People often ask if it really is possible to make a living as an artist here in Asheville. I answer an appreciative "YES". And there are reasons for that. Asheville is unique. We have within a square mail, over 200 artists with open doors to the public. It's awesome. And because our artists association has done some really great advertising, people from all over the country come through our doors. I don't know many artists here at all that do the art show circuit. We just really don't have to. People come to us.
So how did all this happen?
Glad you asked. According to AshevilleRAD.com, here's a brief history of the River Arts District:
The French Broad River, in whose basin the River Arts District resides, is the third oldest river in the world. In 1880, when the railroad first came thru Asheville, our population was around 500 people. By 1900, Asheville boasted 10,000 residents. This boom town reality continued until 1929, when The Great Depression settled in for a long winter's nap. Asheville's River Arts District "woke up" around 1985 and has been evolving for the past 27 years. A group of dedicated artists, landowners & businesses have laid claim to a neglected area of Asheville's riverfront and are calling it home. The first arts based business to locate in what is now the River Arts District was Highwater Clays. They moved from Biltmore Village in 1985, to the current home of Gennett Lumber.
In 1987, Porge & Lewis Buck were the first artists to actually buy a building in the Asheville RAD, which they named Warehouse Studios.
The early 1990's saw a migration of artists out of downtown into what was the Chesterfield Mill. The first Studio Stroll took place in 1994 and included such notable artists as Kevin Hogan & Cathy Triplett. In 1995, the Chesterfield Mill was consumed by fire, as was most of the old Cotton Mill. One of the remnants of the Cotton Mill was renovated into more live/work studio spaces in 1996 & in 2003, purchased by Marty & Eileen Black & renamed Cotton Mill Studios.
Flood waters are thought to bring good nutrition to the earth they inundate. The combined floodwaters of Hurricanes Francis and Ivan in 2004 had the unintended consequence of destroying the Home Cooking Cafe, which inadvertently made room for 12 Bones Smokehouse (2005). The flood waters also prompted CURVE studios & garden to focus on retail/studios in the ground floor studios... creating the model of studio/showroom that has become a viable economic development tool for the Asheville RAD.
In 2004,Asheville’s Chamber of Commerce to begin using the name "River Arts District". This began a five year branding process that has culminated in 2010 with the "River District Artists" changing their name to the "River Arts District Artists" and the new wayfinding program which incorporates numerous directional signs showing visitors how to find their way down to the River Arts District.
2010 saw an amazing influx of new buildings to the River Arts District starting with Pink Dog Creative @ 342 Depot Street. Randy Shull & Hedy Fischer's "baby" has continued a renaissance on Depot Street that was started by Ray Quate with his 2005 renovation of 352 Depot. Mountain Housing Opportunities has contributed the great vision of Cindy Week's $10 million dollar Leeds certified affordable housing project, the Glen Rock Depot. David C. Stewart & David Frechter transformed the old Southern Depot Nightclub into David C. Stewart's painting studio on the first floor and home to Nourish & Flourish, a Network Care Provider as well as Nia Movement Studio & Fresh Juice & Tea House.
In 2011, Wendy Whitson established Northlight Studios @ 357 Depot Street, providing 4 new studios & Asheville Greenworks. John & Liana Bryant renovated The Hatchery Studios at the north end of the River Arts District with 5 new studios that include a pottery co-op & the fine art studios of Kirsten Stolle & Court McCracken & Art Nurture Asheville as well as White Duck Taco Shop, brain child of Ben Mixson & Laura Reuss. Daniel McClendon has renovated 349 Depot Street into The Lift Studios, home of Daniel McClendon Fine Art.
All these new buildings are making room for some wonderful independently owned "Asheville Grown" businesses. The Wedge Brewery, founded in 2008, thanks to the vision of Tim Schaller & the late John Payne has made the River Arts District fun every night of the week.
2012 finds some new initiatives as well as new neighbors... Blacksmith, Zack Noble now works from his new studio @ 296 Depot ... www.collectARTasheville.com & AVL2ndsaturday.com are on line with the focus on ART region wide every 2nd Saturday... think Studio Stroll every second Saturday, all year long...
One of the little known and unsung heroes of the River Arts District is a business man named Bill Goacher. Many years back he acquired a number of properties, in what is now the ARAD, simply as a business investment. The brilliance of his vision has always been bright but his approach, very low key. Mr. Goacher rented spaces to artists, at very affordable rental rates, and when a good steward of his buildings showed interest in their purchase, he selectively said yes. The Wedge Studios, founded by John Payne in early 2001, is one of those buildings where Bill Goacher said yes. In 2012, The Wedge was sold again, this time to a consortium of 8 local guys who like to drink beer there and is transforming once again with a new restaurant track side by the owners of The Admiral fame called The Bull & Beggar.
Perhaps the biggest news in 2012 was the announcement that New Belgium Brewery selected the old WNC Stockyard & Bell's Mini Storage sites on Craven Street, for the location of their $175 million dollar East Coast Brewery. Demolition has begun in early 2013. NBB expects to be serving beer from it "Liquid Center" in early 2015. This new manufacturer will bring over 100 new jobs & tens of thousands of visitors to the west side door of the ARAD.
As life is never static here in the ARAD, 2013 finds a number of new buildings coming on line. Tannery Studios & Switchyard Studios are now open @ 339 Old Lyman Street behind Riverview Station. Galaxy Studios has opened on the north end of the ARAD @ 161 West Haywood Road & Heather Knight of Element Clay Studios has moved over to 362 Depot Street. White Duck Taco has opened Pizza Pura @ Pink Dog Creative to go along with new galleries for William Henry Price, Studio A and The Paintbox.
And then, near the end of 2015, something magical happened...The Paintbox moved from Suite 104 in the Pink Dog Creative building and I moved in and this has been my creative home since then. Learn more about the River Arts District.