RIVER ARTS DISTRICT
Asheville, north carolina
The River Arts District is a truly unique place at this point in time. There are over 200 artists with studios open to visitors all year round. But this part of town was not always the River Arts District.
Back in the day, this was the "low rent" district so to speak. We are right next to the French Broad River and are subject to flooding. In 2004, hurricanes Francis and Ivan inundated what is now the arts district. But artists, being the thrifty folk we are, saw the disaster as an opportunity. Because this low lying land is subject to flooding, rent was cheap, and that made this area very attractive.
One by one, artists began opening up shop in the district, though in the early years, it was still considered a "sketchy" part of town, which became a "badge of pride" for the locals.
Eventually, the artists began to band together into a cohesive group and began promoting not just their own business, but the Arts District as a whole. They began to promote what became known as the "studio stroll", when all the artists opened their doors to the public and sold direct. This became so successful that over time, more and more artists began to not just "work" in their studio and open up to the public twice a year, but to actually open their studio 52 weeks a year.
Today, the River Arts District is a very vibrant community of over 200 artists that open their studios up to visitors all year round. We like to think of ourselves as the "creative heart" of the city. So, together with the other painters, ceramic artists, wood workers, glass blowers, basket makers, jewelry makers fibre artists as well as some awesome restaurants and microbrewries that all together make up Asheville's River Arts District, WELCOME. Any time of the year, you are welcome to browze, eat, drink and and enjoy what we think is the best part of the best city in the south.
The big news of 2016 was that Asheville was committing to 50 million dollars over the next six years to "gentrifying" the River Arts District.
Hmmm. As an artist, it kind of feels like the city is trying to put a silk tie on a street urchin. We're not sure we really want to be "gentrified" because whenever that's happened before, it ends with very nice sidewalks, planters, benches, cafes, hotels and boutiques...and higher rents...and then the artists move out.
That said, there are many really good things happening in the District. Last year, New Belgium Brewing opened up their new beautiful brewery and visitor center just across the French Broad River from the River Arts District. They are very appreciated and conscientious neighbors and along with the wonderful smell of roasting barley they send our way from time to time, they have done a lot to make the whole neighborhood a really nice place to hang out and enjoy.
See, along with the possible risks to the artists, there really are some very nice plans for the Arts District, including several greenways for pedestrians and cyclists, sidewalks and a River Arts District Welcome Center (with public restrooms!).
If the city plans bring more visitors to the District, added sales could offset higher rents and all will be well. Established artists could fare just fine or even benefit from all this, but what some of us are worried about is that the emerging and young artists will find it more and more difficult to find an affordable place to create. We need to make a place for them because they are the future of the arts in Asheville.
Years ago, the district of Soho in New York City was a "low rent" district because it was dingy and dilapidated. This was seen as an open invitation to artists around the world, and those artists moved into Soho. Soon, word spread and more artists moved in. The district became well known as the place in lower Manhattan to visit if you wanted to actually see artists at work (sound familiar?). But if you visit Soho today, you won't see art studios. Rather, you'll see upscale condominiums and a variety of shops ranging from trendy upscale boutiques to national and international chain store outlets. This is exactly what we are afraid could happen in Asheville. But does it have to happen this way? We'll see. As an artist in the District, I'm guardedly excited about the potential I see for what is already a very vibrant creative hub to continue to grow into something even more amazing. Who knows? It is up to the movers and shakers, and those with the imagination to dream. But dreaming...that's what we do best.
The very best part
The very best part about painting all day long is that I get to do it with my partner, wife and best friend. Joy also paints her smaller pieces and helps me out on various stages on my own work when I'm overloaded with projects. Having studied art at UCLA, she's also my best (and ferocious) critic. People ask sometimes how I know a painting is done and I usually tell them I know it's done when Joy says it's done. We dream together and come up with new ideas and directions for the artwork. Our art is always evolving and having someone I can create "with" and bounce ideas off of is absolutely vital to the development of this genre of artwork I call Dialuminism.
my River arts "must visit" list..
If you are visiting the River Arts District, here are my suggestions for places to see, and places to eat (which can be important at certain times of the day). On Depot Street, well...see me. Then see the rest of the artists in the Pink Dog Creative building. Then walk across the street and visit the Lift Studios, home of Daniel McClendon who paints awesome abstract paintings of wild animals. Even if you don't like abstracts or animals, you really should see his work. It's truly unique. Also, visit Asheville Glassworks (you can blow your own glass!) and the Odyssey Center (a wonderful collection of countless ceramics artists all under one roof.
And no visit to the District would be complete without dropping into Jonas Gerard's studio. His work features a wild and flamboyant use of color and free flowing design.
And...for lunch, we recommend Fresh Pizza (in my building). It's seriously the best pizza in Asheville. Or try White Duck Taco for an amazingly creative take on what was only a Mexican staple, but here includes Duck Mole, lamb gyros, carnitas, Bangkok shrimp, Mongolian beef...and many more. Oh, so good.
And last but not least, 12 Bones BBQ. This was a "must visit" lunch spot for President Obama every time he visited Asheville. 12 Bones is awesome. Hint: try the blueberry chipotle sauce. You'll thank me.
And when the day is spent, slake your thirst at the Wedge Brewery on Roberts Street. The Wedge is the local favorite by the way.