Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My answer to the ubiquitous question

I frequently get artists writing to me wondering what the art scene is like in Asheville, and life as an artist in general. It's a big question to answer, but here is my attempt to do so. My disclaimer is this: Everyone moves to a town with different histories, expectations, motivations, finances and needs. What works for some might not work for others. I can only share with you my personal opinions. This town has definitely changed since I moved here 6 years ago. I think artists have more of a voice here now than they used to, and cooler things are receiving more attention, which is a huge plus.

First of all, Asheville is a terrific community of creative people. There is an incredible support network here, and if you have a great idea, people are willing to get behind it. The do-it-yourself scene here is especially important and many creative people are actively engaged in personal projects. Also, it is a small city so word travels quickly and art-openings are always well attended.

If you have already jump-started a career in the arts and are looking for a city where the cost of living is relatively low to afford you time to make your work, then Asheville may be your place. You can easily hold a part time job (in food service most likely) and dedicate the rest of your time to making art. In this cyber era you can pretty much research and apply to art shows anywhere in the world -- provided you have a computer and Internet access, which is still a luxury to many.

(On the topic of jobs: there aren't many.)

Black Mountain College and the Appalachian crafts movement are the two greatest artistic legacies at work within Asheville. If you are a craft-based artist, Asheville is definitely a great place to be. Especially if you are interested in book-arts, ceramics, woodworking, textiles and clothing design. There are even some glassblowing studios scattered around the area. The Southern Highlands Craft Guild is a reputable organization and there are a huge number of venues that exhibit incredible craft-based work in the area. The Big Crafty is a great alt-craft event, and Penland School of Craft is nearby.

Tourism is a huge thing here and the commercial galleries still tend to cater to tourists and people with large homes, which is fine if you’re making landscape paintings or work that fits within a recognizable/saleable paradigm. (ie: pop art, decorative art, or abstract art) However, there have been a number of cafes and shops willing to exhibit other types of artwork, especially in recent years.

If you are moving here from a big city and are used to being inundated with arty happenings and big name artists, you should probably let go of this expectation. Asheville does not have a major art school so not many big-name artists visit here. They do come via the Asheville Art Museum and the art department at UNCA, but I must say they are fewer and far between than you might be accustomed to.This being said, however, there is always something going on in Asheville that you might find interesting in terms of theatre, music and dance. Especially for a small city, the cultural events that take place here are surprisingly abundant.

Studios can get pricey, unfortunately. Check the River Arts District for studios. The industrial quality of this part of town, as well as the gorgeous graffiti makes for an inspired landscape, and it is definitely my favorite part of town - visually. Still, many artists opt to work out of an extra room in their living space.

My biggest wish for Asheville is that we acquire a decent contemporary art venue. Apparently The Asheville Art Museum is going to expand, so hopefully that means more installation art and experimental art will be exhibited there. FLOOD Gallery has also been great in showcasing conceptual work by artists from out-of town, and the Black Mountain College Museum has hosted a good deal of educational events and shows by artists affiliated with Black Mountain College.

In short, the laid-back lifestyle and gorgeous surrounding nature make living here very pleasant. I have issues with the mass-transit system and I think too much money goes into the development of over-priced condos which drives up rents and the cost of living. I wish the city offered more stipends and grants to artists considering it uses the creative sector of this town to boast tourism. I wish there was a living wage in Asheville and I wish the city wasn't so segregated. (Most new-comers to Asheville generally remark on the "whiteness" of this town.)

Ultimately, in my opinion, it's the do-it-yourself ethos that is keeping the good stuff alive in Asheville. Innovation and creativity are what all artists have in their favor -- in Asheville, and anywhere else in the country for that matter.

Here are some links to relevant articles and videos:

Drifting toward a diabetic coma: has the art world in Asheville become too sweet? article for MtnX by Connie Bostic

After Asheville: Three artists who moved away, what they found and what they miss article for Mtnx by Ursula Gullow

Somewhere along the line Video demonstrating community in the River District by Rod Murphy

It's not all Tags Informative and well-made video about the current graffiti debate in Asheville


Scott Walters said...

It may be unfair to comment here about something you've linked to, but the Bostick article: really? The only thing that is valuable is "challenging and disturbing" and everything else is "cupcake art"? The ideology that underlies this Modernist orientation waa fully outed by Ortega y Gassett in "The Revolt of the Masses" and "Dehumanization of Art": scorn the "masses" in favor of an intellectual elite. Surely by now we might be able to more fully integrate the artist into the life of the community, rather than positioning them as eternal (and kneejerk) "outsiders."

Ursula said...

I understand your point, and thank you for bringing it up.
My reason for linking to Bostic's article is that she acknowledges that a certain type of art and aesthetic prevail in the Asheville galleries.
I have made some pretty pennies selling landscapes in Asheville, and artists looking to make money here should know what the market is.