WEST JEFFERSON — Not all jobs are built equally. Some are simple and a new employee can do everything immediately, while others require time and patience to master.
The role of executive director of the Ashe County Arts Council is somewhere in between, with Jeff Fissel, who took over the role in July 2019, learning all he can while new things are happening and plans are being made a year in advance.
“I learn more and more every day and I have a better understanding of things every day as I get to do them and talk to more folks,” Fissel said. “A lot of it is still learning and asking questions.”
Fissel said to completely grasp and be involved with everything cannot be done in the time he has been in the position, with many events such as the Blue Ridge Brutal and the Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention planned well before he took over.
“Now we’re going to come back around to the planning stages of some of the events I’ve seen so that’s kind of fun since I’m seeing it from a completely different angle,” Fissel said.
At the same time, planning is already under way for events such as the On The Same Page Literary Festival, held in September, and the Brutal, held in August.
“A lot of times, with an event, the best time to think about the following year is the week after your event ends,” Fissel said. “It’s all still fresh in your mind, you’re able to do a wrap-up and think of what the changes need to be.”
A big help to Fissel was the foundation set by longtime executive director Jane Lonon and members of the Arts Council’s board. Fissel spoke about the amount of work Lonon put in to have any information he needs readily available, and how members of the board have introduced him to the people he needs and wants to know.
Fissel admitted he still has a lot to learn about certain things that come with the Arts Council, mostly some of the arts-side of things he did not have experience with in previous jobs.
“There’s some crossover there, but then there was some things that were completely different. Working with the gallery committee and planning next year’s, no experience with that,” Fissel said. “There’s a lot of new things, which is fun.”
He added that the organization’s structure is stable, already having many people in the right roles for everyone to succeed together. Fissel said part of the experience has been leaning on others to keep the ship steady, and looking to make contributions when he can.
“I wasn’t hired to come in here and change everything,” Fissel said. “If someone had come in here and done that, what are you really accomplishing when you have so many greats events that are so well-embraced by the community. If you come in here and throw out all of this amazing stuff, just to be different, I don’t see any value in that.”
Fissel said he’s still amazed at how much the Arts Council does and how much they continue to do. He added he looks forward to continuing to be a part of that tradition and help it moving forward.