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Board Meeting Tonight Will Decide the Fate of the Watauga Arts Council; Executive Director Might Resign

By Paul T. Choate

May 3, 2012. On Thursday, May 3, the Watauga County Arts Council will be making a critical decision that will determine their future at a board meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. The board will discuss, and ultimately choose, between one of three options.

This comes after an April 2 vote by the Boone Town Council to create a Cultural Resources Board, which will manage the Jones House and other related entities under the control of the Town of Boone. The Cultural Resource Board has ultimately caused the Arts Council to vacate the Jones House in the near future and relocate to an undecided location.

A contract drawn up by the Town of Boone and given to the Arts Council on April 23 said that they would have until the end of July to vacate the Jones House. Initially, the Arts Council had until April 30 to accept the contract. That deadline has since been extended. At present, the Arts Council has until May 15 to accept the terms of the contract or they must be out of the Jones House by the end of May.

“The contract does not really reflect the motions made on April 2,” said Cherry Johnson, executive director of the Watauga County Arts Council. “It changed all our deadlines … The contract itself has some clauses in it that I just can’t live with. If they are going to do it, they will have to do it without with me.”

As for the fate of the Arts Council, the following options will be on the table at the board meeting this evening:

Option A assumes the Arts Council rejects the contract and vacates the Jones House by May 29. With Option A it is assumed that the contracted service funding from the Town of Boone for the folklorist position will not continue as it certainly will not after September 30. This means that the Arts Council will no longer be able to support that position. The estimate is that a net deficit of $261.04 would result by the end of September. This does not mean that the Traditional Arts Program would end, but would continue utilizing contract services from the revenue from each traditional arts program to continue the programs.

Option B assumes the Town would react favorably to the Arts Council continuing on a month-to-month contract through the remainder of the fiscal year. The Arts Council would then vacate the Jones House but provide a contracted service only for the Concerts on the Lawn through September 30. In Option B it is assumed that TDA funding through the Town of Boone for the folklorist position will continue through June 30 but will not be available after that date. It is further assumed that the Town Council would be willing to support the Concerts on the Lawn for a contracted fee of $5,000, which would help cover the folklorist services for the summer months. The estimate is that a deficit of $4,071.96 would result by September with this option. The Arts Council would still be faced after September 30 with no Town support for the folklorist position so the position would end. As with Option A, the traditional arts program would continue utilizing contract services from each program. 

Option C assumes the Arts Council accepts the Town’s offer with or without some edits in that contract which would be requested by the Arts Council and stays in the Jones House through September 30. In Option C it is assumed that all funding continues through September 30. The Arts Council continues its programs, complies with the terms of the contract, and vacates the building after September 30 with no further support. The estimate is that this option provides a net of $8,226.04 by the end of September. However, given the nature and the terms of the proposed contract, even if edited, it is highly likely that the executive director, Cherry Johnson, will resign. This is not because she wishes to, but the conditions of that contract could place her in a precarious legal and personal position. She has been advised that if the Arts Council accepts this contract she should indeed resign. This is not a threat but a reflection of her apparent legal and personal vulnerability.

Johnson said she would accept Option A or Option B.

“I kind of prefer Option A,” said Johnson. “But by this point I’ve gotten to the point that I’m so anxious to move into the future that sitting in the past is frustrating to me. I’m very excited about what can happen.”

The 5:30 p.m. board meeting will take place 134 Doctors Drive in Boone. It is closed to the media. Details of what the Arts Council decides will be made available to the media after the meeting, either this evening or tomorrow morning.