Arts fill the streets & cultural anchors celebrate new spaces.
Just when you think Asheville’s arts scene couldn’t possibly get any better, it does. While the town is known for many wonderful things, its artsy atmosphere stands out above the rest. North Carolina’s western mountains have long been a place for makers, from the weavers and ceramicists of the Penland School of Craft and the John C. Campbell Folk School in the 1920s to the experimental artists of the Black Mountain College of the 1930s to today’s large and always evolving arts community.
The Asheville Visitor Center is the first checkpoint for many guests and potential new residents, so it stands to reason this gateway is artfully appointed. In 2019, the center unveiled three sculptures near the entry way, and the sculptures all carry the message of inclusion – welcoming and supporting people from all cultures, races and walks of life.
“There’s a lot of art in Asheville. There are commissioned murals, quite a few public sculptures, and at the Visitor Center, it’s a way folks are introduced to Asheville. We felt it was our responsibility to give them a diverse view into the community here that is making art,â€ says Layton Hower, vice president of finance and operations for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
A handful of institutions at the core of the arts community recently celebrated openings of renovated and expanded spaces.
In November 2019, the Asheville Art Museum welcomed guests to see the results of a $24 million renovation that encompassed a historic preservation, renovation and expansion spanning two years.
“Asheville is an amazing art-centric community filled with galleries of all sorts and artist-makers working in all media who live and work both in the city and in the surrounding region,â€ says Pam Myers, executive director of the museum.
“It’s a fabulous place to come visit and to see and learn and be exposed to new works and new artists. The museum believes itself to be a cultural concierge that introduces visitors from all over the world, who visit the museum and move outward into the community for other art-based experiences.”
The Center for Craft, which started in the mid-1990s and celebrates Asheville’s long tradition of craft, also underwent a renovation in 2019 and reopened in November.
“There’s a renaissance or resurgence of cultural organizations in Asheville, specifically because there is a group called Explore Asheville that has a fund to support projects related to arts and culture and tourism,â€ says Stephanie Moore, executive director. “We picked Asheville because of its vibrant cultural scene and also specifically because of craft and print and its history in this region.”
This center is a national organization and has functioned primarily as a grant-making institution for the past 15 years. This facility expansion has meant it can also expand the services it offers. The three-story building now features co-working spaces for the creative community on the second floor, two expanded galleries that are free and open to the public every day, and several meeting areas for lectures and public presentations.
Another local Asheville arts scene fixture, the Diana Wortham Theatre, has undergone a renovation after a successful $3 million fundraising campaign from corporate and individual sponsors to become the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. It added a new 100-seat theater, an 80-seat studio, refurbished its 500-seat main theater, and upgraded its offices, lobby, concessions, coat check and ticketing.
“Asheville is known for being a unique community made vibrant through the constant creativity and contribution of our local artists. People flock to this city to be immersed in the beauty of our landscapes and the cultural offerings,â€ says Rae Geoffrey, managing director. “It is actually a relatively small community that prizes local art and artists. The expansion of the facility represents an opportunity to create other access points into the arts for artists and audiences. The opportunity to build and grow on a grassroots level is in line with the values of our community.”
What’s next? In nearby Hendersonville, Hola Community Arts is renovating a 100-yearold, two-story house located in the 220-acre Jackson Park, which will be used by artists, creatives and community leaders to house studio space, exhibitions, performances, events, community activities, classes and more. Hola Community Arts bridges cultural communication gaps between government, businesses and underserved Latinx communities with a variety of programs ranging from arts outreach, Hola Carolina magazine, dance and cooking classes, and a variety of celebrations, including the annual Hola Asheville Festival.
If you’d like to learn more about the Asheville area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Asheville, NC.