Amber Bateman assumed the role of Watauga County Arts Council executive director on Aug. 1, following the retirement of Cherry Johnson, who was executive director for 28 years. Born and raised in Boone and its surrounding communities, Bateman returned to the High Country in 2010 from Pittsburgh, Pa., and she now lives in the mountains with her husband, Charlie, and their three daughters: Sophia, 15, Julia, 13, and Isabell, 10.

While living away from Boone from 2005 until 2010, Bateman said that her “creative energy was going more toward building a family.” When she returned to the mountain town, she knew she wanted to do something to help the community, which is when she founded Quiet Givers, a nonprofit established to meet needs of individuals in the community. Bateman also played a role in establishing the annual Back 2 School Festival, which takes place each August and is also a nonprofit event.

Bateman has been involved with the arts scene since she was a child, calling herself a “kitchen table artist” since she doesn’t have a formal degree in an arts field. She graduated from Caldwell Community College in the early-2000s and worked as a professional photographer for North Carolina for a number of years while building her family.

Shortly after returning to Boone and founding a community-based nonprofit nearly a decade ago, Bateman enrolled in “a couple of different classes” with the Watauga County Arts Council. At that point, Bateman said, “I knew I wanted to get involved (with the council), but at the time I knew that I was already spreading myself too thin.”

“When I heard Cherry was going to retire about a year and a half ago, it really moved some energy in me, and I wanted to get involved,” Bateman said. “I couldn’t ignore the passion that I had to see a change and some unified effort in the community’s art.”

Bateman said that her goal as executive director is to create “unity and community.”

“I see a ton of talent out here in the community, and we could help bring some of them together,” she said. “Artists are a key part of what makes this community thrive.”

Bateman has come up with four pillars on which she plans to grow the arts council’s programs and the Blue Ridge ArtSpace, located on Shadowline Drive in Boone. The pillars include advocacy, education, support and inspiration, each of which are tied to community.

“One of my big focuses is going to be to put the arts back into the community and not just at the Blue Ridge ArtSpace,” Bateman said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has given the ArtSpace’s staff time to clean out the space of unnecessary supplies and art.

Several projects are underway at the Blue Ridge ArtSpace in Boone, including a New Beginnings Art Sale, temporarily closing the gift shop and an interactive exhibition in collaboration with a local business on King Street.

According to Bateman, the Blue Ridge ArtSpace Gift Shop space will be used as an instructional area for art lessons as the gift shop is being reworked during the gallery’s closure due to COVID-19, adding that while the gift shop is closed, the ArtSpace will be hosting pop-up art sale events across Watauga County.

“We’re either going to open the gift shop in another room of the ArtSpace or a satellite location,” she said. “We would like to use all of the ArtSpace to showcase work and hold lessons.”

In October, a pop-up art sale is scheduled to take place at Cheap Joe’s Art Supplies in Boone, located on Industrial Park Drive. While the details of this event are still being planned, a date and time will be released at a later time.

The New Beginnings Art Sale is set to be held on Sept. 19 at the Blue Ridge ArtSpace in Boone, both inside the facility and in it’s parking lot. The Art Sale will include marked down items from the gallery’s gift shop and past exhibitions, and community members are welcome to donate items to the event. Proceeds will benefit the Blue Ridge ArtSpace, and those interested in making a donation to the sale should call the ArtSpace at (828) 264-1789 to arrange a time to drop off items.

“We’re definitely looking for fresh volunteers and people who have passion for the arts,” she said. “I want people to know that I have an open door, and I’m open to new ideas (for showcasing High Country artists). If there are arts groups that need meeting space or space to work, we are happy to open our doors to them as well. If there are artists in the community who would like to get involved in any way, we encourage them to reach out.”

Bateman said on Aug. 8 that her family, and especially her husband Charlie, have“ always been super supportive” of her and her drive to be involved in their communities.

For more information about the Blue Ridge ArtSpace and the Watauga County Arts Council, visit www.facebook.com/WataugaCountyArtsCouncil or www.watauga-arts.org.

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