Watauga Arts Council leaves Jones House

By Anna Oakes (anna.oakes@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: May. 17, 2012 | Modified: May. 17, 2012
Watauga Arts Council leaves Jones House

From left, Watauga Arts Council executive director Cherry Johnson and board president Mike Wise meet inside the arts council’s new suite at the Appalachian Enterprise Center.

Photo by Anna Oakes

As of Monday evening, May 14, the Watauga County Arts Council has completely vacated the Jones House Community Center on King Street in downtown Boone, moving to a new office location at the Appalachian Enterprise Center.

The move ends the Arts Council’s 26-year tenure at the Jones House, a home donated to the town of Boone in the 1980s. The arts council decided last week to turn down a contract and lease extension from the town of Boone for management of the Jones House through Sept. 30.

In April, the Boone Town Council voted to create a new Cultural Resources Board to manage the Jones House and other town cultural facilities and to approve a contract extension and lease agreement that, if accepted, would provide for the arts council’s use of the facility through the summer without interruption of programs.

Mike Wise, president of the Watauga County Arts Council, said the terms of the contract allowed the town too much control over arts council activities.

“You get into trouble when you have a governmental entity saying what is and isn’t art,” Wise said. “The arts council really needed to maintain its independence.”

The arts council board of directors met May 3 and voted to propose a counteroffer to the town. Under the counteroffer, the arts council would remain at the Jones House on a month-to-month basis through June 30 and would continue to rent space for the folklorist and a storage closet through Sept. 30.

Doing so would allow the folklorist to continue arts council programs, such as Summer Concerts on the Lawn, summer music lessons and Thursday night jam sessions at the Jones House, according to the proposal.

The Boone Town Council considered the counteroffer in closed session May 7 and decided to re-extend its original contract extension offer. The arts council board met again last week and voted to reject the contract and vacate the Jones House immediately.

“We offered the arts council a generous deal, in my opinion, through Sept. 30 of this year, with the main goal of a cooperative, easy transition between this year and next year, with the main goal of maintaining programming at the Jones House,” Boone Town Council member Andy Ball said. “That was our goal and is still our goal. I’m not sure why they didn’t accept that.”

Watauga County Arts Council executive director Cherry Johnson said she expressed concern about what she called an “open-ended clause” in the proposed contract, which reads, “The parties agree that other matters may also arise during the term which may cause the town … to make additional requests for information or assistance from the arts council, and cooperation as to these, too, is expected.”

Johnson said the N.C. Arts Council advised the county organization to move now rather than in the fall to build support and momentum during the busy summer season.

Johnson said the Committee of 100 has donated office space for the arts council at the Appalachian Enterprise Center, located adjacent to Watauga County human services facilities on King Street, for an indefinite amount of time. The Committee of 100 is an organization of business owners and economic developers in the county.

In addition, another party has offered to donate separate gallery space and retail space to the arts council at a location soon to be released, she said.

“We began to see opportunities,” Wise said.

Because it has rejected the town’s contract extension, the arts council will no longer receive monthly contract payments of about $3,400 from the town, nor will it receive the $15,000 annual contribution toward the folklorist position from Boone tourism development funds.

Because of this loss in funding, folklorist Mark Freed is no longer employed by the Watauga County Arts Council, but he could continue to work for the council on a contract basis, Johnson said.

The arts council is open to considering contracting with the town to present programs at town facilities, including the Jones House, she said. “We don’t want to sever our relationship with the town,” she said.

As of now, a location has not been finalized for the arts council’s popular Summer Concerts on the Lawn series, which has taken place on the Jones House lawn for the past 19 years. The series is slated to begin June 1. Johnson said the council has an invitation to move the series to another location.

However, she emphasized, the arts council does not wish to discourage the town from presenting its own concert series at the Jones House. “We’re not about competing,” she said.

Summer music lessons may or may not take place this year, she said, but the Junior Appalachian Musicians program for youth will continue at a new location, beginning this fall.

In addition, Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff has donated storage space to the council.

Relations between the town of Boone, Jones House Advisory Board and Watauga County Arts Council have been strained since the Boone Town Council voted one year ago to relocate the downtown development coordinator’s office to the Jones House and expand Jones House hours to Saturdays.
“Working with the town over the past year has been rather stressful,” Johnson said.

Despite the bumpy ride over the past year, however, Ball said he intends for the town to have a working relationship between the town, the arts council and the arts community.

“I’m hoping to contract them or find some arrangement where they’re able to carry on the programs,” Ball said. “This is not the end of the relationship I don’t think.”

Ball said the role of the Cultural Resources Board will primarily be related to property and resource management.

“The Cultural Resources Board has no intention to decide what is and what isn’t appropriate art,” he said.

The arts council will retain its phone number, which is (828) 264-1789. For more information on the council, visit http://www.watauga-arts.org.

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