Arrowmont: auctions or actions?

Arrowmont’s director, David Willard, is quoted in a Metro Pulse article about the situation facing the school. In any sort of ongoing negotiations, someone in his position always has to be circumspect in what he says in public, but I don’t see a great deal of vision displayed in his remarks. Here are a series of quotes from the article and my thoughts on them.

Arrowmont’s lease extends through 2011, and the school has engaged legal counsel to pursue possible options. But Willard says that process is not far enough along to offer encouragement.

The facts are simple. Pi Beta Phi owns the land and is going to sell the land, while Arrowmont has a lease through 2011. Arrowmont needs to leverage that lease to get Pi Beta Phi to offer more than the $9 million on the table right now. While legal advice is useful, Arrowmont needs to rally its friends, aggressively seek a new home, and push pressure on Pi Beta Phi to share its impending windfall and pay for the move.

Both Willard and (Marcia) Goldenstein (a board member) say that while the aesthetic disparity between Arrowmont’s pastoral campus and the over-developed adjacent strip that runs through Gatlinburg has grown steadily over recent decades, there was no sense among those at the school that it would come to this.

Well, yes, this land sale was a shock. These kind of moves always are. Now shake it off and get cracking to find the next home for Arrowmont. Don’t wait to see what happens–you need to create that future yourselves.

Metro Pulse writer Chris Barrett interviewed Robin Dreyer, the spokesman for the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina, who shared some information about school finances:

Roughly 45 percent of Penland’s budget is raised through fees and tuition. The balance comes from an endowment, individual gifts, grants, and sundry government channels, both state and federal. Dreyer says that consultants tell Penland that getting 33 percent of its budget from fees and tuition would mean a better balance between solvency and affordability. According to Arrowmont’s website, Arrowmont receives 60 percent of its annual operating funds through tuition and fees.

Penland is off by itself out in the country. That’s the ideal setting for craft instruction, but one that puts the entire financial burden on the school. That’s why I advocate Arrowmont relocating to a town that could offer support in the form of free or low-cost land, a free building and direct aid, and involvement with school districts or other entities that can provide support. Note that Penland receives “sundry government channels, both state and federal.” Arrowmont needs to tap into that money as well as local government help.

More importantly, the School needs to get more aggressive NOW with fundraising from friends and students and other supporters for this move. Donors respond to crises–Americans are the most charitable people in the world–and, properly motivated, they will rally around Arrowmont.

Right now, several Pi Beta Phi chapters give lots of money to Arrowmont. Florida Delta Chapter and Nashville, TN Alumnae Club each gave over $10,000 last year. The Arkansas Alpha Chapter and Texas Gamma Chapter gave somewhere between $7,500 and $9,999. And so on down the line. You can see other supporters here. Arrowmont needs to cement relations with these chapters in order to ask them to help pay for the move and so that they will keep giving even after Arrowmont gets the boot from Pi Beta Phi.

I was disappointed to see David Willard’s and board member Marcia Goldenstein’s advice to supporters of Arrowmont:

Both Willard and Goldenstein are grateful for the recent outpouring of public support, and say that financial support remains the best way to express a desire for Arrowmont to continue. Willard suggests enrolling in a course or responding to the Friends of Arrowmont’s current annual fundraising campaign. He also says that next spring and summer promise themed auctions of artwork.

Arrowmont is fighting for its life, and you recommend enrolling in a course and getting ready for a themed auction??? Again, Willard and Goldenstein have to be careful in their public utterances while in negotiations with Pi Beta Phi, but here’s what needs to happen:

Arrowmont needs a visible and vocal group of supporters. Various people have made some noise about Pi Phi pulling the rug out from Arrowmont, but their efforts appear splintered. That Metro Pulse article should have had a comment from an ardent supporter of Arrowmont. Who is that person? Where is that person? How can this person and that group be reached?

Someone has to own this fight. Right now there’s one Save Arrowmont blog on the Web, but the blogger remains anonymous. You can go to a Save Arrowmont website, but there’s no real call to action. There’s an Internet petition floating around out there, but those sorts of petitions mean nothing. Friends of Arrowmont need a person to lead the charge and a website that lays out the School’s situation and gives supporters a clear course and list of action items they can do to help the School.

Keep the pressure on Pi Beta Phi. Sororities, even sororities that call themselves fraternities, do not like bad publicity. Pi Phis who want to help Arrowmont need to call those chapters that support the School, tell them of the situation, and enlist their aid in getting the Pi Phi board to do the right thing. Tell every chapter about this impending deal and seek to get 100 percent of them on the record in supporting Arrowmont. Pi Phi cannot ignore its own people.

Raise hell. Television stations love demonstrations. March. Sing. Wave quilts. Keep this in the news and keep up the pressure on Pi Phi. Do a march in Nashville as well as Knoxville and Gatlinburg. Write letters to the editor and contact reporters. Keep this story alive.

Behind the scenes, the School needs to:

Start getting the numbers for what the move will cost. What can be moved from the campus and what will have to be bought? How much space does Arrowmont really need? How much space would it like to have? What is the minimum amount of space it would need to get established somewhere else with the potential to grow?

Assemble a task force of people who have the authority to negotiate for Arrowmont. Start approaching Greeneville and other towns and getting the best deal for a move. Find out what they have to offer. Play one town against the other. How would a private company seeking to relocate do this? So many times, Tennessee towns throw the moon and stars at industries offering to bring in a bunch of minimum wage jobs. See what they will do for Arrowmont, a distinguished school that would become an instant asset anywhere it goes.

Enlist the aid of Senator Lamar Alexander. Get him on board. He is an East Tennessean with more than a passing interest in the arts. His staff can investigate any Federal money that might help Arrowmont or economic development grants that East Tennessee towns could use to help the School relocate. Senator Alexander is a politician; he has pull and would love to be seen as the guy who saved Arrowmont.

Engineer a solution that will make Pi Beta Phi look good. Pi Beta Phi is not a bad organization. They do good deeds, and selling this valuable land will make it possible to do more good deeds. Ideally, Arrowmont’s board or task force will find a new home and come up with the price tag for a move. Right now, Pi Phi is offering $9 million. Perhaps the amount needed will be $12 million, or $15 million. Make a convincing case for the School’s needs, but you can’t do that until you know what they are.

Don’t sit back and wait. Metro Pulse quotes director Willard as saying “The options are yet to be determined. There are a lot of forks in the road before us. As things develop, that will enable us to make a plan. It’s not as fast as we’d like it to be. There’s not a lot to talk about yet.”

Don’t wait for things to develop. Get out there and develop them. Start investigating those forks in the road and define your own route. If you don’t, some day soon Pi Phi will hand you a check and tell you when you have to vacate the Gatlinburg property. Once that happens, you have lost the chance to negotiate with Pi Phi.

Arrowmont has a wonderful and distinguished past, but its future is in jeopardy unless some leaders come forward and fight for this School.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

9 Responses to Arrowmont: auctions or actions?

  1. Annie Angel says:

    Tennessee Guy, We think you have great ideas. Just a little clarification. Pi Beta Phi was founded in 1867 as a fraternity. There were no “sororities” in 1867. Our founding documents give our name as a fraternity, we don’t just “call ourselves” a fraternity. Also, this action to sell Arrowmont property came from our governing body called “Grand Council.” This name is historic and not descriptive of the current members. Grand Council, without knowledge of Arrowmont’s Board of Governors or the membership said to be about 140,000, embarked upon these negotiations. Some members oppose the sale, some members due to lack of knowledge don’t care, and some members are willing to go along with Grand Council.
    Thank you for your suggestions and support. We think you have made the most thoughtful suggestions of any of the non-Pi Phi posters. Some of us Arrowmont supporters feel terrible that we did not react stronger several years ago when the current leadership of Pi Phi began to de-emphasize Arrowmont. We should have been more vigilant. We should have stopped their interest in trendy “literacy” causes and made them acknowledge our unique philanthropy and continue to put support in Arrowmont.

  2. cheyenne says:

    it sounds like you have everything that’s needed to do what you are saying “someone” should do. my husband and i live in florida, and have done as much as possible to help with the situation, including talk in depth with david willard, start the online petition, contact various local officials in gatlinburg. we are in florida, though. you seem to know how to get things done, and you live close enough to do them. i know of plenty of people who would support your plans. put them into action! get it started!

  3. tennesseeguy says:

    Alas, I live in Boulder, Colorado, which is 1,400 miles from Gatlinburg. Every time I drive past a T-shirt shop, however, I feel like I’m right there.

  4. Ali Tinney says:

    I moved here in March… I live here and have taken a class at Arrowmont. I just heard about all of this last week. I work as a contract programmer during the day but if planned I can take time off if all my projects are up to date. My father was a developer in Ocala FL so I have had exposure to development of horse farms and fights to keep trees. Small potatoes I know, but I do have fire, especially when it comes to something that is personal to me.

    I am not sure if it is too late. If it isn’t let me be your voice and gopher. I may have access to a government affair this coming March. If I need to make appointments I need to make them fast. I need to be brought up to speed with the truth.

    If there is anyone still out there that hears me… Here I am… tell me it is not too late.

    Peace be with you alway… Ali

  5. Ali Tinney says:

    Tennesseeguy I thought your plan was well written. Cheyenne I would be interested to know what you have done. I am a 54 yr old woman that has taken on a hospital and county commission to move a small mountain and win. Again…If it is not too late.

    Do either of you know if there is any truth to the land deal that was told to me? I have been told by a local that their Grandfather contributed to the fund to buy the land. I was told that the community of Gatlinburg came up with 1000 dollars and the PPB contributed 200 dollars and some how the land was placed in PPB’s name. The total cost of the land was $1200.00. I do not know how true that is but the person that told me is a pretty straight up person. The thing is that there is no receipts from the community. 100 yrs was a long time for the people back in that time. If what was told to me is true, then those folks expected it to stay a school and trusted the PPB to watch over it. Because the organization was educated and around a lot longer then the community decision makers.

  6. tennesseeguy says:


    Thanks for writing. Fire is good to have, but what Arrowmont needs more right now is strategic planning. The recession put the plans to sell the Arrowmont property on ice, as it did the efforts to develop the old Christus Gardens site in Gatlinburg. But those plans did not go away.

    Pi Beta Phi is smart to wait to sell the property, which they will do when economic conditions improve. The people who run Arrowmont have been given a gift of time to assess who they are, who are the people they serve, and how and where can that best be done.

    It remains to be seen if the people who run Arrowmont will use this time wisely. If you live in Gatlinburg, ask them what they are doing–and keep me posted.

  7. Ali Tinney says:

    My PLAN
    Hi Jeff… I have done project management too. You have asked good questions that need to be assessed. I got them down. I personally would like to see Arrowmont have three plans in the works. Plan A, they stay where they are at. Plan B, They stay in the local county different site and Plan C move to another county.

    I will keep you informed and if you have any suggestions, or comments please let me know.

    Thank so much…. Ali

  8. Ali Tinney says:

    Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg losing lease in 2012
    By Associated Press
    3:29 PM CST, February 4, 2010

    GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is losing its lease in Gatlinburg.

    The lease will not be extended beyond 2012. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the school’s possible relocation sites are Knoxville and Greeneville.

    The site in downtown Gatlinburg is owned by Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, which has said it is interested in selling the location to developers.

    The school sponsors workshops, exhibitions and other programs, and has received national recognition for its work. It operates a 14-acre residential campus for arts and crafts students who attend one- and two-week workshops.


    Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,

    • tennesseeguy says:

      Thanks for sending this clipping along. Interesting that the choices are Knoxville and Greeneville–I recommended the latter in some earlier discussions on this blog. Arrowmont will have to go where it can get funding and find the best deal on buildings, et cetera, but I hope they go to Greeneville. Knoxville offers galleries and coffee shops and more things to do when not in the studio, but I would fear that all these choices would tempt people taking courses to spend less time with each other.

      While art is usually a solitary activity, people are social animals, and associating with others who also wrestle with creativity is a valuable experience. I’ve known writers who spent time in artist colonies such as Yaddo, and they all say that the meals and evening walks and chats are wonderful.

      Arrowmont would be a small frog in the big pond of Knoxville, but in a place like Greeneville the School would enjoy greater stature and could become a part of the community, which they haven’t really been for years in Gatlinburg.

      Let’s hope that Pi Beta Phi does right by Arrowmont as they bid each other adieu, and that five years from now Arrowmont looks back on this move as the beginning of the time when the School at last stood on its own, an independent entity that fulfills a vital role in a new home.

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