Agency: Asheville (North Carolina) Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department
Director: Roderick Simmons
Innovation: “It’s a cross between an ice cream truck and a bookmobile—it’s educational and fun at the same time.”
Summary: A converted 1984 utility van (think bread truck) was rehabbed by the city’s fleet division and turned into a mobile arts platform complete with power, lights, sound system, tables, and chairs. The department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts created a traveling art program, movie theater, concert venue, and festival support system that brings it all to the public.
Taking the Show on the Road
The Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs of the City of Asheville, North Carolina, faced a dilemma. It had a high-quality arts and cultural heritage program, but it realized they were not reaching the entire community. Faced with budget cuts and economies of scale in trying to provide arts supplies for every community center, the agency realized it was falling behind in serving the needs of the public.
“We hit on the idea of putting it all in one vehicle and creating a mobile program,” says Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of cultural arts. “Originally, we were looking for an ambulance, but they are very difficult to come by. A superintendent from another division offered up ‘Sam’s old truck,’ a 1984 vehicle that was out of service and being used as a storage shed. We cleaned out the hornets’ nests and took it to our city’s fleet division, which took it on as winter project.
“From a cultural arts standpoint,” Ruggiero says, “it has completely changed the way we do business. We don’t even do traditional programs at the centers the way we used to. We now take the program to the community, and take the artists along with the mobile lab.”
In addition to the programs and festivals done at park locations, the Easel Rider truck has extended the reach of the department to collaborate with other organizations.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to have a big idea without having every last detail worked out in advance—at some point you just need to be flexible and adjust as you go. Tackle challenges as you go forward.
Challenge: “For us, it was the realization that we were only reaching a small part of the population, and we needed to change the way were doing things. When we had the idea and moved to implementation, there was instant acceptance.”
Going Forward: While many park and recreation departments have mobile divisions (and some have been mothballed in recent years because of budget cuts), the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts in Asheville is taking a new look at how it serves the public and how “thinking mobile” can be applied to other types of programs.
Innovations is a monthly feature of the magazine on cutting-edge projects from park and recreation agencies of all sizes in all locations. Have an innovative project or program? Contact Danielle Taylor, Associate Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.