A Rich History
Last modified: Oct. 24
The focus of the festivities was to honor and highlight the Ashe County Arts Council and the 35 years it has contributed to the town and the county. Also part of the evening was a 75th anniversary celebration of the dedication of the historic Works Progress Administration building, a 20th anniversary celebration of the Ashe Arts Center and a tribute to Ashe County’s Rings of History.
The Junior Appalachian Musicians kicked off the event at 5 p.m. with a performance, followed by Scot Pope who entertained guests until the 6:15 p.m. reflections and dedication time.
Ashe County Arts Council president and board of directors member, Jane Davis, took the podium first, welcoming attendees and talking about the broad reach the arts council has.
“It touches every aspect of the community, and we are blessed with a strong board of directors and an excellent staff,” she said.
West Jefferson Mayor Dale Baldwin told the crowd he had an attachment to the arts center building because his father had done most of the stonework on the building.
The ACROH tribute focused on the large polished stump and its new signage located in front of the arts center.
The stump was the remains of a giant oak tree that had been on the property since 1747.
Six years ago, the tree was struck by lightning, shattering its trunk and forcing the tree’s removal.
Arts council Executive Director Jane Lonon said this left a stump in front of the building, and the board brainstormed what to do with it. Pete Benda and Bill Sharp took the lead on the project and created the Rings of History idea, which was unveiled Friday evening.
Smiles and laughter came from the crowd as Baldwin said he had been opposed to cutting the tree because “it is the same age as me.”
The building dedication and arts center celebrations played hand in hand as speakers talked about the building always being known as a community building.
Lonon said that is still the case with the arts as an additional part of the community feel.
“The Ashe County Arts Council effectively uses the arts to enrich the life of our community,” Lonon said prior to the event. “The arts contribute significantly to economic development, tourism, education, revitalization and a higher quality of life for our citizens and visitors to the region.
“The creative economy makes an impact by supporting artists, creative workers, entrepreneurs and businesses producing innovative products and the Ashe County Arts Council is an important part of that process,” she said.
The nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $140 million industry in all western N.C. cultural programs which draw new talent and keep skilled workers, according to Lonon.
“Counties with higher proportions of workers in arts-related occupations are more likely to retain current residents and attract new ones,” she said. “Creativity means a growing economy. The rich cultural traditions in craft and music are sustainable place-based economic development opportunities.”
Lonon said these traditions attract thousands of visitors and potential residents to the region who spend money each day for authentic experiences. Audience members from outside the region at nonprofit arts and culture programs spend an average of nearly $60 per person in the community beyond the cost of the event.
Together, nonprofit arts groups and their audiences return more than
$6 million in revenue to local governments.
“The Ashe County Arts Council is part of those statistics and the arts council believes in working collaboratively with artists, galleries, arts organizations and community groups to make a difference,” Lonon said.
In the 35 years since the arts council was formed, it has contributed significantly to the area.
The council has sponsored more than 500 concerts, featured more than 160 visual arts exhibits in the gallery and sponsored more than 1,000 arts in education programs for students in Ashe County schools.
In addition, the council has funded arts grants to more than 300 individuals and community organizations for arts projects and programming, funded and coordinated public art in downtown West Jefferson and Ashe County with the creation of murals, painted fire hydrants and barn quilts.
The council has also contributed more than 8,000 hours annually by volunteers and board members working together to fulfill the mission of the arts council, according to Lonon.
“The arts council loved seeing so many friends, former board members, volunteers and supporters at the Celebrating a Legacy event Friday evening,” Lonon said. “The long-standing support from the community that we have enjoyed continues to be heartwarming. We look forward to the next 35 years of providing excellence in the arts for Ashe County and the region.”