This year's Bele Chere will be the last — at least, the last run by the city, as Asheville City Council members agreed during a March 12 budget session to end their financial involvement.
"A strange conversation"
During its retreat the day before, many on staff and Council noted Bele Chere's $450,000 a year cost, and by the time the Tuesday meeting rolled around, Council was "ready to take the hard step," in the words of Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer. While no formal vote was taken (as it was a work session), and Council member Gordon Smith observed that it was "a strange conversation to be having," a consensus quickly emerged: All the Council members expressed their desire to move away from the city funding the festival, and staff will calculate future budgets accordingly.
As planning for this year's festival is already under way and a number of nonprofits raise significant funds from the event, Council opted to keep this year's festival. In the future, Mayor Terry Bellamy said, the city "will look to the community for what form Bele Chere takes next."
As part of an overhaul in the way government deals with arts and festivals, city staff are also contemplating a "creative economies" position, instead of a traditional arts-administration staff. The city's Public Art and Cultural Commission crafted the proposal, and during the regular meeting, Chair Robert Todd said it was necessary to further advance Asheville's thriving art economy. He mentioned that the arts community has already suffered since the departure of Cultural Arts Superintendent Diane Ruggiero.
He encouraged Asheville to "reach out to other cities" and create a position involved in seeking initiatives that would bring in sectors like technology as well as the arts. About 40 people stood in support of the commission's proposal.
Instead of more traditional oversight by the Parks and Recreation Department, the new position would fall under the city's Economic Development Office, and it would focus more on partnerships and grants that satisfy what finance chief Lauren Bradley earlier called "the sweet spot," advancing multiple goals at once.
Of BIDs and boards
Council also delayed enacting proposed bylaws for the downtown Asheville Business Improvement District until March 26, citing the lack of a specific budget. At the pre-meeting work session, more than one Council member expressed disappointment that the budget wouldn't be available for more discussion, and set a March 18 deadline for the BID's board to submit their proposal. Bellamy, who will be absent March 26, noted that the BID didn't have unanimous support downtown, said that she felt that more time for public deliberation is necessary.
At the formal meeting, BID Chair Susan Griffin said the nonprofit will have the budget to the city by March 18. Council members also expressed concern that they had directed the BID board to have two members representing homeless service providers, but the bylaws only had one. BID members said this was part of an overall reduction in the board's size to make it more workable.
Council also appointed Peggy Dallman, Matt Buys and Leah Ferguson to the Asheville City School Board.