Bill May

Arts Leadership Recipient, Governor’s Arts Awards 2015

Bill May

Throughout its 100 year history, the Arrowmont School has been known as a source of education and enrichment in the Gatlinburg area. Thanks to the leadership of Executive Director Bill May, this pinnacle of history can welcome another 100 years of learning and craft-making after May coordinated efforts to raise $8 million in seven months to save the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts from dissolution.

Located in the heart of Gatlinburg, the one-building school grew to what it is today—an internationally recognized campus for visual arts education that offers classes and creative experiences year-round in art forms such as crafting, painting, pottery and glassmaking. Arrowmont offers residencies, classes and workshops in the visual arts and has had a significant impact on the economic development and education of the city.

Established as a Settlement School by the Pi Beta Phi fraternity for women in 1912, raw beginnings saw a passionate effort to educate the people of the Appalachian Mountains. Although the original classes were general education, mountain handicrafts unique to the surrounding peoples were soon added in order to refine and preserve skills. This also enabled many to turn their favorite pass-time into a craft that provided livelihood for themselves and their families. By 1926 the school had expanded, opening the Arrowcraft Shop to sell the crafts it helped create.

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was opened in 1934, Gatlinburg quickly grew as a popular tourist attraction and gateway into the park. The school stayed rooted amidst the change and enriched the growth of the town in ways from which the Gatlinburg community is still flourishing. However, in 2008, Pi Beta Phi announced plans to sell the property on which the school was located. Although options were explored for moving the campus, the original sale fell through and in 2010, Arrowmont announced its decision to stay, with hopes of purchasing the Gatlinburg property.

In 2013, the fraternity agreed to sell the property to the School if the purchase could be completed in seven months. With the weight of potentially dismantling a 100-year-old tradition on his shoulders, Executive Director Bill May showed extraordinary leadership. He organized a funding coalition that included the Gatlinburg City Commission, the Sevier County Commission, a developer, a private foundation, Arrowmont’s Board of Governors and 126 private citizens. Through complex negotiations and dedicated fundraising, the coalition achieved its goal and purchased the school on April 2, 2014. With this triumph, not only was the legacy of the school secured, but the value of Arrowmont and the arts was affirmed by the community in a powerful way.

Today, Mr. May continues to lead Arrowmont as its Executive Director. Since 2011, he has provided guidance over programs, development and operations. In addition, he serves as an exhibition juror and an art education presenter, as well as a board member for outside organizations. Prior to his current position, he was a student, instructor and board member at Arrowmont. With Bill May at the helm, the school can rest assured that its mission to fulfill lives through the arts will continue to build on its rich history and positively impact Tennessee.