By Paul H. Howey
August 1, 2021
A Clear Vision in the Smoky Mountains
Ever since it was founded in 1977, the Haywood County Arts Council (HCAC) has played a key role in bringing dance, music, and visual art to the area’s residents and visitors, with both an international and microregional focus. In the early years, HCAC board members met in libraries, churches, and other buildings before moving to 86 North Main St. in the heart of Waynesville, where the Council opened an eponymous gallery.
Morgan Beryl, HCAC’s executive director who was hired in June, says she’s excited to be part of the organization’s newest chapter. “I have an ingrained passion for the arts,” says Beryl, a ceramic artist who studied at New York University.
But she’s also thinking about the bottom line. “We are in the midst of major changes,” Beryl reports. “We are working on a new development plan and capital campaign to increase funding.” Under her leadership and that of the board, the org is pursuing an energetic agenda. “We are very focused on clarifying our programmatic identity, expanding the diversity of our membership and program attendance, and looking for a permanent home for our gallery, class space, and offices,” states Beryl. Seeking cultural equity through diversity is more than a slogan; it is an integral part of HCAC’s mission statement in which the organization declares the need to “celebrate all people.”
HCAC celebrated Pride Month 2021 by installing a sign at the gallery that read: Everyone is Welcome Here. Beryl adds, “We are also strengthening our relationship with the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center in Waynesville to support their existing programming and to encourage more diversity in youth arts.” HCAC works closely with the nearby Eastern Band of Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary, including mounting an exhibit this summer, We Are Still Here, recognizing local Cherokee artists — among them, basketmaker Gabe Crowe, jewelry artist Alica Murphy Wildcatt, finger-weaving and beadworker Loria A. Reed, potter Tara McCoy, and musician/artist Jarrett Grey Wildcatt — and hosting a party with “storytellers, flutists, and authentic food.”
Waynesville is the home base of Folkmoot, the international folk-dance festival that drew some 8,000 participants from 200 countries during its heyday. And the prize novel Cold Mountain — which prompted a blockbuster movie and was partially responsible for the cultural resurgence of mountain music in the early 2000s — was set in Haywood County. Bluegrass-banjo notables Don Reno and Raymond Fairchild hailed from Haywood, as well as Travis and the late Trevor Stuart, identical twin brothers and well-known players (banjo and fiddle, respectively) in the old-time genre. Recognizing the rich history of the county’s mountain music, HCAC continues to sponsor the Junior Appalachian Musician program (JAM) that offers after-school and summer instruction for students nine and older.
The org is also hosting the first annual Smoky Mountains Bluegrass Festival this fall at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, with a major lineup that includes Unspoken Tradition, the Kruger Brothers, and Balsam Range. The 2021 Haywood County Studio Tour will take place September 25-26, and will feature 39 artists in 24 studios.
HCAC’s Gallery 86 features a juried array of pieces by 45 artists working in a variety of mediums, including pottery; pieces sculpted from stone, metal, and wood; paintings; fiber art; stained and fused glass; pencil and pastel pieces; cold wax; and jewelry. All of the gallery’s artists are from the region and most are residents of Haywood County, says Beryl.
“The criteria we use in judging a piece includes determining whether it reflects a high standard of artistic quality that HCAC would be proud to display. Does it demonstrate creativity, originality, and excellence in design?” But Beryl also notes: “The price points are very reasonable, which encourages new art lovers to build their own collection and to share their purchases as gifts.”
Glass artist Gayle Haynie has been a board member for the past year and remarks, “HCAC has provided positive exposure for me personally and professionally. I feel fortunate to be part of an organization that promotes the arts in so many ways.”
The Haywood County Arts Council and Gallery, 86 North Main St., downtown Waynesville. The gallery will feature an exhibit of work by member artists from Friday, Aug. 6 through Saturday, Aug. 28. Gallery hours are 10am-5pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Art After Dark, a monthly gallery crawl, happens 6-9pm on Friday, Sept. 3. The 2021 Haywood County Studio Tour happens Saturday, Sept. 25 and Sunday, Sept. 26, 10am-5pm, featuring 39 artists in 24 studios. The Smoky Mountains Bluegrass Festival happens Saturday, Oct. 23. For more information about these and other upcoming events, call 828-452-0593 or see haywoodarts.org.