Asheville has $25,000 of your money to spend on new public art; which would you choose?

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

asheville_public_art_project_2014OK Asheville, here’s your chance to weigh in on the city’s next big public art project. This is the first public art installation since the terrazzo floor installed last fall at the U.S. Cellular Center and the Deco Gecko sculpture in Pritchard Park in 2008. The city has set aside $25,000 in taxpayers’ money for the new project.

Feel free to comment here and through the avenues the city is providing. Below find the images of the three finalists and a description.

First, here’s the press release:

The City of Asheville is developing Asheville’s next public art in the 51 Biltmore Public Art Project on the exterior of the public parking garage next to the Aloft Hotel at 51 Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville.

The next public comment period for the 51 Biltmore Public Art Project begins on April 4 with the First Friday Gallery Walk in downtown Asheville. The artists’ proposals will be on display at the Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Avenue, 5:00 to 8:00 pm during the Gallery Walk, and continue through April 6 during regular business hours. April 7 – 11 the proposals will be on display at the Aloft Hotel in the second floor lobby, 51 Biltmore Avenue, during regular operating hours. The public is invited to review and make comment on the proposals, with the option to select their preferred design. Comment can also be made on line at the City of Asheville website at during April 4-11.

“More than 50 people showed up at the first public forum in January and we received great input to support the artists’ concepts,” said Brenda Mills, Economic Development Specialist. “We want to continue the momentum with this week-long opportunity to help choose Asheville’s next piece of public art.”

Public input on the artists’ proposals will constitute 25% of the selection process. In addition to public comment, the Selection Panel will consider artistic merit, originality, appropriateness for the site; and practical factors such as maintenance, feasibility and budget.

The City issued a call for artists in September 2013. The finalists were chosen by a Selection Panel from an application pool of over 150 artists. The Public Art and Cultural Commission hosted a forum in January 2014 in which the public could meet the artists and provide comment to inspire them in their design proposals. Once the second round of public comment is complete, the Selection Panel will choose the final artwork. The public art installation is expected to be complete in fall 2014.

For more background on the selection process, and to see the artists’ proposals, go to the 51 Biltmore Public Art Project Page For more information contact Basil Punsalan at 828-259-5552 or [email protected].

Now here are the finalists, accompanied by a project description:


Alex Irvine (Santa Fe, NM)

Ian Wilkinson (Asheville, NC)

A stylized mural using painted surface and ceramic tile speaks to both the modern architecture of the Aloft
Hotel and to Asheville’s historical terracotta buildings. The mural features a central figure as a daydreamer as
she looks out over downtown Asheville as a place where creativity flourishes. In the background is an art deco
horseshoe pattern referencing the historic location of Asheville’s farrier (a person who shoes horses). The
horseshoe, a symbol of good luck, is hung open-end downward to spread luck to passersby.

archambault__2014 archambault_2_2014


Marc Archambault (Asheville, NC)
“Rio & Apu” is a pair of natural stone mosaics that celebrate the elemental forces that have shaped the Blue
Ridge Mountains, stone and water. Apu is the Inkan word for mountain spirit, and Rio is Spanish for river
that evokes moving water. Colorful stone, much of it natural to the Asheville area, will be used to fill the
mosaic pattern. The design speaks to the sense of place felt by many who live in the mountains, and how the
mountains and the rivers guide their lives. Asheville’s architecture is unique in its diversity with both old and
new buildings that creates a patchwork of style. The mosaic adds to the mix bridging the old with the new,
while keeping a clean line design reflects the modern aesthetic of the Aloft Hotel.



Mike Allison (Joelton, TN)
A metal and glasswork display of recycled pipes, water valves, pressure gages and glass water drops that
point to Asheville’s history and its most valuable natural resource, water. Up until the early 1880s, Asheville
residents collected water from public wells in the downtown area. Later a reservoir and pumping station was
built creating Asheville’s first public water infrastructure supply. People rarely imagine the intricate network of
underground pipes and gages that bring water from its source to the tap. The display brings the underground
infrastructure above ground in a playful manner that draws attention to them, and beautifies them in the visual
landscape of an art piece.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. Christopher April 1, 2014

    RIO & APU

  2. s April 1, 2014

    It is a strange choice to do literal art-deco piece on the side of downtown’s newest contemporary structure. I think the Allison concept of art as rearranged recycled scuplture is both WNC culturally tied blue ridge type innovation and speaks to the reality of the world environment… I would like to see some of the components of the piece be functional though… such as some type of rainwater harvesting where a trickle of run-off and/or rain water can toss and travel kinetic by spinning things and dumping into a reservoir for use either in a gray water system for the building or store for irrigation. functional system art could start an entirely new genre for the nooks and crannies sprinkled throughout downtown AVL.

  3. Rebal March 25, 2014

    I think the Wilkinson/irvine piece really reclaims the space. It also warms and softens that industrial “back door” feeling.

    1. s April 1, 2014

      how does #1 “reclaim the space”?

      the simple reality is this opportunity for public art isn’t going to claim some special civic space that was lost when it went a loft… every building has a ‘back door’ and that doesn’t mean society is going to fall apart if we don’t put lipstick on it quick.

      somehow these ‘fake perspective’ murals seem to fit better on older architecture,… where the traditional architectural elements give it the right context.

  4. cp March 25, 2014

    51 Biltmore Public Art Project link is under Central Business District, here:

  5. JTC March 25, 2014

    can someone post a working link so that we can vote?

    1. FotoJennic March 25, 2014

      From the Press Release:

      The next public comment period for the 51 Biltmore Public Art Project begins on April 4 with the First Friday Gallery Walk in downtown Asheville. The artists’ proposals will be on display at the Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Avenue, 5:00 to 8:00 pm during the Gallery Walk, and continue through April 6 during regular business hours. April 7 – 11 the proposals will be on display at the Aloft Hotel in the second floor lobby, 51 Biltmore Avenue, during regular operating hours. The public is invited to review and make comment on the proposals, with the option to select their preferred design. Comment can also be made on line at the City of Asheville website at during April 4-11.

      So I would expect a link on the city website at the end of next week.

  6. JTC March 25, 2014

    Can someone post the link on here? I followed the link to the city page but when I clicked on it there was no site

  7. Ron Ogle March 25, 2014

    Please no bad public figurative art, as in #1. [with ‘horse shoes’ installed wrong side up ?? ]
    How about just lots more fancy blue and yellow tube lights on this Soviet Style atrocity of a building ?

    1. Ron Ogle March 25, 2014

      Wilkinson’s work on his website is impressive.

  8. Rose March 25, 2014

    The first two are beautiful and traditional in feel. But the building is not beautiful or traditional so neither seems to “fit”. The third, on the other hand, is unusual, inventive, innovative and complementary to the architecture.

    1. s April 1, 2014

      I agree. the 3rd art option pursues something altogether new and is much more cohesive with the architecture. I think it also offers the most to gain which is a (new kind) of curiosity and kinetic potential…

  9. Pete Kaliner March 25, 2014

    I thought I’d make the final 3.

    Congratulations, finalists!

  10. Wdh3 March 25, 2014

    I thank all the artists for putting themselves through this process. I would vote for no. 3.

  11. Craig H Collins March 24, 2014

    I’d rather they put the $25K toward a graffiti elimination program in the city. Graffiti is turning the RAD into a hole and it’s spreading. So I can’t vote for any of these. Isn’t it odd that public funds *must* be directed to purchasing art — it’s not like the money comes from a private endowment with private stipulations — the public (theoretically) has some say about where its money is spent. But too late in this case.

    1. NS March 25, 2014

      You do have some say – by voting for one of the 3 finalists.

  12. Merstudio March 24, 2014

    The Irvine (first option) piece would have readability/visuality from many, wide perspectives. It is thought provoking, too. I agree that the second, local artist option would better represent Asheville if the figures related to the Asheviile aesthetic/vibe, not disconnected imagery. I like the idea of the third, colorful option, but it would be difficult for most viewers to interpret/understand. I also feel that a glass installment in that location would be subject to vandalism.

  13. Matt in AVL March 24, 2014

    We’ve got a TON of local artists who do much better work on the sides of buildings for free.

    If this is a publicly funded art project, how come two of the three project descriptions, arguably the only two worth considering, tie the work to Aloft? Let Aloft pay for its own art. I know they supported local artists in outfitting the building’s interior.

    1. NS March 25, 2014

      It’s “tied” to the Aloft because the parking is city/county owned. This is a percent for art project, which is a government-sponsored program.
      Additionally, artists should be PAID for their work. Artists have rent and expenses just like everyone else.

  14. Ian Wilkinson March 24, 2014

    So all I can say is please come and see the actual proposals and reserve your judgement for the moment when you can actually have a voice, and see the work up close. These proposal images do none of the finalist any favors. Our figure will not be black and white or sad, Marc won’t need past works to reinforce his line drawing,
    and you all may be delighted to see Mikes work when he lights it up at night! But seriously come and see, then judge.

    1. AVL LVR March 24, 2014

      The blue and metal looks nice, though at first I thought it was a knight in armor from the middle ages. Perhaps you can make the lady look more feminine-less pronounced jaw line and not a thick neck. I

      1. Doug Watson March 24, 2014

        You need to see the actual sculpture

        1. Ian Wilkinson March 24, 2014

          Thanks Doug, yes please come see what we made for this

          1. Doug Watson March 25, 2014

            Such a big fan of your work around town, looking forward to the opening, keep up the great community stuff

  15. lisa March 24, 2014

    number one. second choice number two. never ever number three.

  16. AVL LVR March 24, 2014

    I like “Rio & Apu” Natural stone mosaics look really good. Cool fantasy theme. People come to Asheville to escape. This gives it to them.

    The last one is weird and in the first one the lady looks too sad.

    Yeah, we need to save Vance Monument, but we also need new art pieces to attract visitors and creative talent.

  17. Selene March 24, 2014

    All great ideas, The first idea is best for its appealing looks and the incorporation of the vents into the art work. The second would be fine as well, even though the 2 figures aren’t from local history. The water idea of the 3rd one is great, but too bad the execution of it has zero appeal…I’d rather see nothing in the space than this.

  18. arts lover March 24, 2014

    My vote goes to the Irvine-Wilkinson project.

    The water idea had a good concept but the execution was not persuasive, and this may not be the spot to celebrate water in Asheville. Maybe the Hoss Haley fountain already does that.
    The Archambault project has the germ of a good idea – stone and river – but why Inca and Spanish iconography, instead of something indigenous? Cherokee and Scotch-Irish? The imagery itself doesn’t have the appeal of the Irvine-Wilkinson dreaming lady and horseshoes.

    1. hauntedheadnc March 25, 2014

      The beauty of Art Deco — and the second proposal is distinctively Art Deco — is that it’s universal. There’s no particular need to mine every inspiration from local history or local influences. Rockefeller Center in New York has no connection to ancient mythology, and yet the Apollo statue is iconic and has become its own symbol of New York. Likewise, who’s to say that an artwork inspired from Spanish and South American influences won’t appeal to Asheville’s large, diverse, and growing Hispanic community?

      1. arts lover March 25, 2014

        You’re right that a great artist can create a work that itself becomes an icon for the place, even if there’s no historical connection (“David” in Florence, for example, the Calder in Chicago – although the Picasso “bull” in Chicago does appear to reference Chicago’s history). And indeed the Atlas and Prometheus at Rockefeller Center don’t reference New York or even American history, but they do evoke the grand world-historical role of the Rockefellers and their huge architectural complex and New York’s self-image as a world-historical city.
        But in Asheville’s case, does a relative modest art work, on a backstreet, over the entrance to a parking garage, have the same ambitions? Most of Asheville’s public art – the Urban Trail, Harry McDaniel’s Deco Gekko, Hoss Haley’s public sculptures – are rooted in the local environment and local history. (Even the abstract”Energy Loop,” Asheville’s first piece of public art, seems to suggest rivers, mountains, and waterfalls.) So there’s a case to be made for continuing the local motifs. There’s also a case to be made for a grand, original artistic statement that becomes a new symbol for the city. But these works, in this out of the way location, don’t seem to aspire to that. They do what they set out to do very well, in thoughtful ways. Nice that the residents get to “vote,” if, indeed, that’s what’s happening. Asheville didn’t get to “vote” on the Ida Kohlmeyer piece, and we saw what happened to that. Nice piece, well-regarded artist, but wrong choice for Asheville, apparently. Where is it now?

        1. NS March 25, 2014

          I think the Kohlmeyer is now at the Southside Rec Center on Livingston Street.
          BTW, Florence’s sculpture of David by Michelangelo is historically “connected” to the city in that it is a piece of Renaissance-era biblically-inspired **Publically-funded** sculpture that represented the thought that an “everyman” could aspire and attain greatness if s/he set her mind to it.

  19. James M.Maxwell March 24, 2014

    Hands down, I gravitate towards the poignant simplicity and symbolism that truly represent Asheville’s past history, present free thinking creativity, and future potential for Such growth and development. A cutting-edge expressive ceramic-mural that portrays the dynamic texture of the unique City of Ashville.

  20. hauntedheadnc March 24, 2014

    Second proposal is my first pic, but I would settle for the first one. The third one needs to be killed with fire.

  21. Jonathan Wainscott March 24, 2014

    Paul Jeremias

    1. arts lover March 24, 2014

      Can you tell us what you mean by this comment? Was Jeremias one of the entrants?

  22. KC March 24, 2014

    #2 Rio & Apu, hands down.

  23. NFB March 24, 2014

    Rio and Apu. No question. Far and away the best of this lot.

  24. Doug Watson March 24, 2014

    I like the first design for sure, and I think those are the guys that did Hall Fletcher Elementary. They both have the strongest history of public art in Asheville and have done great service for our community.

  25. Sean March 24, 2014

    I vote for Rio & Apu. I agree with Nate. I don’t think the third option will age well.

  26. Jan March 24, 2014

    And just one little tidbit of info about Gov Vance…. He may have been on the wrong side of history during the Civil War, but around the 1870’s he started giving speeches he called “The Scattered Nation”, which praised the Jews and called for religious tolerance and freedom for all American. Seems like a man and a monument I can get behind and support. More-so than another piece of over-priced art.

  27. Nate March 24, 2014

    Really like the second one (although I’d like to see it with colors), and kind of like the first one, but the third one gets the big thumbs down.

  28. Jan March 24, 2014

    How about we help out the “save vance monument” project instead?

    1. jeffsguy March 24, 2014

      1% for Art funds come from the capital improvement project budget and must be used for that specific project. In the case of the new terrazzo floor at the US Cellular Center, the capital improvement project was the new entrance to the Center, including the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. The current public art installation at 51 Biltmore, is tied to the funding for the parking garage at the Aloft which is a public/private partnership. Also, 1% for Art funds are for new artwork, not maintaining existing historical monuments.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.