By now everyone is fully aware it’s an election year. While most folks focus on the big dance, i.e. the presidential nomination, local races are equally, if not more important in determining how we live our best quality of life. According to Arts Council of Wilmington executive director Rhonda Bellamy, our city drew in $55,805,425 in 2017, as noted in the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 report. The report also tracked 2,076 full-time jobs and $44,122,000 in household income coming from the arts.
Naturally, when it comes to heading to the polls, electing officials who believe in the magnitude and power of our arts community is important. The Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, in collaboration with UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, will host an inaugural candidates’ forum on February 24, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at Cameron Art Museum, to assess the stances and ideas of eight people vying for three New Hanover County Commissioner seats: Travis Robinson, Don Betz, Leslie Cohen, Kyle Horton, Steve Miller, Deb Hays, Harry Knight and Jonathan Barfield.
We talked to Bellamy, who will moderate the event, and Cohen (who is also an oil painter) to give us some insight on the discussion. [Ed. note: Cohen was the only candidate to respond to our questions as of press.]
encore (e): Who decided to hold this forum and why?
Rhonda Bellamy (RB): The Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County has been part of creative economy discussions at UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The group is committed to supporting the work of the Arts Council and has adopted the mission to strengthen southeastern NC’s creative economy, and fuel our diverse arts and cultural community.
Advocacy is one of our core functions, specifically fostering political support for the creative community as a fundamental component of economic development. A forum is the most expedient way for the arts community to learn more about the 15 candidates vying for three available seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
e: What are some of the burning questions you have for them or would like to be asked of them?
RB: What’s your vision for New Hanover County’s future? And how do arts and culture fit into that? What role can the county play in creating maker spaces? Does the county need more performance arts venues outside of downtown Wilmington?
e: So, Leslie, how would you respond to one or all of the questions?
As we grow, our community needs a variety of performance and fine arts venues spread throughout the county. While downtown will likely remain the cultural center of New Hanover County, residents outside the city need opportunities to enjoy the arts closer to home.
e: Rhonda, what is the number one item on your personal agenda for them?
RB: I don’t know that I have a personal agenda other than to begin (in some cases) and continue (in others) the conversation about the arts being a major economic driver in New Hanover County.
e: So what are some policies you’d like to see enacted locally and regionally to help our arts economy?
RB: In a perfect world, we’d have a dedicated stream of funding to invest in the arts and to help market the region’s rich arts assets.