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Wednesday, 04 January 2006 00:00

Atlanta Ballet’s 14-year run in Haywood County is over

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Following a re-evaluation of Haywood County Arts Council programming, two of the organization’s mainstays have been cut from the roster — the Atlanta Ballet’s annual Mountain Homecoming and the Razzle Dazzle children’s arts festival.

However, arts council members say that the move is neither indicative of a financial crisis nor of a major policy shift.

The cuts, said to be a long time coming, are reflective of the organization’s first real sense of stability in years. Current Arts Council Executive Director Kay Waldrop — now a year and a half into the job — is the fifth director in approximately 10 years. Waldrop called for a full examination of arts council programming to help gauge which programs were worth their expense and which weren’t.

“That was the big thing we did this year,” Waldrop said. “I said I want some kind of program evaluation tool.”

The re-evaluation process relied on arts council committee members to submit information about each arts council program from costs to community impact to collaborative possibilities.

“Every program was scrutinized on a variety of things, not just money,” Waldrop said.

The Atlanta Ballet, at a cost of $50,000 per year, was the arts council’s largest single event expense. Lower attendance at the Ballet’s two public performances during its week-long residency made recouping costs a challenge. And in 2004, when floods from back-to-back hurricanes in September shut down a majority of Western North Carolina — including Haywood Community College where the Ballet was set to perform — spending money to go see a dance troupe just wasn’t on the public’s priority list. Although the college’s auditorium was opened and the show went on, the arts council found itself in the red.

Razzle Dazzle didn’t share the Ballet’s financial woes, but instead was cut as a result of low attendance and the festival having morphed from something that had begun to bring arts to the schools into something else altogether.

“Razzle Dazzle started to become a kids entertainment day,” said John Gould, president of the arts council board.

The Atlanta Ballet had been a part of Haywood County Arts Council’s offerings for the past 14 years. Former Haywood Community College teacher and board member James Roy Moody helped bring the first ballet residency to Waynesville. Moody, a long-time supporter of arts programs in the area, also helped found the Razzle Dazzle children’s festival.

However, the long history of the Ballet and the children’s festival’s also worked against them.

“It’s purely a matter of what I call waning interest,” Waldrop said. “It’s hard to do the same thing over and over and generate the same excitement year after year after year.”

In the 14 years since the Ballet’s annual residency began, the county has grown and a wider variety of arts offerings are available now, whether the programs are arts council-sponsored or not. The result is a less captive audience and a more competitive field for audience dollars.

The move to cut the Ballet and Razzle Dazzle frees up more than a quarter of the organization’s budget for alternative programs. The future of those funds is undecided. But so far, identified potential uses include the creation of new events expected to draw more public attendance — such as the council’s upcoming show featuring Doc Watson and David Holt in Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska this April.

“That’s going to be hopefully a big money producer,” Gould said.

Dance, and even quite possibly ballet, will remain an arts council focus, most likely through more numerous, less-expensive artist residencies in the local school system or arts-based summer camps. The goal is just to put a different spin on things.

“What we don’t want to do is remove any part of dance from what we are able to give the children,” Waldrop said, referring to the Ballet’s work with local school kids during their week spent in the mountains.

Die-hard Atlanta Ballet aficionados still will be able get their pirouette fix, as the new Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University has added the troupe to its schedule.

“I’m going to say that we are going to fill in that gap,” said Paul Lormand, director of the performance stage at the FPAC. “I know they will be a part of our season.”

The FPAC recently featured the Atlanta Ballet performing selections from the Nutcracker Suite and the troupe has expressed interest in continuing to dance there.

“The Atlanta Ballet has approached us, I think, just because of the new facility, which they felt was a better facility for their needs and wants,” Lormand said.

The FPAC, unlike the HCC auditorium, is designed to host large-scale, Broadway-style productions. Should the Haywood County Arts Council replace the Ballet with something similar, the result will be more for the region as a whole.

“We’ll not only have one, but two,” Lormand said.

The Haywood County Arts Council will hold its annual meeting to elect new board members and discuss projects at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 19 at the Mountain Area Resource Center in Waynesville. The public is invited.

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