wants it to be like a little house on wheels so they can travel wherever they want to go.
Johnson said their philosophy is to travel until they are tired of it, whether that be for six weeks, six months, six years, sixteen years or 28!
In addition, Johnson and her husband are going to do the 70 degrees tour as best they can.
“I found a meteorologist who had mapped out where you had to be each month of the year in order to remain at pretty much 70 degrees all the time,” Johnson said.
They will find places to camp, park and stay there for around a month, using their truck to do things all around the perimeter of wherever they are before taking the motorhome to the next place.
“We have seven grandchildren now, six grandsons and one granddaughter,” Johnson said. “I want to take each grandchild on their own trip just us and them and go somewhere that they helped us pick out and we do it together. So, I think that will be fun and keep us connected to our grandchildren.”
Johnson said she will also videotape and photograph their adventures and post it online so people can watch. And in her recreational and free time, Johnson plans on going back to making art.
“I was trained as a visual arts teacher, and I always did art all of my life. And I also was a trained pianist and taught piano lessons,” Johnson said. “I am rusty on all of it, but I have not forgotten it.”
Johnson said she plans on getting her skills back up to the level that they were. And while she is doing so, the new director of the Watauga County Arts Council will be resuming Johnson’s responsibilities.
The Watauga County Arts Council hired Amber Bateman to become the new director.
“In a way, Amber a little bit reminds me of me,” Johnson said. “She’s about the same age I was when I was hired. I have four children, and she has three. I had a lot of volunteer experience in the community and so forth, she does too. I recognize her energy; It looks very familiar. The more I talk to her and the more time I spend with her, the more similarities I see between us. I think she’ll do really, really well.”
Throughout Johnson’s final days working, she made phone calls to various individuals saying thank you.
“Just lots of folks around the community have made it easier to do what I do,” Johnson said. “And it’s because they care, and they support the organization, and they supported me, and I want to see that kind of relationship with the organization grow. It means a lot to me that so many people in the community have stood beside me and helped me, and it matters a lot, and I’m very grateful for it.”