By Tim Gardner
For the first time since the Avery Arts Council disbanded in 2012, a strong, grass-roots movement is underway and gaining steam in the community in support of starting the organization back to fund community art programs and projects to help improve and promote local culture.
Leading the effort to reform Avery County’s arts council is Tim Cummings, one of the founding members of the county’s new Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. The amount of grant funding that nearby JAM programs receive via their counties’ arts councils spurred Cummings’ interest in having an arts council.
“The question about the arts council came up as I was looking for grants for the Avery JAM program. I found that Avery County was not a member of the North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC). If we were, the JAM program, although they don’t guarantee any funding, it’s still almost automatic that we would get a grant for $8,000. There’s 15 counties that participate in the JAM program and each of one of them get a full grant or a partial grant,” Cummings in various newspapers reports.
While further studying the issue, Cummings learned that grant funding from the NCAC not only goes to worthwhile causes like teaching children how to play bluegrass and traditional mountain music, but also provides funds for various other most worthwhile and needed programs and causes such as museums, building monuments and refurbishing libraries. Additionally, the NCAC matches dollar for dollar the amount that the local arts councils pledge for a particular project.
Another advantage to having an arts council is the amount of funding county and municipal governments could save through the local and state partnership. Through Grassroots Sub Grants, government expenditures for certain projects could be cut by 50 percent due to the match provided by the NCAC.
In detail, Cummings explained how greater access to grant funding would benefit the JAM program.
“The $8,000 for Avery JAM will be used to teach students in grades 4-12 to play a string instrument, sing and dance to music of the settlers of Appalachia, keeping the heritage of the Appalachia alive for future generations. Students in JAM are more active in their schools and some students raised their academic performance. There are more than 50 chapters in four states with more than 2,000 students in the program. Five JAM bands performed at the 2019 International Bluegrass Awards Ceremony in Raleigh and JAM bands enjoy playing at local events,” he said.
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said his understanding is that the previous arts council closed because its Board of Directors had problems recruiting enough members. But he believes that there may again be enough interest in the county to get to reform one.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea to start a new arts council,” Barrier, Jr. said. “I think every county needs an arts council. Its benefits are many. The entire county would deeply benefit from it. It will just take community interest and support to keep it going.”
Through the efforts of its Mayor Brenda Lyerly and other supportive town residents, the Banner Elk Art Co-op was formed in Avery County’s largest town. There is a possibility that the Banner Elk Art Co-op, which is uniquely situated in the Historic Banner Elk School, could be an organization that could have a significant role in participating in the reformation of a county arts council.
The initial Avery Arts Council disbanded in 2012 after nearly 35 years of existence. Leading up to the time of its dissolution, the number of members on its board of directors had been cut in half and it was no longer allowed to be located in the Cheese House on the Lees-McRae College campus in Banner Elk.
As required by law, the remaining funds in possession of the arts council after expenses were met had to be transferred to another nonprofit organization. Initial plans for the Avery Arts Council were for it to merge with the Watauga County Arts Council, but that did not happen as the WCAC could no longer be located at the Jones House Community Center in downtown Boone.
In order to meet its legal obligations upon dissolution, the ACAC made an agreement with the Toe River Arts Council for TRAC to act as the fiscal agent to disperse the remaining funds in possession of the AAC during the following two years. Since this agreement was made, TRAC has continued to work to provide art and cultural experiences within the school systems of Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties. However, no funding for art endeavors has been made available in Avery County outside of the school system, as TRAC does not officially represent Avery in the state arts council.
Under its guidelines in order to officially form a local arts council, it must be organized as a nonprofit. It must be active for two years, and in the year that the council is requesting membership, $20,000 worth of cash funds must be attained. This amount must also be attained each year, and the NCAC allows up to 50 percent of the $20,000 to be used for administrative costs.
Additionally, local arts councils must be nominated by their respective county governments and subsequently approved by the NCAC as a Designated County Partner (DCP).