Toe River Arts Executive Director Retires

Toe River Arts Executive Director Retires

Denise Cook. Photo by Mea Johnson

By Kate Groff

After serving as executive director for the Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) for three decades, Denise Sneller Cook has released the helm to Nealy Andrews.

Cook’s legacy began more than 30 years ago when she relocated to Yancey County from Florida, bringing her family, a graphic design background and a love for the arts with her. When the job of executive director of TRAC opened up, she applied. “It seemed like a nice fit that would provide interesting experiences for me and my family and a way to be a part of the community through the arts,” Cook says.

Music in the Mountain Folk Festival, which she considers “the soul of the culture of the community” was already a booming Burnsville event when Cook began, but, over the years, her leadership has brought about organizational sustainability through the many additional programs and projects she initiated—the bi-annual studio tour, Paint Out, Toe River Chamber Ensemble, the opening of the Burnsville Gallery, the purchase and subsequent renovation of the Spruce Pine facility and, more recently, the branding of the Mitchell-Yancey region for arts and the upcoming installation of the first Burnsville Gateway Telescope.

When asked about her own memorable moments, she says, “It’s a collection, a process— people coming together, working, planning, and finally reaching a point—a celebration point, and experiencing something they have never heard, seen or participated in. That creates memories and is what made my job so important to me and valuable to the community.”

During her tenure, she cultivated partnerships with other organizations, schools and individuals to foster the growth of the arts. “Her leadership and dedication to the arts as a benefit, not only as an integral part of the whole person but as an economic driver for our community, has distinguished TRAC both throughout the region and across the state,” says Cassie Floan, TRAC’s education coordinator.

Over the years, Cook has played the flute in the all-volunteer orchestra, addressed state officials, made a book, face-painted and swayed to the John Brown Jazz Band brought to the schools a few years ago. She has written grants, initiated and participated in workshops, recognized artists for their continued works and championed new artists for their determination. Her drive has fostered diversity in the arts and in the people who share her enthusiasm.

Denise Sneller Cook was the face of the Toe River Arts Council from 1987 to 2018, and she says, “It was my job to create fun.” It was a job well done.

Kate Groff is marketing/programs manager for the Toe River Arts Council. To learn more about the council, visit

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