Burnsville, NC, is a town (population 1,700) in the mountains of western North Carolina and is by far the smallest community in the NC Arts Council SmART Initiative, an arts-driven economic development strategy that I led. It is in an economically challenged area decimated by the collapse of manufacturing over the last 15 years. But Burnsville and the surrounding region have important assets, not the least of which are the majestic mountains including the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi and the amazing population of artists drawn by both the natural beauty and the Penland School of Crafts. The late Harvey Littleton, the founder of studio glass in America, called the region home as does world renowned conceptual public artist Mel Chin. The area may have the highest per capita concentration of artists in America.
Still times are tough, poverty is common, and many talented artists struggle to make a living. To help the community and its artists the NC Arts Council and the Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) went through a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process to find an artist to lead the development of an artscape vision plan. The chosen artist, Jack Mackie, worked with the community on the vision plan and, with the NC Arts Council, TRAC and local leaders, persuaded the Town Council to officially adopt the final vision plan as the guiding document for public art and aesthetics in Burnsville.
A key focus of the plan is how the state Department of Transportation four-lane widening project of Scenic Highway 19E through the town can be used to transform gateways into the historic downtown and town square. The process is a new one for the NC DOT and is a key test case for embedding art and aesthetics in their infrastructure projects. Below is Jack’s proposed transformation that east bound drivers coming from Asheville, NC, would see at the west Burnsville Gateway. The fabrication of the glass pieces will be contracted to leading local glass artists.