Music center sees change as chance for reinvention

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The National Council for the Traditional Arts is ending its partnership with the Blue Ridge Music Center after 25 years, giving the BRMC an opportunity to shape a new course for the future.

By Brian Funk, Editor

For the past 25 years, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, has guided the development, construction and operation of the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax.
Now, the NCTA is shifting its focus and parting ways with the Blue Ridge Parkway’s museum and performance venue devoted to history and future of traditional Appalachian music.
In a recent letter to local government leaders, Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis talked about the changes and how the music center will use this shift as an opportunity to plan the center’s future.

The NCTA, led at the time by former director Joe Wilson of Fries, was instrumental in nurturing the idea when it arose in the 1980s and finding federal money to create the attraction at the parkway’s Milepost 213. As the music center’s non-profit partner, the federal agency has been in charge of programming since the facility opened.
The center is and will continue to be owned by the National Park Service.
In the letter, Francis praised the NCTA for its “exemplary and dedicated service” and for presenting high-quality performances for years.
He said the agency “recently informed the parkway of its need to focus more time and attention on other commitments nationwide, and to that end, the 2012 season will be NCTA’s last season as the primary on-site program partner.”
Francis explained that the NCTA will not be out of the picture entirely. The agency will “continue its involvement beyond 2012 in a supporting role, providing various forms of assistance as it does for national parks across the country.”
As the music center goes through this transition, Francis said the parkway has asked the non-profit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation “to step in with funding assistance and leadership to insure programming continues uninterrupted until such time as a new management model and/or non-profit partner for the Blue Ridge Music Center is identified.”
Francis hinted that this new partnership would likely involve guidance from the areas the music center serves. “Together, we believe it’s the right time... for a regionally based organization(s) to be more involved in the center’s public programs.”
The parkway has asked the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to lead a strategic, community-driven process to develop a sustainable operational model appropriate to the music center’s mission.
“This collaborative process is fully supported by the partners involved,” Francis added.
(The letter was a joint press release of the parkway, the parkway foundation and the NCTA.)
Francis said the partners are proud of the music center’s achievements — including a state of the art visitor information and educational facility; award-winning exhibits featuring one-of-a-kind artifacts and instruments; daily Mid-Day Mountain Music performed by local and regional talent; and the outdoor concert series — that create “an exceptional experience enjoyed by parkway visitors from near and far.”
Francis said the partners are looking at the NCTA’s reduced role as a chance to look at new ways to sustain and enrich the music center by collaborating with communities in the area and across the Blue Ridge region.
“We ask for your support and participation, now and in the months and years to come,” Francis wrote in the letter. “Input from you and others who share our strong commitment to the Blue Ridge Music Center’s mission to celebrate, honor and interpret the musical and cultural heritage of the southern Appalachian region is essential.
“We encourage you to engage, to be in touch, and to share your ideas and hopes for the Blue Ridge Music Center with us. All comments are important.
“We recognize that the music center has a special role to play in a region rich with traditional music opportunities.”
Comments about the parkway’s plan for the Blue Ridge Music Center can be sent via e-mail to  brmc@brpfoundation.org.
“We look forward to working hand in hand with you to shape the future for the Blue Ridge Music Center that fulfills its potential to serve the community, region and nation.”