Torey Mishoe is the first-ever executive director at the Hillsborough Arts Council. You can go one further and say she is the first-ever full-time employee at the Arts Council.
“I love the position,” said Mishoe. “I have a master’s degree in museum studies. They teach you literally everything you could ever think of. Hurricanes, tornados everything like that, you’ve got a plan for. But nobody ever taught us pandemic management. It didn’t exist.”
So now, Mishoe is getting ready to launch a program that she is hoping will get the Hillsborough Arts Council back on its feet and back in front of people, even if it’s by virtual methods.
“I think we’re finally gaining some traction,” she said. “It took a while. Maybe that goes for everybody, but some people seem to bounce back pretty quickly. It took us a little while to get our footing again. I think we’re in a much better position than we were in the middle of April, as everything was kind of falling apart around us.”
That was about the time the state was ordered to shelter-in-place. The Arts Council, which produces more than a dozen programs every year, many of those fueled by mass gatherings.
“It became really problematic as we were forced into the stay-at-home order and all of the new phased orders,” Mishoe said. “Not gathering is a really big part of
everything right now. We were put in a position where almost everything we did needed to be immediately stopped. Most of our programs are grant-funded, which also support overhead costs. They’re major events for us. Many of them are revenue-generating, in one way or another. The inability to gather was the most devastating part of COVID for us, at least right out of the gate.”
In January, the Arts Council had just completed two years of strategic planning that included five- and 10-year goals of how it wanted the Arts Council to look and what kind of endeavors it would take to take on. COVID hit and all of that halted.
“That strategic plan is a big part of what drove all of what we do,” Mishoe said. “It took a few weeks, but we regrouped and we got together — at appropriate social distances — and we took our strategic plan and basically threw it out the window and started it fresh. We weren’t sure how were we going to bounce back from this. Knowing what we now know and the uncertainty of how long this is going to last means that we can’t do any of the things that we like to do or that we usually do. How can we bounced back? That’s been driving our rethinking and reengineering of a lot of things.
The Arts Council started with the low-hanging fruit, such as putting its gift shop online, where it can sell things and engage with artists and the community through a virtual platform.
“We will meet the needs the best we can in our virtual realm until we can be back in the actual realm,” Mishoe said. “All of these committees started meeting this week, and we found these pillars of things we can do, we have resources for. We’re really excited about this. They include a sort of Master Class series of videos, maybe 45 min. to an hour, pre-recorded, on related topics to the arts. So, for example, we have our plein air program coming up. The video will be about how to plein air paint. How to sharpen your skills to paint outdoors. Maybe music lessons, maybe writing workshops. Anything that crosses into the arts that we can connect with local artists who can teach. That’s just beginning to come together. We are working with (best-selling author and Hillsborough resident) Lee Smith, who had actually volunteered to come in to help us in the early stages. Some writers could do a series where they can read from whatever book they have, answer questions or take part in a kind of an artists studio-style interview. And then maybe they can throw out some creative prompts, or something to further engage with people.
“Music, of course, is always a big one for us. We’re sifting through that and whether we can bring music to the physical realm, and what that would look like. Of course, virtual concerts. We’re also focused on giving a big boost to our Artcycle Program to help serve the schools whose kids are now home. We’re extending our usual Artscycle program to include musical instruments, as well,” she said.
“Those are the four big endeavors that we have taken on related to COVID.”
The Hillsborough Arts Council is hoping to have some form of Last Fridays back up next month, which is a little tricky given the event typically draws more than a thousand people to downtown.
“It comes down to us deciding to not take on any new programs and to stick to growing the existing programs,” Mishoe said. “That’s kind of where we were at this time last year. Some of these plans will stick around once we go back to gathering. That’s part of our excitement. We haven’t even executed any of these plans yet, but everybody’s ready to hold on to them as long as possible. In some ways, one day we’ll look back at this and see how it forced growth. I would like to think. We just have to get there. Who knows when that day will come.”
Support for the arts is strong in Hillsborough, which is a good thing given how much the pandemic has hurt artists. Exhibitions have been cancelled and gigs have been lost. The Hillsborough Arts Council is hoping its virtual program will offer some relief.
“The arts community is really struggling through this because the local artists, writers, musicians, visual artists are reliant on that gig lifestyle of community gatherings for income,” Mishoe said. “We hope that part of this will allow for some of those artists to start getting back on their feet as well. The people who teach the master classes will get the fee from the people who sign up. Any musicians that are hired will get either an agreed upon fee or a portion of donations. Part of all of this is also to support the artists in our community who are hurting from everything shutting down.”
The Arts Council applied for and received PPP funding to keep the organization rolling.
Through all of the pandemic-driven course-change, Mishoe has taken advantage of time with her family, particularly her two children. She is a self-confessed serial crafter and has, with her daughter, taken on lots of arts and crafts projects.
Mishoe is optimistic that the Arts Council programs that are about to launch will endure even when people are able to have larger in-person gatherings.
“I think once we can get the programs rolling and get the community excited about them, I don’t see them going away,” she said. “Some of them, like the artist’s workshop, in a perfect world might turn into a gathering as opposed to just a virtual event. The writer’s series could turn into an in-person workshop. I think they’re all things that touch on the arts in ways that we haven’t planned for, so I’m hoping this is a form of growth as opposed to just a temporary placeholder. That’s my hope.”