Asheville Area Arts Council Announces New Leadership

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After an extensive search, the Asheville Area Arts Council has named Katie Cornell as its executive director. Cornell was previously the development manager for the Center for Craft and serves as the chair of the City of Asheville’s Public Art & Cultural Commission.

She has more than 18 years of experience working in the Asheville arts sector and holds a Master’s degree in Arts Leadership & Cultural Management from Colorado State University and a BA in Drama from UNC Asheville.

“Katie Cornell has been aligned professionally and personally to the mission of the AAAC long before coming to our team. We are very excited by her vision and passion to strengthen the AAAC as the collective voice of the arts in Buncombe County,” said Interim Executive Director Janelle Wienke.


Wienke was appointed Interim Executive Director in January and previously held the role of grants manager for the organization. Wienke has been a member for the Asheville Area Arts Council team since 2015 and has overseen the distribution of nearly $250,000 in grants to Buncombe County arts organizations and artists. Wienke will continue to serve in a leadership capacity as the Assistant Director.

As the executive officer, Cornell will work with staff and board to support the arts council’s mission, which is to serve as a collective voice for the arts in Buncombe County by delivering resources, developing innovative collaborations, and fostering creativity in the community.

“It is an amazing time for the arts in Asheville.” said Cornell “This year alone four arts organizations will reopen in downtown, including the long-awaited Asheville Art Museum, the expanded Wortham Center, the LEAF Global Arts Center, and the Center for Craft’s enhanced urban craft campus. Next year, we will also see a major transformation in the River Arts District as the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP) reaches completion. I look forward to working with the arts council’s dedicated staff and board to amplify what is happening in our vibrant arts community, and to ensure the continued sustainability and growth of our richly diverse cultural sector.”

The arts council also appointed a new board chair last month. Previous chair Gar Ragland will continue to serve on the board but has recently stepped down from his leadership role to focus more time on current business projects. Ragland is a music entrepreneur, producer, composer and the president and co-founder of NewSong Music, an independent artist development company based in Asheville. “Serving on the board of the Asheville Area Arts Council for the last 5 years – the last four as its chair – has been one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life. I believe deeply in the work of this organization, its board and staff, and the unique and irreplaceable role it plays in Asheville and Buncombe County,”  said Ragland. “We’ve accomplished much together, and while I look forward to continuing to serve on the board, it is with great enthusiasm that I pass the chairmanship to my colleague Pete Perez, whose passion, proven leadership and wealth of experience will take the AAAC to even greater heights.”

Newly elected Board Chair Pete Perez has held a number of top Human Resources executive positions including Kraft Pepsi, and ConAgra Foods, with a focus on talent management/leadership development, culture change, and diversity. He earned a BS in Business from Eastern Illinois University and an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. He has a passion for the arts and artists in Asheville that are such a crucial part of this special city.

Cornell and Perez will spend the first 90 days working with the staff and board to establish a strategic work plan for the organization moving forward. “I am proud to have Katie on board as our new Executive Director, and together we stand at a unique moment in time that we plan to take full advantage of,” said Perez. “The arts community in Asheville is the heart and soul of what makes this city so special and a destination for both artists and lovers of art. Our commitment at AAAC is to grow and support our artistic community and to become the umbrella organization serving as the champion and voice for the Arts in Asheville and Buncombe County.”

The Asheville Area Arts Council creates opportunities for public participation and appreciation of art; advocates for the value of art in our community and economy; collaborates with partner organizations to offer and expand arts programming; and supports promising projects and artists in their exciting endeavors and professional success. Visit for additional information.