President of the Board for the Haywood County Arts Council, Sohovich addressed the curious and inquisitive audience at the organization’s annual meeting on Jan. 22 at their Gallery 86 headquarters in downtown Waynesville. Coming into its 38th year, the nonprofit, an affiliate of the NC Arts Council, is gearing up for a revitalization of its brand.
“We have found stable ground with our finances and membership,” Sohovich said. “And now we want to bring in more artists, more members, more collaborations, more corporate sponsorships, and do a better job of letting people know what it is we do in the community.”
An Open Door
The day before the meeting, HCAC Interim Executive Director Dr. Elizabeth Haynes is milling about Galley 86, putting the final touches on the event setup and her slideshow showcasing the achievements of 2014 and hopes for the coming year.
“This annual meeting is a format we’re using for the first time — a presentation and community forum,” she said. “We want to have open communication between the arts council and our community, which is one of our biggest goals for 2015.”
What made 2014 a watermark year for the HCAC came from the mere fact of the organization overhauling itself. From straightening out its finances to improving its gallery revenue (up 35 percent last year), the council has made great strides in not only reinventing itself, but also simply making itself known as a viable and vital entity within the arts community of Haywood County and greater Western North Carolina.
“If we didn’t have the arts, could you imagine how boring our lives would be?” Haynes said.
From sponsoring the Friends of the Library Concert Series, gallery exhibits and receptions, Haywood County All-County Chorus, Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM), Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival and Young Artist Series, to getting grassroots funding for the Fines Creek Community Association, Haywood Arts Regional Theater (HART), Haywood Community Band, Haywood Community Chorus, Haywood County Schools Foundation, Voices in the Laurel, and more, the HCAC is involved in seemingly every aspect of the community. Pointing to the council’s artisan membership (more than 50), business sponsorships (15) and community members (over 300), Haynes said the arts council has a solid foundation to build upon.
“A lot of people are interested in supporting us, but they just don’t know how to get involved,” she said. “We want people, anyone, to come forward with new ideas — our door has never been closed, though it does need to be open more.”
Another question aimed at the council is about the position of executive director. With the job somewhat in limbo over the last few years, and the organization pretty much run by volunteers, a light at the end of the tunnel appeared when Jodi John Pippin was hired as a part-time executive director a year ago. The hiring brought more accountability and stability to the council, a move that set into motion an array of positive change of the who, what, where, when and why of the HCAC.
But, as of Jan. 16, Pippin left the position for an opportunity at the Asheville Area Arts Council, a move that was more suitable for her family and career seeing as she currently resides in Buncombe County.
“Jodi was offered a wonderful opportunity in Asheville. She was a perfect fit for us, did very well, got everyone excited, was very talented and creative,” Haynes said. “But, this was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse and we support her 100 percent.”
And so Haynes, a volunteer at the HCAC for over a year and program manager for a third of that time, stepped up to the plate and became the interim executive director.
“The executive director here is not a revolving door, it’s an evolving door,” she said. “My strength is in administration, and my job is to keep things in order, moving along, give the board time to develop their strategic plan and give the organization continuity.”
So what is the HCAC focusing on for 2015?
“Well, we want to create partnerships with Western Carolina University and their art programs, expand our current partnerships with Haywood Community College, more emphasis on community outreach and children’s programs,” she said. “And to also stick to our mission of building partnerships through all different areas in the community. One of the many reasons people come visit our area is the arts, and we’re going to highlight these artists.”
Take a seat, lend an ear
The annual meeting in Gallery 86 was attended by dozens of members representing numerous social circles in Haywood County. To them, the HCAC remains an important and influential organization.
“The council has a history of being an incubator for artists in the community, to get them on their feet and on their way,” said Board Member Frank Queen. “Supporting an arts council lets it act as a force for grants and contributions, and as a focal point in the community, a springboard for cool ideas. That in itself can be a hard job, to constantly be reinventing yourself, but that’s also the vigor of what we’re trying to do.”
A board member for the last four years, Queen sees the hiring of a paid executive director as a testament to the foundation established by the HCAC.
“With the grants and contributions we receive, they must be accounted for and administered appropriately, which can be difficult to do if you don’t have someone who sees the process from beginning to end,” he said.
During the meeting, several student musicians from the Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) program took center stage to perform a couple of Southern Appalachian melodies. Run by Program Director Sally Mackert, there are currently more than 40 students (grades 4-8) enrolled in JAM, which meet weekly at Haywood Community College and perform throughout the year at regional events.
Standing to the side, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, observes the young musicians with a hearty smile as he listens to the future of the region’s rich musical heritage.
“Watching JAM, you how important music is to Haywood and our region’s identity. We all need to work together for continued arts in the schools as arts in our state are being unfunded — we’ve got to pick up the steam,” he said. “Haywood is strong in the arts and we need to help support it, because the arts matter, to business, to the growth and development of our community, to education, to health care — the quality of the arts in Haywood distinguishes itself.”
Joe Sam said the investment in community arts being made by arts council supporters is vital.
“The arts need our help, in the schools and in the streets,” he said. “That annual giving goes a long way. It’s as good of an investment as you can make all year in your community.”
In his presentation, Sohovich asked the crowd three questions: What are we doing well? What do we need to do more of? What should we be doing differently?
Acclaimed painter Dominick DePaolo spoke up. As someone who leads art classes in the snug upstairs of Gallery 86, he’d like to see bigger spaces used and more folks involved in getting more workshops offered to the public.
“It would be wonderful if we could get a bigger facility to sponsor our classes,” he said. “I would also encourage all artists in town to participate — you can really get a handle on what’s going on in the community, and make great connections.”
And though the HCAC has 50 artist members, that number alone seems a drop in the bucket when placed against the countless number of artisans around Haywood County and beyond. Sitting in on the meeting was artist member Teri Siewert. Owner of The Mahogany House Art Galley & Studios in Frog Level, Siewert’s business is home to 80 artists, many of which aren’t involved with the HCAC. With the upcoming “Local Flavors” exhibit on Feb. 4 at the HCAC, showcasing members’ work, she hopes to increase the community outreach to emerging artists, new and established.
“With the members’ exhibit, people are seeing artists that they may have never heard of, but there’s also a whole other community of artists out there that aren’t members, and there are so many resources not being tapped into,” Siewert said. “There are lots of things the arts council needs to do better, but they are starting to make those changes, and are really trying to make better connection in the community.”
As the round robin discussion ricocheted around Gallery 86, some wondered why the HCAC didn’t support the recent Studio Art Tour (with 19 locations involved), while numerous others questioned the council’s separation from Folkmoot USA. The HCAC distanced itself from the annual international dance and music festival last summer to create its own event, ArtShare. For many years, International Festival Day was the arts council’s largest fundraiser, but was held in conjunction with Folkmoot USA and its international dancers and musicians. Many in the audience thought the collaboration with Folkmoot USA should have been nurtured and cultivated.
“We aren’t trying to separate ourselves from all the great things Folkmoot USA does, or what HART does, or anything like that,” Sohovich assured the crowd. “What we’re trying to do is identify ourselves to the community as something that is not funded or tied to other organizations. We support all of these cultural entities in our community, and will continue to maintain these relationships, but we’d also like to establish ourselves more thoroughly.”
As the meeting winded down, Sohovich thanked all in attendance for coming to learn about and discuss the future of the HCAC. All suggestions and comments would be taken into consideration when the board puts together their strategic plan in the coming weeks.
“We appreciate all of the donors and sponsorships, and the volunteers are the lifeblood of the arts council,” he said. “If you love the arts, if you want to do something and give back to your community, become a member, become a volunteer — get involved.”
The Haywood County Arts Council sponsors the following community programs:
• Events with the Downtown Waynesville Association
• Friends of the Library Concert Series
• Gallery exhibits and receptions
• Gift shop representing local artisans
• Haywood County All-County Chorus
• Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM)
• Resource and promotion for other local art events
• Student Honors Recital
• Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival
• Young Artist Series
Through grassroots funding, the HCAC also support an array of community activities, which includes:
• Fines Creek Community Association
• Haywood Arts Regional Theater
• Haywood Community Band
• Haywood Community Chorus
• Haywood County Schools Foundation
• Voices in the Laurel
Want to know more?
Showcasing the work of the artisan members at the Haywood County Arts Council, the “Local Flavors” exhibit will run Feb. 4 through March 28 at Gallery 86 in downtown Waynesville. An artist reception will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, where discussions will be held about the pieces displayed. The event is free and open to the public.