Asheville City Council’s informal decision last week to stop funding Bele Chere after this year came as a jolt. While we wait to sort out the festival’s future (it will go on this July), here’s my look at how Bele Chere and downtown parted ways. From Sunday’s Asheville Citizen-Times:
The decision not to produce Bele Chere also coincides with a push to remake the city job of superintendent of cultural arts, a position that’s been vacant since Diane Ruggiero left in September. It was Ruggiero’s job to manage the city’s cultural arts programming, public art and festivals, and she had two full-time colleagues and one part-time worker to get the job done.
A group of arts supporters last week asked City Council to remake the job into one for a “creative economy director,” a title that recognizes the economic impact of the arts in Asheville. The Public Art and Cultural Commission told council members that nonprofit arts and culture generated $43.7 million in Buncombe County last year and supported 1,427 full-time jobs.
Bele Chere will go on during the last weekend of July this year, just like it has for the last 34 years, but it’s unclear what the future holds. While City Council has informally agreed it would not budget for Bele Chere next year, it could still lend support with city services such as police security and garbage pick-up. Roderick Simmons, head of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department that oversees the event, said his employees are simply moving ahead with planning this year’s event.
The Asheville Downtown Association could be one possible suitor for Bele Chere. The nonprofit produces several events for the city, including the Downtown After Five series of concerts on Lexington Avenue, the fall Oktoberfest beer festival and the winter Holiday Parade, an event it took over from the Asheville Merchants Association a couple of years ago.