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Art museum gets lion’s share of CRA budget

Ellen FrostRS

Commissioner Ellen Frost

Allocation is far short of requested amount; important string attached

By Roger McCredie- The Asheville Art Museum emerged as the biggest single recipient of recommended funding at last week’s meeting of the Buncombe County Cultural and Recreational Authority, but its allocation was a fraction of what the museum had asked for. And at that, the stipend is subject to an important stipulation.

CRA released to the museum $250,000 in funds that had been set aside for it last year, plus another $250,000. The funds are to be distributed to them when – and only when – work actually begins on the museum’s long-anticipated revamping and expansion of its space in the Pack Place building.

And, said Commissioner Ellen Frost, who made the motion authorizing the dual allocation, beginning the art museum’s project means “not planning … it means hammers and nails.”

“So in other words, sweat equity?” Chairman David Gantt asked,

“Yes,” said Frost.

The $500,000 total earmarked for the art museum, which it was by far the largest funding amount recommended by CRA (final approval must come from County Commission) but it was less than ten per cent of the $2.8 million the art museum had applied for. In fact, County Manager Wanda Green, in preparing the CRA budget, had recommended giving the museum no funds at all.

In making the museum’s case to CRA, museum board member Kim McGuire said the museum was “coming down the home stretch” with “nearly fifteen million dollars raised towards a seventeen million construction goal. McGuire said the money was “coming from all types of persons, individual businesses and foundations.”

McGuire did not indicate where the $16 million figure came from. The art museum in 2006 undertook a capital funding drive with a stated goal of $24 million, $17 million of which would come from community fundraising. Since that time, the museum has been guarded in discussing the amount of money it has actually raised, but documents obtained by the Tribune last August pointed to a total of about $11.4 million.

At that time the Tribune also discovered and published a 2012 letter to the museum from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority stating that the museum had failed to raise enough funds to satisfy the requirements of grants the BCTDA had awarded it in 2007 and 2009, and was considered to be in default. The museum managed to avoid the consequences of default – i.e. losing the grant money, which is held in escrow – by obtaining an extension of the contract agreement until January of this year, when it obtained yet another extension.

The potential default with BCTDA did not prevent Asheville City Council from passing a two-cent tax increase in order to award the museum $2 million in city funds.

Also murky was how CRA’s demand that the art museum get on with its project if it wants its whole $500,000 package. This jibes with its decision to award Pack Place, where the art museum is housed, the entire $409,000 that Pack Place sought for upkeep and utilities, which the county has historically paid. The impact of the art museum’s expansion on the other tenants of the Pack Place property – Diana Wortham Theater and the Colburn Earth Science Museum — is one of the central issues in the current confrontation between the Pack Place board of directors and the city.

The YMI, which is also a Pack Place partner although it is housed in its own separate building, received the full $21,000 it had requested. The YMI, which is experiencing difficulties of its own, has been worried about the effect that the possible dissolution of Pack Place and the resultant loss of county Pack Place funds would have on its own future.

In all, CRA recommended the dispensation of about $1.17 million in county funds – two and a half times the amount Greene and her staff had budgeted. The allocations, however, came to far less than the $3.6 million originally applied for by a total of 18 county entities. The money voted to the art museum accounted for about 40 per cent of the money CRA recommended for distribution.

CRA turned down a request for $250,000 towards the production of the 2015 edition of Moogfest, primarily because the deadline for applications for CRA monies expired in January and the technology festival was making its request several months too late. The idea of appropriating taxpayer money for Moogfest, which is a private festival, has met with considerable opposition, especially from local small business owners; however, the city of Asheville contributed $90,000 in cash and in-kind services to this year’s festival.

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