History of the Haywood County Arts Council

Since its establishment in 1977, the Haywood County Arts Council (HCAC) has supported the growth of the arts throughout the region, providing support for local creative artists and expanding opportunities for audiences, including pre-K through community college students. The Arts Council offers educational programs, performances, and events that serve Haywood County’s population and provide revenue for the Arts Council’s operating expenses.

Beginning with volunteers in the 1970s, HCAC hired its first part-time director in 1982. The first full-time director came on board in the mid-1980s. The HCAC Board of Directors has included business people, educators, representatives from non-profit agencies, retirees, political figures, and so on, striving to represent various communities in Haywood County.

HCAC has been the impetus for numerous spinoff organizations, notably the Haywood Regional Arts Theatre (HART) in 1984. Until the formation of HART, HCAC produced plays at various venues. Other spinoffs have included the Smoky Mountain British Brass Band, Voices in the Laurel, and Haywood Crafts Associates. HCAC was a partner in the formation of the Downtown Waynesville Association in the1980s.

Among the most significant events and programs of the Arts Council have been the following:

  • The Sunday Series, a partnership with the Friends of Haywood County Library (1982-present), has provided free concerts, presentations, and performances by local artists. Most of the events originally took place at the Waynesville branch of the library, but in 2011 the series expanded to the Canton branch.
  • The Atlanta Ballet Mountain Homecoming (1991-2004), perhaps the most ambitious program in HCAC history, was a residency by one of the nation’s leading dance companies and involved performances, workshops, open rehearsals, and events for school children of all ages. Despite considerable community support, the series ended due to steep increases in expenses.
  • ArtFest (Formerly International Festival Day) (1985-present) began as a partnership with Folkmoot USA as a venue for folk dance troupes from around the world, local musicians, regional and international food, and vendors of arts and crafts. An annual highlight is the Passport to the Arts Children’s Craft Tent.
  • Since its inception, HCAC has seen children’s programs as a vital part of its mission. Over the years, HCAC has sponsored a wide variety of programs featuring writers, visual and performing artists, musical performances, and more. HCAC was instrumental in providing a strings program for school students in the 1980s-1990s. Among the most our ambitious programs was the annual Razzle Dazzle Saturday Children’s Arts Festival, which for approximately 15 years brought live performances, hands-on arts activities, food, and fun to children and their families. Haywood County Schools personnel provided leadership for Razzle Dazzle.
  • The Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) program (2001-present), supported by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, brings together traditional Appalachian musicians and young players for old time music instruction and public performance.  Enrichment in mountain dance, song, and storytelling enhance students possessive participation in and appreciation of local cultural heritage.
  • The Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival (1994-present) has provided a five-week series of chamber music performances. SCMF is coordinated through Warren Wilson College. Swannanoa was an impetus for purchase of a $50,000 Steinway grand piano, kept at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, and used not only for chamber music, but also the Young Artist Concert, the Student Honors Recital, jazz concerts, and other performances. The piano was paid for within one year, due to a strong fund-raising campaign. The Steinway grand constitutes HCAC’s largest single property.
  • The Young Artist Concert, an annual fundraiser has brought an up-and-coming pianist to the community for a summer concert.
  • HCAC’s programs (Open Studios Tour, Quilt Trails) for the visual arts took a definite step forward with the move to Gallery 86 on Main Street in 2005. Although the “little gallery” in the Church Street office was a venue for displaying local art, Gallery 86 provided a regular and rotating series of exhibitions of paintings, crafts, sculpture, photography, furniture, and other visual arts.  Now called Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery & Gifts, the space features a contemporary and classic gallery alongside fine local crafts.