Asheville: A Community That Comes Together To Celebrate

What do these have in common: The Asheville City Parks & Recreation Department, Quality Forward, Community Arts Council and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, along with thousands and thousands of volunteers?

FESTIVALS!  They all worked together in the 1970s and 1980s to create a broad range of festivals that were created in part to bring people back downtown. They worked together to created what became a major factor in Asheville’s revitalization its end-product which is so visible today.

Hallelujah Asheville, Sunday in the Park, Light Up Your Holidays, First Night, Bele Chere.

Quality Forward (QF) was launched in January 1977 to continue the work done by Quality 76 which, in conjunction with the national bicentennial, was created to upgrade the quality of life in Asheville and Buncombe County. I used to think Quality Forward was about cleaning up trash and planting trees. But they had a Cultural Division, and its initial goal was to re-institute a downtown summer festival, similar to the Rhododendron Festival of bygone years. And I’d always thought that the Arts Council, known then as the Community Arts Council of WNC, was specific to promoting local artists through gallery shows and funding. But they were as much involved in the cultural life of the city as was the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Hallelujah Asheville! was born in 1976 the same year as the Bicententennial. It was no small festival. It was a 10 day festival! Sponsors were QF, Parks & Rec, and the Arts Council. Leslie Anderson, chairman of the festival, said “Early on, we’d plan an event and ten people might show up, and we’d go, ‘Great,’ and do it again! An early test run of a 3 day festival the previous fall enthused the heads of the sponsoring departments to keep growing. And that they did. Deborah Austin was the administrator for the Arts Council during this decade, and early on Jean Webb represented Quality Forward.


“Asheville Citizen Times” October 8, 1978



Hallelujah Asheville music event on Wall Street, 1978.

The local artists had much to gain. For the most part, local musicians, story tellers, poets, artists, actors and handcrafters made up the festival calendar.


The first Bele Chere’s festival was in 1979. The chairman of the 1979 Bele Chere committee said, “Literally hundreds of community-minded individuals have taken time from their business and personal lives to contribute to the implementation and success of Bele Chere. It’s going to be the biggest thing that has happened in Asheville in years.”

Bele Chere, 1985.

Sunday In The Park began in 1980 as an entertainment series. It was not only Downtown, but was county wide. Sponsors were QF, Parks & Rec, and the Arts Council.


Sunday in the park flyer, 1986.

Light Up Your Holidays was created in 1983 to create an interest in Asheville during a traditionally slow time in tourism and to take advantage of Biltmore Estate’s Christmas at Biltmore. Sponsors were QF, Parks & Rec, and the Arts Council. During the 1986 celebration the Downtown Development office reported that “nearly 400 volunteers have worked weeks, and in some cases months on festival details.” They also reported that “from 1983 to 1985, December travel revenue rose 52%.”


New Year’s Eve First Night Celebration at Pack Square, New Year’s Eve, 1991.

Do you want to know more about how civic engagement made Asheville alive again? Do you want to know more about how this was a time that brought new expectations for local appointed and elected officials in how to lead? The panel and other informants will include former elected and appointed local government officials, key volunteers, and activists who changed Asheville through their vision, partnerships and hard work.

Please join us for our sixth and last program in our series.

“Asheville in the 1980s:

A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It”

Sixth Program in the Series

Politics and Civic Engagement

Moderators: Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson

Panelists for the Political segment include: Ken Michalove, City Manager and Mayor; Larry McDevitt, City Council and Mayor; Wilhemina Bratton, City Council and Vice-Mayor; and Tom Sobol, County Commissioner and Chairman.

Panelists for the Civic engagement include Karen Tessier, Grace Pless and Al Whitesides, each of whom were involved in our community and especially downtown in numerous ways in the 80’s.

Wednesday September 28, 2016 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium

All events are free and open to the public.


Post by Zoe Rhine librarian North Carolina Room

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