Opinion: Asheville City Council is poised to wreck a nonprofit to establish and manage city’s cultural center


Guest opinion by former Asheville city manager and mayor Ken Michalove:

Today, July 22, 2014, 5:00 PM, the Asheville City Council will vote to enter into direct leases with the Asheville Art Museum, the Diana Wortham Theater and the Colburn Earth Science Museum. This is an illegal act, it violates the existing lease between the City of Asheville and Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center as there has been no compensation to Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center in the amount of several million dollars as payment for improvements to the Pack Place building.

The action of the short term lease with the Colburn Earth Science Museum is nothing more than a bullying maneuver by the City to remove that organization from Pack Place. Not mentioned in the City’s reasons for direct leasing are: the purposeful undermining that leads to the demise of Pack Place Education Arts and Science Center, Inc. and its Board; the contrived reason for the City placing the Pack Place Board in default of the lease; the unjustified reason the Asheville Art Museum requires a direct lease when the former City of Asheville attorney, Bob Oast, advised a simple solution was to amend the existing lease by adding a new Section; the City has made no provision for property management, cost overruns, staffing, etc. in the 2014/15 City budget adopted in June.

City taxpayers should be outraged in the fact that the City Council put a 3 cent tax increase in place in 2014 to help fund the Asheville Art Museum renovation project of $2 million dollars (2 cents of the 3 cent increase) as an economic development project. That project disappeared in the 2014/15 capital budget and a new $2 million dollar project for Pack Place Maintenance is scheduled for 2017. The City prematurely put the 2 cent tax increase in place in 2014 as the project was never funded. Further, the City appears to have changed the name of the project to Pack Place Maintenance, I assume so they would not take the heat from the taxpayers by funding the Asheville Art Museum. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!

The Asheville Art Museum is a poor excuse for a non-profit corporation. They are a greedy group of adults that have been feeding
at the tax trough for too long. They have wrecked the concept of Pack Place by their direct dealing with the Asheville City Council, a
violation of their Partnership Agreement with Pack Place. The real reason the Art Museum wants a direct lease is to get out of the control and building management of the Pack Place Board.

I ask that as representatives of the media that your company fully investigate these issues.

Best, Ken Michalove

Here’s background on Pack Place and the lease agreement issue.


jenn July 24, 2014 - 10:47 am

“I am unclear of the purpose of the Asheville Art Museum. They seem to have no community presence, rarely seem to have or promote relevant or interesting art exhibits, and seem closed off as a space for children or families.”

I agree. I have lived here since 1997 and never been once. I have stepped through the doors and was instantly uninterested. Local, smaller studios and galleries do a much better job at presenting art and works worth seeing… but they’ll never get such support as the museum has from the city.

Emma McCatt July 24, 2014 - 1:31 am

Western North Carolina is known for its arts; from Black Mountain College to the native traditions of the Cherokee people, John Cambell Folk School, Penland, and now thriving River Arts District. The Avl Art Museum is not in touch with WNC and is dismissed by not only local residents but local artists. They are taking up prime real estate and adding nothing to the community but greed and a false sense of entitlement. If the council wants to help the art scene in Avl, shut the museum down and build a real cultural center. Lastly, send incompetant Pam Meyers packing back to New York City.

Nancy July 26, 2014 - 12:02 pm

OMG seriously? You are completely wrong. The art museum has a huge collection of Black Mountain College art, Cherokee art, and crafts art, and they show it all the time. There’s even a free gallery for this, you don’t have to pay admission.

You know what really rankles me? All y’all who just spout stuff off without facts.

Also, you spelled “incompetent” incorrectly.

theOtherBarry July 26, 2014 - 4:16 pm

Yeah, ya moran!


Nancy July 27, 2014 - 12:35 am


theOtherBarry July 22, 2014 - 3:20 pm


“illegal act” “bullying maneuver” “purposeful undermining” “contrived reason” “unjustified reason” “outraged” “poor excuse” “greedy group” “feeding
at the tax trough”

Pretty strong language. Did you offer anyone at the City a chance to respond to this?

Roger McCredie July 22, 2014 - 8:25 pm

This response is symptomatic of the lack of public awareness that has allowed this action to take place. The Asheville Tribune, a small independent weekly, is the only media outlet to have followed the developments in this story as they have unfolded for more than a year and a half. And the Tribune’s circulation is tiny. The mainstream media in Asheville, who have been fully aware of the developments in this case, have either ignored them or spun them out as of no importance. In that respect, they have been players in this scenario.

The facts are all there for those that wish to check them: documents, e-mails, videotapes. The elephant in the room is that the city simply has no legal standing with which to make any demand of Pack Place, so it made something up: the alleged repair default, which was identified as a bogus document. If anything, Mr. Michalove’s statement understates the case.

Roger McCredie
Investigative Journalist
The Asheville Tribune

theOtherBarry July 22, 2014 - 8:43 pm

Mr. McCredie

I merely asked if Jason offered anyone at the City a chance to respond to this broadside by Mr. Michalove. I would like to see some specific replies to these very serious charges – and if they pass on the opportunity? That would speak volumes, IMO.

I’ve challenged the City govt. on issues in the past, and caught them in major shenanigans. What really gets them is if you do it in a way where they have to publicly respond. A one-sided report like this just reinforces the “he-said-she-said” perception of the issue.

Thanks for spending 25 cents on a word (symptomatic) to describe my question, but I really would like to see some clarity on this issue, and simply re-printing old charges doesn’t help me get there.

luther blissett July 22, 2014 - 8:58 pm

the Tribune’s circulation is tiny.

The Tribune is also regarded as a weekly newsletter for tea-party cranks, Art Pope acolytes, disgruntled Candlerites who think Asheville is a cesspool of sin, white people who fear non-white people, and Carl Mumpower, which doesn’t help get its actual investigative work a broad audience.

The fact that Asheville is effectively run by unelected boards, regardless of who ends up on City Council, is the sort of thing that ought to cross party lines.

D.Dial July 24, 2014 - 10:00 am

“The fact that Asheville is effectively run by unelected boards, regardless of who ends up on City Council, is the sort of thing that ought to cross party lines.” ~~ LB

So this way everyone on Council can look like they’re doing something, when in fact it’s all done behind the scenes on Boards.

Cwaster July 23, 2014 - 9:56 am

The ‘ole Tribune… yeah, agree with it being for cranks, Mumpower zombies and Jesusy-white people. It seems the Art museum is a major negative player in all this. Too bad about the Colburn’s struggles, that places does a lot of great work educating school kids (and adults) in the earth sciences.

D.Dial July 23, 2014 - 8:46 pm

The 990s for the Asheville Art Museum speaks volumes and the membership, attendance and expenses. They’re worth looking not if one is seriously interested.

D.Dial July 23, 2014 - 8:47 pm

^^ looking into^^

Thornton July 23, 2014 - 8:49 pm

How does one see the 990s?

Jason Sandford July 25, 2014 - 10:55 am


luther blissett July 24, 2014 - 1:38 am

You can probably tease out more from the Form 990s than most of us.

But from the most recent one I can see (2012, filed this year): $74k total revenue from memberships, $71k from admissions? Is that right? Let’s generously guesstimate 1500 members and an average of 25 paying visitors per day, ostensibly serving a population of over a million.

Anyway, it’s a done deal: Pack Place has been deposed; the Colburn Museum gets one year’s notice and the Diana Wortham and Art Museum will expand into its space; the Museum gets to pay $1750 a month in rent, and has been promised a three-year rent holiday if it can pull $15m from its… hat.

We also get ringside seats at a decade-long fight between the museum and theatre for supremacy over the building, like a remake of Highlander except with passive-aggressive courting of favors with finger food and sparkling wine.

I will accept that the Tribune’s reporting on Pack Place made it sound like the Church of the Holy Sephulchre in Jerusalem, where priests of different denominations guard their areas to the point of fist-fights. That probably wasn’t sustainable. But right now, I’d sooner evict the museum and let some of the RAD’s artists use it as downtown studio space. It’d have a better chance of getting people through the door for more than just fundraising receptions.

D.Dial July 24, 2014 - 9:56 am

Yep, done deal.

D.Dial July 24, 2014 - 9:57 am

Get the popcorn machine going.

D.Dial July 24, 2014 - 3:49 pm

County is not happy over this turn of events.
David Gantt said

; “However, the next day, Buncombe County Board Chair David Gantt told Xpress he thought the situation was “bad.”

The Board of Commissioners allocated $210,076 in this year’s budget for the Pack Place nonprofit to help it manage the property and an additional $180,000 to pay for the building’s utilities.

The city’s new move “does give us some heartburn,” says Gantt. “Now if we give the [nonprofits] money, they’ll just have to turn around and give it to the city.”

He reports that the Commission will consider its options in coming months.

The new leases must be posted publicly for 10 days before becoming final.

Thornton July 24, 2014 - 11:29 pm

“$71k from admissions? Is that right? ”

Yes, because the art museum is not as lame as most locals think it is.

luther blissett July 25, 2014 - 2:25 pm

$71k in paid admissions at $7 or $8 a pop equals around 9,000 paid visitors, and over 310 days in a year (closed Mondays and some holidays), that’s under 30 paying visitors per day.

So we may have different thresholds for lameness, though it does mean you’re likely to have the entire museum to yourself if you visit.

There’s pay-as-you-wish for the monthly art walks during the summer, and free admission for two afternoon hours on the first Wednesday of the month, for people who don’t work between 3pm and 5pm.

But it means that paid admissions account for a small part of the Art Museum’s income, and if it wants to turn locals into advocates, it ought to consider opening its doors to them more widely.

Ryan July 22, 2014 - 2:42 pm

I am unclear of the purpose of the Asheville Art Museum. They seem to have no community presence, rarely seem to have or promote relevant or interesting art exhibits, and seem closed off as a space for children or families. I would be interested or supportive of future development if the museum seemed to be making attempts to extend a hand toward the community however as it stands, its my opinion that the Asheville Art Museum is one of the lamest cultural institutions I know of and are in the end, a lot less relevant and engaging that its neighbors in Pack Square. I am sorry to see the city council support this kind of lameness.

Melissa July 22, 2014 - 3:01 pm


JML July 22, 2014 - 3:55 pm

Actually the art museum has an AMAZING room upstairs for kids, go check it out instead of complaining, maybe you’ll be surprised

luther blissett July 22, 2014 - 6:27 pm

Who knew? Chalk that one up on Pam Myers’ ongoing record of community engagement.

Michelove has an axe to grind, but perhaps it’s a worthy one: of all the unaccountable, unelected fiefdoms that pull the strings of City Council, the Asheville Art Museum stands out, and it has benefitted from nudging other Pack Place co-tenants out of the door like a cuckoo in the nest so that it can lay ever greater claim over the city’s budget.

AVL4theRestofUS July 22, 2014 - 10:14 pm

Hmmm… I visited the museum for the first time in a while just recently and was really impressed by its growth and the breadth of the exhibits. For the size it is actually a really good quality museum. I am all for a museum that attracts regional cultural tourism and displays excellent diverse work. The locals deserve it even past the argument of how many tourist dollars it draws in.

However, I’ve had several friends who have worked there in the past and that place is a nightmare of a work environment. Some serious mismanagement and I’d even say staff abuse from what I’ve heard and observed. They’ve got really high turnover and when you see that consistently you know it is a giant red flag about the organization. The Executive Director may have some sort of tunnel vision about getting this museum to grow into whatever it is she is hoping for, but from everything I’ve witnessed it’s a terrible organization from the top down. The staff on the bottom are great, doing great work, trying hard to bring in a great experience of arts and culture, but the top few positions of the pyramid are totally corrupted and flawed. I’ve heard they have a huge 30+ member board and that they are mostly just yes men and women who don’t hold the Executive Director to any kind of real accountability.

If I were on council, and thank gods I am not, but if I were I would probably make the suggestion that if the museum wants to lease that building and spaces directly from the city and make the building adjustments then first they need to go through a organizational efficiency management audit and have the city weigh in on how much they actually give back to the community. It definitely seems to be true that the top museum administration seems very cut throat and not at all a member of the overall arts community when honestly they need to be not only a key player but actual leader who supports all of the arts in Asheville.

luther blissett July 25, 2014 - 1:27 pm

“I’ve heard they have a huge 30+ member board and that they are mostly just yes men and women who don’t hold the Executive Director to any kind of real accountability.”

The Form 990s list the board (although the museum website doesn’t) and I believe one of Michalove’s comments was that there’s not much transparency on who they are, how they’re appointed, and what kind of processes they follow.

I do see that the museum is looking for unpaid interns and is available for your upscale reception.

The fundamental issue with the Art Museum is the sense of it being in Asheville, but not of Asheville. The lack of transparency contributes to that. That’s fine if you’re a self-sustained institution, but not if you’re requesting the lion’s share of the city (and county) arts budget.

Thornton July 23, 2014 - 8:51 pm

They didn’t nudge the Health Adventure out – remember, they wanted out in the first place. And I agree the space for children is better than any other space for children my kids have ever played in at a museum.

ashevillain July 22, 2014 - 5:05 pm

I saw an Ansel Adams exhibit there about 10 years ago. It was amazing.

Other than that?…meh.

jtroop July 23, 2014 - 9:13 am

we end up there by accident sometimes and are usually surprised by the exhibits, but I agree that they have almost no media presence outside the nearly constant “controversy coverage” on wlos/ac-t.

Perhaps that is their media strategy….. “stay in the news so we don’t have to advertise”…

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